The corporate ladder… a well-known symbol of leadership success has long personified the necessary steps to career elevation. Seemingly unbiased and gender neutral, the ladder beckons “work hard” “follow the steps to success” “climb one rung at a time and you will eventually get where you wish to be”. Unfortunately, it can be quite tricky to climb the ladder in a skirt, as many women who have embarked on a career in leadership have discovered.
But why? Isn't this 2017? Is gender bias still really a problem in today's workforce?
According to The Wall Street Journal's article ” Real Fixes for Workplace Bias” adding curtains to shield auditioning musicians from the evaluations committee increased the likelihood( by 50%!) that a woman musician would be selected to advance to future rounds of tryouts. By hiding the potential bias of gender, the judges could simply focus on listening to the music played.
In the era of “leaning in” women still have a very real bias against their ability to perform as effectively as a man.
One theory explains the bias by explaining that society generally associates successful leadership with stereotypically ‘masculine’ traits such as assertiveness and dominance, and so disapproves of female leaders because they violate these gender norms. This male bias in our cognitive processing of leadership potential is powerful. “Think manager, think man” means we can fail to see women’s leadership potential. In fact, research suggests that men and women behave very similarly in senior roles, but men routinely receive higher leadership ratings. So how do we elevate women in the workplace?
- Be Aware-Self-awareness of our own bias's is a great place to start. Recognize when you rush to make a quick judgment about a person's ability, intelligence, and worthiness based on instantaneous assumptions. Role modeling this self-awareness as a woman and a leader spreads the culture.
- Be a Big Sister– Reach out to young women in your workplace who have leadership aspirations and show interest in their goals. Offer to help guide, share lessons learned along the way, and encourage their aspirations. Connect them with others who may further their education and experience. “Pass it on” has never been more important as we support the next generation of women leaders. Rejecting the prior “Queen Bee” patriarchal culture, where women actively undermine other women in order to claim one of the few top leadership roles, will foster an increased support for sistership and advancement for all.
- Sit and Speak Up at the Table- All too often women do not see themselves as being worthy enough, smart enough, educated enough or important enough to have an opinion at high-level meetings. According to the Harvard Business Review's “Women, Find Your Voice” women need to “prepare to speak spontaneously” and make their language sound more muscular. Interjecting “I strongly suggest” instead of “how about this” in order to set an authoritative tone that obtains respectful attention.
- Embrace the Difference– Women are natural relationship builders, empathetic listeners, and artful communicators. Leveraging these “feminine” strengths within a Transformational Leadership style can create a healthy and productive work culture and optimize your influence.
- Find your Own Role Model– Lewis Carol's quote “If you don't know where you are going, every road will get you there” speaks to the importance of a visionary end product. Finding a woman leader whom you admire and aspire to be will help you define who you are as a leader and most importantly who you want to become. Identify the “why” behind your appreciation for the leader you admire. Is it their delivery? Their commitment? Their integrity? Identifying the key traits that you hold most valuable will help you tap into recognizing your own core values. The most effective leaders, whether women or men, stay true to who they are as a person.
- Most Importantly-Say Yes to Opportunity– Leap when given a chance to grow both yourself and others. All too often women hesitate that they “aren't ready” for the next step in their career when it presents itself. Every opportunity is a lesson waiting to unveil itself. Evidence reveals that women don't apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the required qualifications whereas men will apply when they meet 60%. This fact suggests that a woman's confidence may be her own barrier. This astounding statistic, uncovered in a Hewlett -Packard Internal Report and reported by The Harvard Business Review identifies that girls are more socialized to “follow the rules” and “following the guidelines” when applying for a job rather than their male counterparts.
As women, and professionals. we owe it to ourselves to understand the nature and the history of gender bias. By educating ourselves, and each other, we can openly discuss the complexities we face as well as raise the bar on the art of leadership. I invite you to join the discussion and collaborate in the creation of the next generations culture and views on women in leadership. We can climb the rungs simultaneously as well as hold the doors open for those riding along. Together, we uplift others as we ascend.