Considering Women’s Leadership on International Women’s Day
March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day that’s often set aside as a time to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness of the road that still needs to be traveled to achieve equality. And when it comes to the workplace in particular, women continue to face significant challenges.
Women still face inequality when it comes to pay, performance reviews, and promotions. Globally, women earn 23% less than men and are often judged by different standards, which limits their ability to improve and progress in their careers. For example, one study found women receive 22% more performance feedback on their personalities than men do. And when it comes to promotions and leadership roles, women are at a disadvantage from the very beginning. McKinsey reports that for every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted. And the numbers are even more dire for executive leadership positions: Only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color.
While we won’t tackle all of the systemic problems that lead to these inequities in this article, we want to share some resources that can help empower women to step into and succeed in leadership roles.
Acknowledge the challenges you’re up against
Dorie Clark is a Harvard Business Review author, Duke University professor, and instructor of the Udemy course Women’s Leadership: How to Survive and Thrive as a Female Professional. Dorie says, “As a woman leader, you’re under more scrutiny. We may have fewer role models, so we need to forge our own path more.” It’s important to acknowledge that this is the case, but look for specific actions you can take to overcome these challenges.
Similarly, Erin Mara, Vice President of Talent Management at BJ’s Wholesale, recently appeared as a guest on Udemy’s Leading Up podcast to discuss how being a positive and purpose-driven leader can help you navigate the world of business — and parenthood. Erin shares some of the challenges she’s faced as a working mom, including navigating the logistics of picking her daughter up from daycare, remote work and homeschooling during the pandemic, and setting a positive example through it all.
Learn to think like a leader
In the Leading Up podcast, Mara explains that one of the biggest differences between being an individual contributor and a leader is the lens through which you view problems. While individual contributors tend to focus only on their piece of the problem, leaders look at the entire system and try to identify the root cause. It’s also important to be bold and seize opportunities when you see them. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission.
Clark emphasizes the importance of identifying leaders you admire. What is it you like about them? What qualities do you want to emulate? Use this information to help shape your narrative. Take time to explain where you came from, where you are now, where you’re going, and how they’re all connected. If you can do this in a clear and succinct way, it’s an important step in getting others to see you as a leader.
Recognize that leadership looks different for everyone
“Becoming a great leader isn’t one size fits all,” says Clark. “Great leadership looks a little different on everyone.” Take some time to reflect on your goals. Are you aspiring to be a CEO or an amazing leader for your team? It’s not that one of these options is better than the other — it’s simply about understanding your own priorities.
It took Mara time to reach this realization. “Early on in my career, I measured success by others. But every one of us is different,” she says. Now she’s not just thinking about the impact she has in the workplace, but she’s striving to be a good role model for her daughter. For Mara, leadership isn’t just about her job title, but about being fully present for her family and engaging in activities like coaching her daughter’s sports teams.
Build a network of people who support and champion you
One of the most important lessons for women is that you don’t need to navigate leadership alone. It’s much easier when you build a network of others who can support and champion you. In Mara’s case, she specifically sought role models outside her department. She found that having these mentors served two purposes: One, they could provide different viewpoints on her presentations or plans, and two, they could act as advocates or sponsors for her. Mara quickly saw the value in learning how to explain how her work would impact leaders in other departments.
Clark has similar advice, but she likes to think of it as “cultivating your mentor board of directors.” Instead of looking for one perfect mentor who embodies everything you’d like to be in the world, Clark suggests finding a group of three to ten people who inspire you in different ways. You might admire one person’s approach to work/life balance or another’s innovative thinking. Keep in mind that the people on your board don’t have to be senior to your role or older than you. “We can and should learn from all types of people,” says Clark. Just be sure that you prioritize making these relationships reciprocal. If you’re turning to these people for advice, look for ways to teach or help them in return, whether it’s tutoring them on the latest social media platform, volunteering for their favorite charity, or helping their children with their job search.
Empower women’s leadership today and in the future
Whether you’re an aspiring woman leader yourself or you want to be a champion and ally for women leaders, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges that women face in the workplace. Taking on a leadership role requires extra effort. Look for ways you can make changes big and small, whether it’s taking a closer look at who gets promotions and raises, encouraging female colleagues to share their thoughts during meetings, creating mentorship programs, or offering growth and development opportunities for women.