We need to do more than “Lean In.” We need to lead!
You may like me a little less after you finish this article. Study after study about women in the workplace tell me that you will label me “aggressive” maybe even “intimidating.” And you may even use the b-word. That’s right – “bossy.” Apparently, the qualities that make us good leaders are not all that likable . . . at least not in women. So here is my plea to working women: it is time we stop caring so much about being liked, and instead embrace our inner b-word and lead.
Too aggressive for you? I’m just getting started.
Per a 2016 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Co. and Sheryl Sandberg’s Leanin.Org, it will be more than a century before there is gender equality in the workplace. The cause, they say, has little to do with women opting out. The latest studies show that attrition is roughly equal between men and women. Instead, women are facing barriers to advancement primarily due to gender bias.
- Women are negotiating as often as men, but face more push back when they do
- Women get less access to senior leaders
- Women ask for feedback as often as men – but are less likely to receive it
- Women consider the climb to senior leadership far more steep than their male counterparts (because it is)
As an executive woman working in the male-dominated tech industry for 25 years, I offer several ideas to help women transition from leaning to leading.
1. Express your opinion
- In her book “Lean In,” Sandberg invites us to sit at the table. However, sitting at the table only works if you bring value to the discussion. That value starts with having an opinion that is rooted in preparation and facts. Do your homework and come to a resolute conclusion before you get to the table.
- And then say it out loud.
- Share your opinion openly and rationally, and then listen to what others are saying, show empathy and maintain an open mind.
- Dare to be wrong.
Where opinions are at play, there is rarely a clear right answer. 9 times out of 10, you will find that someone else in the room agrees with you. Silence is often confused for consent, or worse, ignorance. Speaking up shows that you are confident, engaged and invested
2. Promote yourself
- Doing great work is critical, but it must be noticeable to result in advancement
- Establish a personal brand. Are you the “get-it-done” person? Everyone’s “go-to”? The strategist? The executive whisperer? The Chief Listening Officer? You don’t have to brag to promote yourself. Simply be your bad self, but make sure it is noticeable
- Prioritize projects that make your boss’s job easier and ensures his/her success
- Know your audience. Align your priorities with those of your leadership. If you have multiple projects on your plate, make sure to do the one that serves your boss first and/or the highest-ranking person first.
- Include your name on the presentations and reports that you prepare
- Proactively provide your boss with a status update on your projects, and use the update to emphasize your achievements.
3. Cultivate relationships
- Many decisions are made outside of the boardroom. Get out of the office. Have lunch, dinner, coffee or drinks with your colleagues, your staff and your leadership when you can.
- If you are invited to a work event, especially those that include leadership, GO. Shake a few hands, introduce yourself, and get to know people. Do more than just network.
- Travel to meetings to be in the room, and use the non-work hours to get to know your colleagues.
- Ask questions. Engage in a conversation that isn’t about work.
- If travel is a challenge because of family, choose one or two trips a year that maximize your time with leaders who can help you learn and grow.
4. Find a Sponsor
- Mentors are great, but sponsors are necessary if you want to ascend to a leadership position. A sponsor does more than offer advice. They become your advocate.
- In most companies, VP-level promotions and higher require approval by leadership. Having an advocate in the room ensures that you have a voice.
- Your sponsor does not need to be female. Given the lack of parity at the top, it is important to have both male and female sponsors.
5. Identify as a leader
- Dress the part
- Look the part
- Be the part
A few things to stop doing . . .
1. Stop touting your ability to do low-level tasks.
- Great at taking notes? Are you a superfast typist? How about grammar and spelling? Do you see where I’m going with this?
- Promoting yourself as a great note-taker will reinforce your role as a supporting player.
- If you are interested in leadership, best to keep your note-taking skills on the down-low and focus on your high-level skills.
2. Stop focusing solely on getting an “A” on the project
- Per Harvey Coleman, in his book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed, career success is based on 3 key factors: Performance, Image and Exposure (“PIE”).
- Performance only accounts for 10% of the PIE. Image is 30% and Exposure . . . the other 60%. See “promote yourself” above for more details.
3. Avoid behaving like you are the Mom in the room
- Never, I mean EVER, clear the plates on the board room table.
- Someone ordering lunch for the meeting? Grab a menu, circle your order only and pass it to the next person.
4. Be sure not to confuse low level work with less work
- Are you staying in that lower level job thinking it will give you more balance? Higher level jobs give you more freedom to work where and when you want to work.
- You will have far more control of your hours as the boss, than you will as the employee.
5. Stop apologizing
- An apology can be a powerful tool when you’ve done something wrong, but it should not be used when you are doing the following:
– Stating your opinion
– Confronting a challenge or dissent
– Standing up for someone
- Apologizing for being yourself comes off as a lack of confidence. It starts with believing that you belong in the room, at the table, actively engaging in the discussion.
With gender parity at the C-suite level as distant as the year 2116, we need to do more than just lean in. A century equates to at least five generations of women who will be paid less and passed over more, unless we actively move to change the trajectory. We need to express and promote ourselves, cultivate relationships and seek sponsorship. Most of all, we need to lead.