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Be A Great Leader: Recognize Women in Your Network & See them Flourish

When I heard my name being called back to the stage after my presentation “Be A Great Leader,” I was confused. “Is she talking about me?” I asked one of the organizers sitting at my table. To my surprise, she was!

The “Be A Great Leader” event

I had just finished doing the keynote at the “Be A Great Leader” event organized by the Latino Networks Coalition (LNC,) a professional association that groups the Latino Business Resource Groups of most major global corporations based in the New York City area. A couple of LNC leaders went on stage right after me to recap the event and do the closing remarks. The final presenter talked about an award they were giving to a woman for her leadership in business and diversity and inclusion.  And then she called my name.

After her keynote at the Be A Great Leader event, the LNC team gave Mariela Dabbah an award recognizing her leadership

After her keynote at the Be A Great Leader event, LNC honored Mariela Dabbah for her leadership. From L to R: Jessica Asencio, Claudia Vazquez, Christian Narvaez, Roberto Peralta, Alicia García, Lisa Concepción, Jaime Fuertes, Hedda Bonaparte.

It’s not out of false modesty that I tell you I was completely surprised and moved. This was not like any other award and it made me think about the value of being seen by your colleagues. Let me explain.

I’ve known and collaborated with LNC members and the global companies they work for, for years. They’ve witnessed my career trajectory and have been impacted by my work as I’ve been impacted by theirs. And although it’s not the first time I received an award, I found it particularly inspiring that my peers would appreciate the value of what I do. In addition, I had been hired to do this presentation and the fact that they felt I still deserved an award on top of my speaker’s fee, made it much more valuable to me.

Receiving public recognition always reminds us that what we do affects others, and it motivates us to continue working hard. It says, “we see you, we see your effort.” And I hardly doubt that I’m the only one who feels this way.

The theme of the event was based on this post.
The leadership event took place at the Prudential Tower in Newark, NJ.

The leadership event took place at the Prudential Tower in Newark, NJ.

Some great leaders lead from behind

So, if I can get so emotional about being recognized by my peers, imagine how the great number of women who lead from behind and are seldom recognized feel? Those who don’t have access to public stages from which to showcase their efforts. Or those who impact their local community. Or the women who have been making things happen for so long that their work has become invisible and it’s being taken for granted. Are you giving them the recognition they deserve? Most likely the answer is no.

Part of being a great leader is to help develop and inspire others to be great leaders themselves. And advocating for women who deserve recognition to actually get it, is a sure way to encourage them to continue on their leadership journey.

The issue here is not building up people’s egos. It’s about the benefits public recognition brings with it. Specifically, exposure, validation, credibility, brand, and reputation building.

The more of all these things you have, the better the opportunities that come your way. So very concretely, when we don’t offer women the recognition they deserve, we negatively impact their careers. Not only because we deny them the chance to gain more exposure and validation but also because lack of recognition of one’s contributions eventually leads to frustration and disengagement. And I talk about women here, and particularly women of color, because they are frequently absent from top lists and awards.

Now, through the course of the year, businesses and professional organizations have many chances to recognize people in their ecosystems: their employees, partners, suppliers, clients, etc. Think about how much more committed and energized all your female (and male) stakeholders would be if they were recognized for their efforts, their influence, and their leadership?

Read about how powerful women lead in many different ways.
As great leaders its our job to recognize women.

As great leaders its our job to recognize women.

Be a great leader by recognizing women

Here is how you can play a pivotal role in increasing the inclusiveness of awards and recognitions being doled out:

  • Nominate women in your network for all sorts of leadership and professional awards and lists
  • Advocate for women’s nominations when you notice an uneven number of women applicants to any award or recognition opportunity
  • Be the first one to give women credit in public when credit is due
  • Elevate women’s achievements by providing larger platforms to showcase them
  • Question editors and creators of “Best” and “Top” lists that are disproportionately male
  • Offer to help editors or creators of such lists to diversify their networks in order to identify deserving women they’ve missed in the past

Most of all look closely at the people in your network who do amazing work and generally go unrecognized. A heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way to making them feel valued.

5 Easy Ways to Eliminate Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threats are real. They affects performance and morale. Luckily, research shows you can drastically reduce their impact with pretty simple interventions. Read on!

Defined as “a situational predicament in which individuals are at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their group,” stereotype threats have a harmful effect on women in the workplace.

Red Shoe Movement’s Principle #7 Addresses Stereotype Threat

Labels refer to any word or expression we use (even tongue-in-cheek) that has an overt or subtle derogatory undertone: Bitch, bossy, competitive, etc. These labels reflect deep-held beliefs we contribute to perpetuate every time we use them. So when women don’t conform to the social norm expected of them and are interested in power, or when they are decisive and have a strong will to carry out their vision, we collectively bring them down a notch or two by calling them names.

In other words, certain expressions can have very detrimental —even if unintended— consequences. Identifying this effect goes a long way to changing our choice of words.

Principle 7 of the Red Shoe Movement deals with stereotype threat

Principle 7 of the Red Shoe Movement deals with stereotype threat

With the help of a nuanced infographic created by Catalyst, we review how to flip five common labels used on women to reduce stereotype threat.

1She’s Too Abrasive or She’s Too Aggressive

This is a case of damn if you do, damn if you don’t, if there ever was one. Women are told that they need to be assertive and express themselves and what they want clearly. Yet, when they do, they are penalized for not being warm and fuzzy. Finding the sweet spot can be quite hard.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than focusing on their style you should focus on their work performance.

In addition: Some research shows that when it comes to feedback, women get more negative personality criticism than men. Things like: “You can come across as aggressive sometimes.” So may I also suggest that you think twice before providing this kind of feedback? Would you say the same thing to Tom that you’re about to say to Lisa? That’s an easy way to assess if you’re about to fall into a stereotype threat.

Knowing the stereotype threat definition helps you guard off any words that may lead to it

Knowing the stereotype threat definition helps you guard off any words that may lead to it

2She’s So Helpful

One of the ways in which organizations can facilitate the promotion of women to positions of more responsibility is by creating opportunities for exposure. Those seldom lie in a support position. When women are viewed as part of the “back office” or the support team, they are less likely to be perceived as leadership material. So although it’s good to appreciate the support of your team members when warranted, if that’s all you do for them, they won’t go as far in their careers as they could.

Solution

Catalyst: When you speak of the women in your team, be specific about their contributions.

In addition: Find real opportunities for every woman on your team to develop and exercise leadership skills regardless of their position. Admins and support staff can be put in charge of leading projects that give them the exposure they deserve. You might be surprised at how people rise to the occasion once you raise your expectations.

Flip the Script Women

Courtesy Catalyst

3She Gets Overly Emotional

I don’t need to tell you that women tend to be more in touch with their emotions than their male counterparts. Or that often, when we are angry we cry. And although this may be a biological response, both tears and displays of anger in the workplace tend to be frowned upon. When it’s women who are doing either, obviously. The social norm that affects men expects them to exhibit anger, assertiveness, and aggression as part of the attributes of male leadership. Not so much for women.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than calling her “emotional” take the time to describe to women the consequences of their behavior.

In addition: Help them learn to explain the reason for their tears while they are shedding them, so their audience is aware they are not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of anger, frustration, etc. Help your male employees identify their different responses to anger when expressed by each gender so they understand women can get angry yet be effective leaders.

4She Lacks Leadership Gravitas or She Lacks Executive Presence

This is frequently code for “she doesn’t look like the current leadership,” which tends to be white, and male. This expression particularly affects women of color because they face a double whammy. Gender and race or ethnicity. It’s trully quite a stereotype threat when you wish to promote more women to the top.

So if you are truly committed to diversity and inclusion at the top of your organization, the current leadership will have to look beyond the traditional definition of executive presence.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than just crossing a woman off explain exactly what you mean.

In addition: If you continue using the old definition of the attributes, abilities, experience you look for in a leader, you’ll probably continue to recruit the same type of person. Get rid of unstructured interviews where “cultural fit” can become an unspoken way to hire people who look like you or your current leadership team. Instead, create a list of specific requirements for the position and a list of questions that you ask all interviewees. Assign points to each answer and have someone else tally all the answers from all interviewees to get you the finalist. There are many concrete, simple interventions you can implement to make sure you hire the best person for the job rather than someone who fits some old stereotype.

5She’s Too Judgmental

Often, when women give critical feedback others consider her incompetent. This stereotype threat undermines women’s leadership chances.

Solution

Catalyst: Rather than making it about her leadership style, focus on whether she’s demonstrating good judgment.

In addition: Everyone should understand that human beings are all judgmental. We can’t see the world other than through our individual lens. That lens places a layer of judgment on everything as we can only perceive people, circumstances and situations through our own experiences, emotions, knowledge, culture, social context and so on. So, rather than impose another stereotype threat, which might stop women’s impetus to grow, why not acknowledge that we are all equally judgmental.

As I said in a recent post about an entirely different subject, words matter. They build our reality. Choosing the right ones will guarantee we create a more promising future for everyone.

RSM Mutual Mentoring Circles— The Secret of Our Success

I believe that everyone has something to teach and something to learn at the same time.  At this one-of-a-kind event (no speakers or panelists) our RSM Mutual Mentoring Circles speak for themselves!

Nobody knows everything and everyone knows something. Understanding that we learn from each other in a reciprocal fashion at all times is the first step to growing together. And a powerful incentive to engage with your colleagues for mutual career support.

The power and effectiveness of mutual mentoring surpasses anything you could get from a one-directional mentoring relationship. When both people clearly benefit they both invest in the relationship equally. In other words, leveling the playing field does wonders for everyone involved. Today I share why our mutual mentoring methodology, which infuses our RSM Signature Event, is so successful.

Here's a post on coaching and mentoring to clarify some of the different relationship options.

 

 

At our latest RSM Signature Event, MetLife Conference Center. A partial group of attendees.

At our latest RSM Signature Event, MetLife Conference Center. A partial group of attendees.

Our Mutual Mentoring Methodology

The belief that in life we are all learners and teachers is at the core of our methodology and permeates everything we do. That’s what makes our programs and our events so different and so effective. This methodology is behind our annual Step Up Plus leadership development program during which participants set up RSM Circles in their organizations.  And it’s the centerpiece of our Onsite and Signature events. It helps to make our training self-sustaining.

At the core of our methodology: we are constantly learning from each other. Mutual Mentoring is where it's at.

At the core of our methodology: we are constantly learning from each other. Mutual Mentoring is where it’s at.

Experiential leadership: RSM Signature Event

After months of preparation, the Red Shoe Movement Signature Event 2016 at MetLife Conference Center in Bryant Park, NYC, was gone in a flash. It is an unusual kind of event. No speakers or panelists. No “topic experts.” Our RSM Mutual Mentoring Circles speak for themselves. Literally.

Like many professionals, I’ve attended my fair share of conferences and leadership events throughout my career. Maybe a bit more often than doctors would recommend given that, as a speaker, this is what I do for a living.

There are many outstanding events out there where you are exposed to great, new ideas and make powerful connections. Conferences where you listen to industry leaders and get inspired by amazing role models. Yet, after years of participating both as an attendee and as a speaker, I felt that there was room for a more experiential conference. A professional event the nature of which would elicit curiosity, self-discovery, and empowerment. An exciting experience that would shed light on individuals’ interests and passions, and that would reveal areas of knowledge they weren’t aware of.

So when I founded the Red Shoe Movement, I set out to design a completely different type of leadership event. I wanted to create a situation where people could actually learn from each other. I particularly wanted women to realize how much more they know than they give themselves credit for. I craved an event where the attendees would be the real protagonists. Where there wouldn’t be a division between “the experts” and “the participants.”

We achieved our goal of leveling the playing field at our conference by putting into practice our mutual mentoring philosophy.

Mutual Mentoring Circle topic: How to Have a Difficult Conversation led by Lily Benjamin

Mutual Mentoring Circle topic: How to Have a Difficult Conversation led by Lily Benjamin

How does the mutual mentoring methodology achieve positive results?

Our event features two rounds of Mutual Mentoring Circles (RSM Circles) where people alternate between playing the role of the expert and the explorer. The facilitator’s role is to keep the conversation going.

This methodology demands that people participate actively, invest plenty of skin in the game, reveal their curiosity about different career concerns, and ask the relevant questions for their own careers that nobody else could ask. The methodology also requires that people share their knowledge and experiences with others, even when they failed. This openness creates a level of trust that fosters a candid exchange. The payoff is huge.

Practically all participants say they walk away with insights that they can immediately apply to their jobs. These are not a list of tips they could get off the Internet. They are insights people discover about themselves that generate behavioral and attitudinal changes. The best part is that once internalized, the mutual mentoring methodology carries beyond the RSM Signature Event.

Mutual Mentoring Circle topic: Your Brand Already Exists, facilitated by Cosette Gutiérrez.

Mutual Mentoring Circle topic: Your Brand Already Exists, facilitated by Cosette Gutiérrez.

Granted, this approach is not for everyone. Our feedback surveys often reveal a few people who would have preferred “topic experts” to facilitate our Mutual Mentoring Circles. Having speakers who present their topics with a Power Point. Panel discussions. Facilitators who capture key learnings on flip charts. And there’s nothing wrong with preferring that kind of conference. It’s just not what we do.

Our Facilitators

From Left to Right (standing, kneeling and standing): Stephen Palacios, Jolanta Kordowski, Johanna Torres, Mariela Dabbah, Cosette Gutiérrez, Ali Curi and Lily Benjamin.

From Left to Right (standing, kneeling and standing): Stephen Palacios, Jolanta Kordowski, Johanna Torres, Mariela Dabbah, Cosette Gutiérrez, Ali Curi and Lily Benjamin.

Our RSM Circles’ facilitators are high-level executives from large organizations who honor us with their participation. They are specifically trained in our methodology. Their mandate during these conversations is to leave their “expert hat” at the door and to adopt the role of the curious explorer. An experience they cherish so much, they keep coming back year after year to facilitate at this annual conference.

This year’s star facilitators were:

Lily Benjamin, SVP, Leadership Development & Transformation, U.S. Trust, Bank of America.

Ali Curi, President, Hispanic Professionals Networking Group (HPNG.)

Cosette Gutiérrez, VP, Operations & Social Responsibility, DonorsChoose.org.

Jolanta Kordowski, AVP, Organizational Effectiveness, MetLife.

Stephen Palacios, General Manager, VP, Lieberman Research Worldwide.

Johanna Torres, Editor-in-Chief, MamasLatinas.com.

Action planning session and beyond

After two rounds of Mutual Mentoring Circles, our event attendees participate in an insightful Action Planning session. It’s the chance to put pen to paper and work through some concrete career goals. After all the conversations that have been taking place, it’s time for some introspection. And then, everyone has the opportunity to partner with someone to practice mutual mentoring after the day’s activities come to an end.

Setting up career goals during the Action Planning Session

Setting up career goals during the Action Planning Session

Our Q&A with a top female leader

In addition to our Mutual Mentoring Circles, for our RSM Signature Event we invite a successful leader to share how she made it to where she is in her career. And you couldn’t ask for a more candid leader than Marta L. Tellado. Marta shared the career trajectory that led to her current position as CEO of Consumer Reports, the largest consumer advocacy organization in the world. Ali Curi interviewed her and then turned it over to the audience. And in typical Red Shoe Movement fashion, we then had Marta ask questions of the audience. This is how mutual mentoring works. An even playing field at all times. As an explorer, what did Marta want to ask the audience? “What do you find most fascinating and most challenging about the American corporate culture?”

Ali Curi interviews Marta Tellado, CEO, Consumer Reports

Ali Curi, President HPNG,  interviews Marta Tellado, CEO, Consumer Reports

The fun part

Alexandra Contreras of Colgate-Palmolive picks up her Farylrobin shoes (while wearing another pair she won last year!)

Alexandra Contreras of Colgate-Palmolive picks up her Farylrobin shoes (while wearing another pair she won last year!)

And of course, we wouldn’t be true to our name if there weren’t some actual shoes involved, right? So to help more people celebrate #RedShoeTuesday, we gave away dozens of pairs of red shoes during early registration and at the event. They were two styles specially designed for the Red Shoe Movement by our great partner, Farylrobin.

We also raffled LolaRamona shoes and, this year for the first time, we gave away red ties! As the number of male attendees grows, we want to make sure they have the right accessory to support women’s career growth in style.

Winner of a Cyberoptix tie

Winner of a Cyberoptix tie

It’s been a fabulous year! And next year will be even better. I can’t wait to see you at our next event!

Testimonials of our attendees

Hear first hand what participants had to say about the event.

If you want to bring this level of engagement to your organization, let us know. Our RSM Onsite Event is the in-company version of the RSM Signature Event. ‘Till next time!

Sergio Kaufman of Accenture, leading the way in female leadership

For a CEO, Sergio Kaufman is as easy going as it gets. He’s an Industrial Engineer by training but he’s definitely a people person.  A champion of inclusion and diversity and a strong believer in female leadership. It’s leaders like him that move the needle faster in gender equality in large organizations. Find out why he’s so successful.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Leveraging 100% of the talent pool is Sergio Kaufman’s goal. And to that effect he’s been instrumental in designing and supporting policies that make it easier for everyone at his company, Accenture, to progress in their careers. And given that Accenture is a consulting firm that works with many large corporations around the world, their success serves as a model for the rest of the world.

At a recent presentation in front of a conservative audience of mostly male executives, Sergio Kaufman talked about men as the weaker sex. Needless to say his comments made more than a few people uncomfortable. But Sergio says he likes to shock. To disrupt. To get people to discuss the important issues. And today, he sits with us to talk about what it takes to promote female leadership, the advantages of gender equality, and a lot more. Meet Sergio Kaufman, one of the leaders in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director & Leader of Hispanic South America

Sergio Kaufman, CEO, Hispanic South America, Accenture

Sergio Kaufman, CEO, Hispanic South America, Accenture

What are the traits of an effective leader?

An effective leader has two interesting variables. The old model of leadership was based on power (I tell you what you have to do) and knowledge (even when your boss was a complicated person, you respected him/her because he/she was knowledgeable.) Today, knowledge changes every 6 months so it’s difficult for leadership to be based on knowledge. And power has been transformed into influence. The new organizations clearly have much more respect for an influential leader than for a powerful leader. And that has an interesting effect.

If I work with people based on power, the day I leave my job, everything returns to the previous situation because once the leader changes, the power changes. If I work with influence the change is much more permanent and effective. That “old knowledge” changes into “values” that are much more permanent than knowledge that changes all the time. We went from a leadership based on power and knowledge to one based on influence and values.

And why do I mention this in connection to gender issues? Because the first two attributes I mentioned are much more frequently adopted by men, while influence management is much evenly distributed between genders. I would even say that in public life, there are more examples of influential women and powerful men. It is a different leadership model that allows for a completely different dynamic in business. It encourages and it will continue to encourage the inclusion of women in decision-making positions and positions of increasing responsibility.

The second point is the issue of diversity. Very likely, many of the attributes of empathy required for an inclusive leadership are also more balanced in women.

Read more about Integrated Talent Management in this interview with Marcelo Fumasoni of Novartis.
Accelerating female leadership is one of the areas where Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, excels

Accelerating female leadership is one of the areas where Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, excels

Given that you are a man who firmly believes in gender equality, what is happening in terms of female leadership at executive levels in the region of Accenture you lead?

Diversity is an operational necessity. We operate in a large region with about 10,400 people. We interact with the world, with diversity. Trying to manage a diverse organization connected to the world with a scheme where I think I can choose people, train them, and expect for them to all fit into identical little bottles of talent, leads to a serious loss of richness. That richness is our innovation. So it’s about having diversity in all aspects. We have people who think differently to solve different problems. And definitely leveling the playing field for women is part of the success we are having in terms of talent development and innovation. When you level the playing field male and female leadership emerges equally. 

Sergio Kaufman surrounded by his diverse talent

Sergio Kaufman surrounded by his diverse talent

Sergio Kaufman’s suggestions to involve more male leaders in promoting female leadership

What is the best way to involve more male leaders on the issue of female leadership in Latin America?

It’s a virtuous circle and when you see it in others you become someone who sees the result. What the Red Shoe Movement does in disseminating this information is useful and I think it is also useful for companies that have gender equity initiatives to tell their story. My role in this is to share transparently our experience. One could say that Accenture has an advantage because it has active policies for women and diversity in general. And that if we share them openly we lose the market advantage that attracts distinct talent. I think sharing these stories helps improve society as a whole and also it helps position the organization. I think you have to compete to make things better and not hide what you think you’re doing well and that is working for you.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, is a strong proponent of verbalizing the inclusion and diversity priorities of an organization.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, is a strong proponent of verbalizing the inclusion and diversity priorities of an organization.

More on talent strategy in this interview with Arturo Poire of Erickson.

What are some practices that you think inadvertently affect women negatively?

There’s a behavior that many men see as something positive. It is looking after women, taking care of them, protecting them. So you tend to protect your female team players more than your male talent. And it seems like a good thing to do until that additional protection ends up, inadvertently, being a problem.

For example, say I have a fantastic project that can speed up a career trajectory, but is in another country. And I say, “I’m not going to offer it to this woman because I am going to complicate her life. So I give it to a man. The appropriate thing to do would be to tell the woman, “Look, I have this opportunity, you’re the right person for it. I will support you. We will figure out together how to manage the travel required. Do you want to take it?” Sometimes we don’t offer opportunities to women not out of selfishness but because we think we are offering something that is not fair to her. And actually, the best thing to do is to offer every opportunity and let women choose. In addition, when you offer the opportunity you must support the person appropriately. Sometimes one tends to give men more straightforward career advice and to be more careful with women.

Sergio Kaufman tries virtual reality technology

Sergio Kaufman tries virtual reality technology

Pursuing female leadership

What advice would you give to a woman interested in career growth who is forced to turn down opportunities due to lack of flexible policies in her organization? 

There are three choices: you can change the organization, you can sacrifice your expectations, or you can move to a different organization. But first I’d try to change the organization by being very outspoken about what’s not working. Be vocal in a positive way. I believe in saying things assertively with good manners.

But don’t give up on shedding light on any problems you notice in the organization.

Go and talk to your bosses and let them know they are not giving you the opportunities you seek. That is what helps change organizations. Because if you leave you end up contributing to the self-fulfilled prophecy. The organization is left with the idea that women have family concerns and that’s why they leave. So you as a woman end up reinforcing that stereotype.

Leaders like Sergio Kaufman are key to moving the needle in gender equity in large organizations

Leaders like Sergio Kaufman are key to moving the needle in gender equity in large organizations

In a recent conference you talked about an article in “The Economist which talked about men as the weaker sex. Why do you think future employment presents a challenge to men?

The new economy is ripe for female leadership. According to this article, we should start worrying about men's future job opportunities.

The new economy is ripe for female leadership. According to this article, we should start worrying about men’s future job opportunities.

First, the evidence is academic. You look at any university in the world except in a few careers and men are outnumbered in quantity, they take longer to graduate, and have lower grade averages than women. These are important facts to consider. And it’s true, demographic waves move slowly but the effects are already starting to be felt. In addition, in the past many jobs required physical skills, something in which men had an edge, but with technology, that becomes less important. Those are two strong trends. There is still a difference in careers like economics, engineering, and technology where there are smaller percentages of women. Our challenge is to encourage more women to enter those fields.

There is a McKinsey study that says that in itself, the fact that there is a greater proportion of women than men graduating college is not enough to move the needle at the highest positions of decision-making. That the needle moves when this becomes a top priority in an organization. Your thoughts?

I fully agree that gender diversity has to be an explicit priority. I believe in what is verbalized and that the organization has to express how important diverse talent is. When you tell the women in your company, “I hope that the future leadership of the company emerges amongst you and I will actively look at that,” it changes attitudes and expectations.

You can follow Sergio Kaufman on Twitter.

Climbing the ladder: What women don’t know

Why aren’t more women climbing the ladder at corporations and organizations of all kinds? It’s the million-dollar question. If you really want to change the status quo, read on!

We’ve been debating this question for a long time. Mostly because it’s unfathomable that so little change has happened in decades. Are women not climbing the ladder because of a personal decision or because of organizational biases?

Climbing the ladder: Three responsible categories, not two!

Let’s look first at two, broad categories that most commonly take the blame for making it hard for women climbing the ladder.

Organizational responsibility 

There is an array of factors that deliberately or inadvertently impact the number of women at the top in a negative way. These include barriers such as unwritten rules, policies, expectations, and perceptions of what constitutes leadership potential, executive presence, etc.

For instance:

  • Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Expectations that in order to reach the C-suite you must be available 24/7. Or work late every night to entertain clients.

  • Expectations that women are still mostly responsible for family matters.
  • Perceptions of men being more competent or having more executive presence.
  • Regular skepticism, push back and challenges of women’s ideas and competences.
  • Fill-in positions through recommendations of current executives in office. (These tend to be white men and have a network with a similar make-up.)
  • Value face-time in the office for promotions(penalizing people who are mobile.)

Personal responsibility

This group of factors includes your own behaviors and decisions that impact your career trajectory.

For example:

  • How assertive you are in your communication and leadership style.
  • How strong your network of sponsors is.
  • How hard and often you negotiate for yourself along your career.
  • How visible you and your accomplishments are to key people.
  • How comfortable you are taking risks.
  • How important other pursuits outside of your career are for you.

Now, in trying to figure out which of these two categories is more responsible for women not climbing the ladder, we keep pointing fingers with little visible results.

The truth is that here’s a third category that connects Organizational and Personal. One that we haven’t paid as much attention as it deserves. One that can really make the difference.

Joined Responsibility

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

This category is the space where both individual women and organizations share responsibility for more women not climbing the ladder. Due to the way in which organizations have traditionally perceived and promoted men and women, and social norms affecting both genders, some advice and training fell through the cracks. Companies didn’t offer it. Women didn’t ask for it.

This advice refers to the expectation that a person must have certain abilities in order to reach C-level. Advice that hasn’t been verbalized as often to women as to men. And women haven’t asked about it either. Here are the areas that may be holding you back at any level:

  • How focused you are in business outcomes. (Both the outcomes of your own role and on how they impact the overall outcomes of the business.)
  • How closely you align your role in the organization with the business strategy. (Can you answer why the company is paying your salary? Hint: Think of the “why” you do what you do.  Not the “what” it is you do.)
  • How much financial acumen you have. (Do you know how to affect the company’s bottom line within your own role? At any level, it’s important to understand how what you do affects the financials of the overall company.)
Check out Susan Colantuono’s brilliant book on this topic!

Mastering these three aspects will make it easier for women climbing the ladder to get to the very top. If you are a manager, supervisor or an executive, you may need to start sharing this type of advice with your subordinates. Offer them coaching and training programs to fill-in any gaps in knowledge. If you are an individual contributor, this is your call to action. Don’t let one more day go by without seeking help in this area. Here is a great, very inexpensive Business Foundations online course, taught by Wharton Business School.

It's important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

It’s important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

As women, we already have many of the advantageous characteristics that make for a successful 21st Century executive. Make sure you don’t overlook the business, financial, and strategic abilities that are taken for granted at higher levels. You may not have thought about them much along the way and they may be the one thing that’s holding you back.