It is time for a revised discussion about women in leadership for many reasons. Statistically, 60 percent of the world’s university graduates from Sweden to Saudi Arabia are women, and females under the age of 30 seriously out-earn their male counterparts.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis from 2013, a record 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 are led by women who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. This has increased from just 11 percent in 1960 (Wang, Parker, and Taylor, 2013).
Women are already showing their effectiveness as business leaders. We are running companies and countries. Take, for example, the head of the International Monetary Fund, the chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and CEOs for General Motors, IBM, Yahoo and Lockheed Martin, as well as the chancellor of Germany.
Two women are running for U.S. president right now, representing both parties: Republication Carly Fiorina from California and Democrat Hillary Clinton from New York. Prior to running for president, Carly Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett Packard, and Hillary Clinton is a former U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state.
Regardless of these recent wins, it is still difficult for women to flourish in a business landscape when called to lead. Female leaders continue to be unfairly misrepresented in the workplace. So how do we build capacity in females so that women are able to attain positions of leadership and lead sustainably and effectively? Here are some of my thoughts.
1. Women Need to Be Appropriately Socialized
We need to openly discuss and reframe our assumptions about female-based leadership. Despite our successes as females in business and politics, too many women have been socialized to take a back seat and let men lead. The truth is, we are often socialized to this mind-set at an early age both at home and in school.
One career in which women dominate is in elementary schools. Teachers are not running Fortune 500s, and despite exhibiting potentially strong personalities, young females are socialized by elementary teachers not to talk back, to get along collegially with other girls, and to perform well academically in subjects other than math, science, and technology. Without an opposing role model, this type of socialization can be damaging to malleable females.
2. Give Women the Same Tools as Men
On the other hand, males are persistently socialized and praised for exhibiting alpha-type leadership and taking school leadership positions. They are also encouraged to compete. Consequently, these same alpha behaviors tend to help men earn promotions in the workplace.
Socialized dogma traps all of us into believing stereotypes and scenarios that often dictate career-based outcomes. Therefore, all of us need to think carefully about the ways we socialize young males and females that later translate into misaligned workplace roles. The two genders are typically handed a different set of rules by their mothers, teachers, and the media. Unless we are mindful regarding our own internal assumptions, the same systems will be perpetuated continually.
At a time when the workplace demands a different type of leadership, all of us need to understand how to adapt and utilize our skill sets to appropriately advance.
3. Eliminate Workplace Bias
Just as we see these aforementioned roles enacted at home and at school, maturing females often take their disempowered assumptions and gender biases into the workplace. Women are not taught to work in ways that facilitate promotion. In a landscape in which female leadership naturally would aspire to cultivate, collaborate, and connect others to be more empowered, supportive, and balanced, the baggage from our preconceived gender roles and preassigned behaviors can be barriers to both leadership and achievement.
Thus, the conversation about leadership skills needs to start at an early age. We should begin by helping young females identify and cultivate their natural leadership skill set. The takeaway here is that we have to intentionally teach women about the different styles of leadership and adaptive strategies that will meaningfully engage their specific leadership skill set in the workplace. We must start young!
About Your Columnist
Sharon Link \is a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers topics related to leadership. Currently, Sharon is the CEO of Leadership via Design. Link’s doctorate is in leadership studies with an emphasis in organizational development. She specializes in working with all types of clients to leverage leadership and learning as a means to shape organizational cultures, improve business processes, and implement results-producing, customized learning programs – particularly e-learning.