What Leadership Means to Today’s Working Woman

by Mar 23, 20153Plus, Career, Leadership

Women earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at higher rates than men — they earn 60 percent of undergraduate and master’s degrees, and hold 52 percent of all professional-level jobs. But even though women as a group are more educated than men, they still make up a mere 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

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So, if comparatively few women still reach the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, how do today’s women define success? There are other important questions.  [Tweet ” What does leadership mean to women and how can they become more successful, leaders?”]

How women measure success

Many women claim that success means being happy and fulfilled in their personal lives and doing challenging, enjoyable work in their professional lives. Often, the issue of salary is skirted around, though there’s no doubt that women need a larger salary to afford the creature comforts and even luxuries they desire for themselves and their families. The McKinsey Leadership Project, in an initiative aimed at helping professional women build their leadership skills, interviewed 85 women who occupy leadership positions in corporations around the world to find out what it’s taken for them to succeed. According to their findings, optimism, engagement, the ability to find meaning in one’s work, the ability to manage one’s energy, and the ability to network are key aspects of leadership for women today.

Building these skills can help women achieve the leadership positions, and the salaries, they desire.

Soft Skills Help Women Succeed

With more millennials graduating college with advanced degrees in fields like communications and entering the workforce, workplace dynamics are changing, and soft skills are becoming more important than ever. The researchers at the McKinsey Leadership Project believe that today’s working women struggle with some soft skills, such as energy management and networking. Developing these skills could help women get ahead in the workplace and earn more money.

Ninety-two percent of women work full-time, only to come home and singlehandedly tackle all of the housework and childcare tasks  [Tweet “For these women, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. “]

With higher salaries, these women could more easily afford to outsource some of their housework. In order to get there, however, today’s aspiring female leaders need to master energy management. The McKinsey researchers recommend making time for energizing, restorative activities, both at home and at work. It’s also a good idea to space out draining activities throughout the day, so that you have time to restore some of your joie de vivre in between soul-sucking tasks.

Networking is another area where women can improve their leadership skills.

Women, the McKinsey researchers have found, tend to have narrower professional and social networks than men, though they do cultivate more meaningful relationships within those networks. Wider, shallower professional networks can give women access to the wider range of professional opportunities that their male colleagues already enjoy.

Women can often be more reluctant than men to ask for a higher salary, but it can be beneficial for women in an organization to band together, supporting one another in the quest for more opportunities or more pay. While women who advocate for themselves within an organization run the risk of being seen as shrill or bossy, women who advocate for others within their organizations are seen as more traditionally feminine. [Tweet “So by advocating for one another, women can more easily get ahead in the workplace.”]

Meaning, Optimism, and Engagement Are Vital Components of Leadership

Most say they want a career that is challenging and meaningful; they want to love their work. It’s true that doing a job you enjoy can help you manage your energy reserves and avoid burnout. For female leaders, finding meaning in the workplace is essential. It allows them to put in the 50-plus hours a week that most executives put in. Without meaning, work can quickly become intolerable, even with a higher salary. Women know this, and that’s why many of them put pursuing a meaningful, fulfilling career ahead of earning a high salary. You can find meaningful work by being honest about where your interests and abilities lie. Meaning can also come from becoming part of something greater than yourself.

Women who want to grow as leaders and earn more money in the process need to stay engaged at the workplace and actively look for opportunities. If hard work were enough to get noticed in the business world, more women would currently occupy positions of leadership. Instead, women need to take personal responsibility for their professional development and find the wherewithal to ask for more opportunities and bigger salaries.

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Positive mind-set

Remaining optimistic can help women succeed

Optimists meet reality not with positive affirmations, but with definitive action that meets problems and challenges head-on. Optimists are more likely to succeed in the business world than pessimists, because they have confidence in themselves and their abilities, and they’re more likely to rise to challenges instead of running from them. Luckily for the more pessimistically inclined, it’s possible to become an optimist.

For today’s working woman, leadership often means the ability to engage with organization, find meaning in one’s work, and meet challenges unflinchingly.

While many women avoid directly addressing the issue of salary, developing stronger leadership skills can help women bring home the bigger paychecks they need to make comfortable lives for themselves and their families. As more women develop stronger leadership qualities, more will find their way to the upper levels of management, and the world will finally have access to the leadership talent it needs to drive continued change.

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Dates for the Diary


September 9th - Podcast recording Talkpush -  Discussion recruitment for inclusive workplaces
September  21st -  ENGIE Gender bias in Performance Assessment online
October 26th - Banque de Luxembourg Préjugés sexistes dans le processus de recrutment.



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