Earlier this year, I was on a panel of several women leaders from across the globe and the conversation was about what challenges we face in our work lives to assert ourselves. Not surprising was the fact that though we were so culturally diverse from each other; yet the challenges faced were almost the same, varied by only the degree of impact.
Yes, the challenges are immensely daunting. Yet, I am of the belief that we need to use our feminine powers at work.
Successful women ask for what they want. Good work does not always guarantee success. We have to learn to assess our leadership skills and affirm our focus towards being vocal and advocating on our own behalf.
How many times have you been asked to chair an event and you have said no when you wanted to say yes. How many times have you wanted to take a direction with your business and though you know you are right in your assessment; you have failed to get an affirmation from your business partners who are happy with status quo.
How many times have you been talked down in meetings even when you are the only person in the meeting with any expertise on the topic.
If we do not learn to assert ourselves; we will never be an important participant in any decision making process at any time.
Women who achieve leadership status always challenge beliefs. We ask for what we want. We are firm. We don’t accept what is unacceptable. We maneuver our business with power.
We are not consensus leaders. We are conviction leaders.
Today, in corporate America, at the lowest levels, more than half of the employees in organizations are female. As you move to each successively higher level in the organization, the number of women steadily shrinks. At the CEO level, worldwide, there are only 3% to 4% who are women.
However, the number and economic contributions of women-owned firms continue to grow. The rate of growth in the number of women-owned enterprises over the past 16 years remains higher than the national average. Between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned firms is growing at 1½ times the national average.
We must understand that there is indeed a huge difference between the experience, typology, motives and characteristics of female entrepreneurs when compared to male entrepreneurs.
Despite the advances, there still exists a huge gap between men and women economically, politically and socially. Given the fact that men and women experience their enterprises differently, it is essential to differentiate the principles of leadership based on the criteria of how they use strategies and organizational structures.
Men entrepreneurs are usually motivated by the desire to control their own destiny whereas women tend to be motivated by a need of independence and achievement as a result of the frustration they feel by not being able to perform at work at the level they know they would. Occupationally, men tend to be more competitive in their business management skills and women usually have limited in their skills here. For women more than men, the decision of starting a new enterprise is usually related with the need or flexibility of hours or location – the kind of independence that allows them to conciliate family needs and childcare.
The decision to become women entrepreneurs seems to be influenced by several factors; primary being
a. The entrepreneurs’ background – including aspects that have impact on motivations and perceptions, such as knowledge and skills.
b. Previous jobs-influencing the location, nature and path of the new enterprise.
c. Other factors like availability of risk capital, economic conditions, mentors or advisors, availability of personnel / support services and access to customers.
d. Inability to re-join workforce after a break in career.
However, before we assess the leadership principles for women (in subsequent parts to this blog); let us eliminate some leadership fables
1. Leading and managing are not the same thing. Leadership is about influencing people to follow and management focuses on maintaining systems and processes.
2. All salespeople and entrepreneurs are not leaders. You can persuade people for a moment by closing a sale; but if you can hold no long term influence on them then you are not a leader
3. People who have knowledge and intelligence or being the first ones to do something are not always the leaders. You can be a brilliant research scientist with high IQ but that does not mean you are a leader.
Bottom line: You need to have people intentionally following your vision and following your lead or acting on your vision to be a leader.
How do we get that to happen? This and more in subsequent sequels to this blog.