The tech world is not short on advice on how to bring in more women and support their ability to reach leadership positions. And with good reason – while the number of women in senior leadership positions grew from 21% in 2018 to 24% in 2019, there’s still a long way to go before women are properly represented.
As women leaders, we’re all striving to embrace our responsibility to help women colleagues develop in their careers and access the same opportunities that their male counterparts can access. We know it’s going to take more than lip service, and more than simply advising them to be more confident – a bit of advice we might well have grown weary of.
Especially within the context of the pandemic, which has resulted in a 33-year low in women’s participation in the labor force, I and others feel that now is the time to take a new approach to achieving gender parity in the boardroom and across senior management. Based on my experience, this will mean championing authenticity above all else. In supporting one another, authenticity will mean remaining acutely aware of just how difficult the journey has been for those of us who’ve reached leadership and bringing this honest, humble awareness of our own struggle to bear upon the guidance we offer each other day in and day out.
At this all-important moment, I believe that compassionate authenticity along with tangible steps that provide women with sustainable support systems could be the key to seeing a lot more women in the C-suites of the future. As we strive to propel one another towards that goal, here are three strategies that I think may help our women colleagues grow as leaders.
As a VP of Human Resources at a leading technology company, I have the privilege and important opportunity to lead by example that will hopefully inspire other women to pursue their path to leadership. I aim to do this by leading authentically and promoting inclusivity. In a culture that values equality and employees’ unique contributions, women are four times more likely to rise to senior management levels.
What does it mean to me to lead authentically?
It starts with being honest with yourself about your own path, humbly and compassionately recalling the obstacles, and recognizing how that journey never truly ends. This then allows you to find compassion for others who are fighting similar struggles. It’s about encouraging women without putting unfair pressure on them to measure themselves against the male-dominant paradigm within leadership or change their personalities to fit the status quo.
When it comes to practical tips to adopt this approach, I strive to be respectful of different generations and backgrounds. This means that rather than telling women to be “more assertive” or take on masculine traits, it’s important to recognize that each person is on their own journey and will find their voice when it’s right for them.
At the same time, it’s important to ensure that it’s not only the extroverts that get heard. During meetings, I like to make sure I’ve heard from everyone in the room and create a safe space for people that perhaps aren’t as outspoken, or who speak English as a second language, for example.
It’s important to let women see me speaking out in an authentic way, all the while showing understanding as they seek to find their own voice. For example, I don’t stop myself from disagreeing with key leadership figures in front of my team. However, this is a voice that I had to cultivate over the years, and at my own pace. Not every woman leader (including myself) felt comfortable speaking up from day one of their careers. So, while I aim to show this example of strength to let other women know that it’s possible – and encouraged – I try to show compassion if and when they’re not quite ready yet.
Provide Opportunities for Mentorship
If businesses want to home-grow their next generation of women leaders, mentorship opportunities will be key. Mentoring future women leaders is not about simply telling them to be more confident (advice we’re commonly given), rather it can cover all types of ground, from building commercial acumen to specific technical knowledge to leadership skills.
Mentorships can differ in their levels of formality too. They can range from formal training programs to one-off conversations with someone the mentee looks up to. The important thing is that women in more junior roles feel like they have opportunities for learning that allow them to progress.
At any given time, I am engaged with five to six people to whom I offer informal guidance and expertise. I encourage other leaders to do the same, with the level of engagement relative to your bandwidth, and advise women who strive to move into leadership roles to cultivate relationships with potential mentors – you never know how they might help you down the road.
Mentorship need not be a huge time commitment and creating these conversations with women colleagues who aspire to move up could give them the boost they need. Women are less likely to get their ideas endorsed at work than men – so having someone to advocate for and mentor them (even on an informal basis) could help them land that promotion or a new job.
Women leaders can also demonstrate authenticity by making it clear that they too can benefit from being mentored themselves. I often seek mentorship on technical matters from developers in the company who may be in a more junior position than I am but possess knowledge and expertise that I can learn from.
When it comes to more formal initiatives, partnering with DE&I-focused organizations is a great way to provide opportunities for women to grow. For example, Ingram Micro partnered with The WIT Network to accelerate efforts to connect, inspire and develop women leaders. Leaders should help create a mentoring culture and support the development of formal and informal mentorship initiatives within their organization to provide clear-cut opportunities for women to learn and grow.
Celebrate Other Women
Women are often more modest and tend to undervalue their accomplishments (and subsequently shout about them less) when compared to their male counterparts. A 2019 study found that even when women performed the same as men on average in a test, men rated their performance 33% higher than women.
And yet, when women are given due credit and celebrated for their work, that inspires others to step up and aspire to do the same. For this, many of us understand that we must be careful to give just as much attention and credit to the achievements and contributions of women in the team.
Given the above, it’s important to take the time to call out the achievements of those colleagues who are reserved or modest in highlighting their own accomplishments. From an intern-level all the way up to executive boards, we need to come together to celebrate the achievements of even those who may be quietly working on very big things, making them visible to everyone they may inspire.
The business world will only benefit from more women as leaders, and it’s the responsibility of all of us to help make that happen. By leading authentically and valuing women on the basis of their own unique contributions – not measuring them against the yardstick of men – we can create legitimate paths to growth and inspire our next generation of women leaders.