If you are a woman rising to leadership in any environment be it public or private, you have likely felt friction when stereotyped definitions of a good leader and a good woman clash. In this blog, I will share some of the obstacles women face in leadership positions and what we can do to overcome them.
Culture is the cause. Assertiveness, Independence, Courage, and for lack of a better word – Masculinity, are all traits that surround the western image of the ideal leader. In fact, becoming an ideal man, is quite parallel with the path to leadership, don’t you think? Contrast this with the traits of an ideal woman in our western world. Jacinda Ardern is an exception and, despite our best efforts, and the gradual changes in society over the past few decades, kindness, caretaking, selflessness and other traits have even seemed counter-intuitive to the qualities of a strong leader. Conventional wisdom is at play here, and we at present must fight the stereotypes that hold us back from being perceived and believed as great leaders.
There is, however, a strong development at foot. In research published by the Harvard Business Review and titled ‘Making Jokes During a Presentation Helps Men But Hurts Women’, the conclusion of researchers is that “This doesn’t mean that women should refrain from humour. Instead, organizations and managers should instead increase awareness of this prejudice.”
On the other hand, it’s hard to fight such stereotypes. Did I mention an observed lack of confidence? In their book, the Confidence Code, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay tell us women are distinctly behind the eight ball for a variety of reasons, not least of all that in many corporate structures and systems, old-school conventions encourage masculinity. And I am not intimating that is at a conscious level. The fish can’t see the water in which it swims. It means that winning pitches and flying by the seat of your pants through macho efforts just doesn’t come habitually to us. That and the rise of political correctness can in some cases separate the genders from understanding and encouraging one another for fear of being misconstrued!
What we must do is what we do best and strive for competence through ambition and wilful practice to become the best leaders, speakers and communicators we can.
Be Your Very Best & Lead The Way!
Is it hard to change these habits? Well, while it certainly isn’t easy, practice is key! So be mindful whenever you’re communicating from this point on While we may for some time be the only women populating our boardrooms, conference halls and zoom webinars, with the right training and mastery of communication techniques we can stand out and transform how we are perceived by our contemporaries.