Recently I was invited to speak to a group of young women involved in uCodeGirl, a nonprofit organization that empowers young girls through enrichment programs to pursue opportunities in technology careers. Learn more about uCodeGirl. Their leaders asked me to speak on leadership traits. As I put together information to share with these young women, I wanted to raise my sword for all women and continue the dialogue of how we can improve our statistics in leadership roles.
Let’s start with some facts. We are celebrating that, as of 2017, there are 32 women who lead Fortune 500 companies. That equates to 6.4 percent. Is this good? It feels pathetic, but it’s an improvement. The statistics are staggering, and if we pay attention, we will recognize that our progress is slow going. Consider this: 52 percent of professional level jobs are held by women. But a mere 14.6 percent of those are executive level, and only 8.1 percent are top earners.
Who is hampering this progress?
I’m going out on a limb. We aren’t without fault here, ladies. Our inability to believe in ourselves, and each other, hampers our progress. It is shameful to me that my daughters are stepping into a very similar situation as I did as a young college graduate embarking on a professional career.
We must do better. And it’s going to take some work to create real change. Think about this: When a man applies for a position, he feels very confident pursuing the job if he meets 60 percent of the qualifications. In similar scenarios, if a woman applies for a position, she feels she must meet 100 percent of the qualifications prior to pursuing it. Think how that hurts us and how this is a self-imposed prophecy. No one has to tell us we won’t meet the qualifications; unfortunately, we come to that conclusion all on our own. As long as we continue to think like that, we will lag behind in what we can accomplish. We won’t fill those executive seats because we won’t allow ourselves.
My very best female friends are a powerful lot. They are attorneys, business owners, teachers and have careers in government. They are executives and leaders. They are smart, stable, reliable, assertive and willing to work hard. That’s how they got into the positions they have. But we all have similar stories. Our paths were not easy. We did not gain promotions without taking on tremendous amounts of work and stress. We risked, often. We had to balance family obligations, marital strife, losing parents, family feuds, plenty of self-doubt, and other issues and situations. In many ways, we clawed our way to the top. What we had though, and still have, is relentless support of each other. We picked each other up when we stumbled; we laughed and cried together. If there is such a thing as an emotional safety net, they are it. Why? You rarely hear men talk about their “tribe” or “posse” or “support system.” I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying we need to get beyond it. We need to get beyond the need for our group to move us forward. To give us the guts, we need to apply when we’re 60 percent qualified.
I remember, often, dwelling on my silliest mistakes. Through many years of self-talk, I no longer do that. Thinking back to high school, if I made the cheer team or was student of the month or praised for a speech, my instant response would be, “Yeah, but, I screwed up that jump,” or “Ugh, I looked so awful in those pants,” or any negative comment to offset the positive. It was ingrained in me and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Women still do that. All of the time. Rarely, if ever, do men do that. And I can’t recall boys doing this as we grew up. We need to adjust our behavior, without losing some self-deprecation.
I want my girls to be able to power through. I want them to have a group of incredible friends, but not need that safety net to propel forward. I want them to go for things that they are “60 percent qualified for” without hesitation. It’s not going to happen unless we can change the mindset from top to bottom.
Here are some top line things we need to incorporate:
- Believe in yourself more. Practice this. It’s self-talk. It’s walking away from something you did dwelling on the positive NOT the negative. Learn to pick yourself up.
- Keep your friends. Keep your tribe. Keep your posse. But push yourself to handle those big life decisions based on firing up your internal confidence.
- STOP holding yourself back. Let yourself make mistakes, huge mistakes, by taking smart, calculated risks. Embrace the power of your potential. Seriously, sit down and think about what your potential is. Define it, believe in it and control it.
- Demand equal pay and equal opportunity. Raise your hand to tackle leadership opportunities. Look for chances to make yourself known.
The paradigm shift is not easy to accomplish. We aren’t victims. We are empowered, intelligent individuals who must be less “rule-followers” and focus on breaking through.
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