Being a leader worth following comes with a wide set of challenges, and being a female leader, in particular, can come with its own unique set of obstacles. A 2017 McKinsey & Company study of women in the workplace found that only one in five C-suite leaders is a woman. While leaders are not determined by their title or rank, this stat shows the imbalance that exists in today’s workplace and the struggle women often face on their leadership journeys.
Luckily, there are steps women can take to ensure they are the best leader they can be, no matter what role they play. Here, five female leaders share their thoughts on what women need to embrace on their leadership journeys.
- Know your value.
What’s the difference between a male leader and a female leader? Absolutely nothing, says Jill Guindon-Nasir, Ph.D., adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia and former senior corporate director at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.
“Being a woman leader (is) no different than being a man leader,” says Guindon-Nasir, adding that female leaders should disregard stereotypes. They should say and ask for what they want and stand up for themselves. “You bring a lot to the table. You have to know your value, and you can’t know your value until you know you’re valuable,” she says.
- Remember your voice.
We all have a voice, but whether or not we use it in the workplace is another story. Like many of us, it took conscious effort for Kat Cole, North America COO and president of Focus Brands, to find her voice in the business world. “The way I found my voice was first remembering that there’s a reason I’m there,” she says. “There’s a reason that you have a seat at the table. Someone put you there. Someone advocated for you to be there. You didn’t just miraculously show up.”
- Advocate for yourself.
Don’t let you get in your way of reaching every opportunity. “If you don’t advocate for yourself in your career when it comes to your opportunities as well as your salary, no one else will,” says Julie Bauke, strategic career advisor at The Bauke Group.
She explains that women may see a job posting that lists 10 requirements and will walk away from it if they only have nine of what’s required. “A guy will see that he has two of them, apply, and get the job. And then we’re sitting there wondering how the heck did that happen.”
- Get comfortable with failure.
A fear of failure can be seen as a good thing because it pushes you to be your absolute best, but Aja Brown, mayor of Compton, California, says a fear of failure has no place in bold leadership.
“The fear of failure can be one of the biggest impediments to making an impact,” she says, noting that leaders don’t make excuses — they lead. “If you’re afraid to make decisions that could shake you — that could shake your organization, your business, your team — think about the choice that you have to make, and think about the impact that could be had if you move forward.”
- Find your purpose and follow through.
How are you seeking purpose or meaning in your life? And how are you leading others to do the same? “You don’t have to start a business to create meaning,” says Jess Ekstrom, founder of Headbands of Hope, a company that donates a headband to a child with cancer for every item sold. “Execute with purpose, not perfection. It’s not about the work (you’ve) done wrong, it’s about the one work (you) did right,” she says.
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