Quite often, on their way up the corporate ladder, women fall behind their male counterparts.
“It’s time for organisations and women themselves to reverse the trend,” says Sandra Burmeister, CEO of the Landelahni Recruitment Group.
Just think about all the powerful women that have made strides in all walks of life. Women like Christine Lagarde, the first female head of the International Monetary Fund and Marissa Meyer, the new CEO of Yahoo.
And it’s not just in the USA and Europe where these wonder women are bred. South Africa can proudly boast with the likes of Maria Ramos, the CEO of Absa and Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, CEO of ArcelorMittal - both making the Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. Then there’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - the newly-elected head of the African Union. Talk about representing!
That being said, the global stats are still shocking. According to the Grant Thornton International Business Report 2012, only 21% of women are in senior management positions worldwide. SA does better at 28%, but only 8% of local companies have a female CEO.
“The slow progress of women as leaders tends to be based on entrenched corporate practices and outdated gender stereotypes,” says Burmeister. “As a result, men are frequently promoted on potential, while women are promoted on performance and hence advance more slowly. This can deprive the organisation of leadership talent, at a time when it is in short supply all over the world.”
But don’t worry, just remember these research findings next time someone challenges you with the whole “Women-should-stay-at-home-while-the-men-do-manly-macho-professional-work” debate:
• Diversity of leadership generates better company performance and increased profits.
• Women can bring a broader set of ideas to the table, leading to more innovative workplaces and better decision making.
• Women tend to practise an inclusive style of leadership and value compassion and support. This has a positive impact on staff performance and achievements.
• In an economic crisis, women tend to come to the fore, since they are less likely than their male counterparts to take high risks.
• Generally less competitive, women may be less likely to show knee-jerk reactions in high-pressure situations.
And if you want to make it to the top go easy on yourself and, most importantly, believe in yourself. Burmeister says we are frequently our own worst enemies. “Women can do a great deal to push back against outdated policies and practices and make the most of opportunities in the workplace,” she says.
Here are a few tips:
• Get better at building relationships - connecting with influential people who can provide strategic advice is important in advancing your career.
• Build networks at the office as well as in your personal life.
• But, keep your work and private life separate – at work and on the Internet. Never post anything on your Facebook or LinkedIn pages that you wouldn’t want your colleagues to see.
• Find a sponsor several levels above you who can act as a mentor, introduce you to the leadership network, recommend you for projects or promotions you may not otherwise have access to, so you can advance up the corporate ladder.
• The next step is to be confident in projecting your authority rather than wanting to be seen as ‘nice’. Be prepared to take reasonable risks and don’t miss opportunities through fear of making mistakes.
• Understand the politics of the organisation and your place in it. Women who get to the top understand how to pull the top team together and how to lobby for support.
• Finally, be resilient and tenacious. Setbacks are inevitable – but you’ve got to be steadfast in your quest if you want to reach the top.
Now that you have this knowledge, go turn it into power!