Where are all the women leaders? Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, offers some of the best advice on the subject. We’ve all heard about mentoring, networking, company diversity programs, as well as changes in attitude about how and where work gets done. These are all important initiatives, but they alone are not enough to break the stubbornly low representation of women in the upper echelons of government and business.
Did you know that only 13% of parliamentarians in the world are women? The world of business looks equally bleak. According to the think tank Catalyst, women held 15.2% of directorships at Fortune 500 companies in 2008, which was only slightly up from the year before (14.8%). In her Ted Talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”, Sheryl succinctly highlights three key issues that we as individuals (both men and women) need to be aware of and act upon if we want to balance out the leadership numbers:
1. Sit at the Table – Women need to be confident in sitting at the “top table”, whether that be in an executive committee meeting, a board meeting, or a meeting with a high profile client. Don’t shy away from the limelight. In my banking days, I recall after a management change being excluded from the trading managers’ meeting. What did I do? I went to my boss and said that if he wanted me to be able to do my job as a business manager, I needed to know what was happening in the markets and in our trading businesses. A few years later I was promoted to Managing Director.
2. Make Your Partner a Partner – If there isn’t equality at home, it’s pretty tough to achieve equality at work. Step aside Superwoman! Don’t always be the one in control at home. Your partner will do things differently, but similar to a professional setting, you need to allow others to do things their way. Had I not shared the responsibility for raising our kids with my other half, I would have never been able to fully immerse myself into work, which inevitably led to career progression and a real sense of challenge and professional fulfillment.
3. Don’t Leave Before You Leave – You need to reach for the stars if you want to be in a position to encourage your children to do the same. Don’t be afraid of what the new promotion, new challenge or responsibilities will entail before you’ve even tried it. It’s amazing what you can achieve with the right support network and confidence. I admit I was scared about taking on certain projects which required travelling. I remember this one project which required travelling two days a week. After having discussed it at home, I took the opportunity, but structured it so that I left early on Monday morning (rather than the dreaded Sunday night which cuts into precious family time) and returned on Tuesday evening before the kids went to bed. With a little creativity and support you can do amazing things. Try not to exclude yourself from potential opportunities in your current role – you’re cutting yourself short and in a way leaving the organization before you’ve actually left.
The best part of these three simple steps is that they are both practical and achievable, and illustrate circumstances very familiar to any woman who’s tried to bridge the gap between career ambitions and family aspirations. Thank you Sheryl for your sound advice.
Entrepreneur and author, Christine Brown-Quinn founded her consultancy practice The Female Capitalist ™ in 2010, after publishing her book entitled Step Aside Super Woman, Career & Family is for Any Woman. As a former managing director in banking, she now works as an author, international speaker and management consultant focused on helping organizations leverage female talent as well as empowering professional women to successfully combine career and family.
Christine has an undergraduate degree in Foreign Languages from Georgetown University (Cum Laude) and an MBA in International Business from George Washington University (Beta Gamma Sigma scholar). She has also tutored for Georgetown University’s Graduate Program in International Management at Oxford University on managing diversity in the workplace.