How long is too long before you feel competent and confident in your work life? Just ask professional women in their early to middle careers. Many of them fail to recognize or acknowledge their abilities, despite statistics that suggest women leaders often outperform their male counterparts.
Research from Zenger Folkman indicates that in an apples-to-apples comparison, women in executive positions score higher than men on possessing resilience, pushing for results, pursuing self-development, illustrating integrity, and taking initiative, among other significant leadership traits. In fact, men only performed better in their technical experience and ability to strategize.
Despite these findings, men exhibited higher levels of confidence than women until women reached age 40.
Wielding Women’s Power
Certainly, it’s easy to blame everything on society — until you realize that we are society. In other words, it’s time for all of us to play a part in raising young women to believe not only that they can be powerful, but also that they should be proud of that power. Sarah Clark, CEO of integrated public relations firm Mitchell, hits the nail on the head when she observes that “closing the gender gap is only possible if we reflect, work hard, and keep speaking up.”
If we don’t work to change the status quo, it puts women at risk of bias-induced burnout. Gallup reports that burnout is 2.3 times more likely for employees experiencing unfair treatment at work. Gender bias can look like parental leave inequalities, women getting paid less, and managers promoting only their favorites — which, most often, means men who remind them of their own journeys.
To encourage women leadership, we all need to be cultivating confidence in our women colleagues so they can rise to the top sooner. Indeed, it seems to be in society’s best interests. Half of all Americans would rather work under women leaders, according to a Harris Poll. And why wouldn’t they? As shown by an investigation of tens of thousands of workers by Peakon, women-led companies (more than male-led organizations) tend to engender mission-driven cultures, strong top-down communication, and strategic compasses pointing in the right direction.
Even so, Peakon defines 84% of companies as male-led. Getting women to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder with pride, fearlessness, and determination takes some visionary thinking. When you’re ready to promote greater women leadership at your firm, start by taking the following steps.
1. Become an advocate of salary transparency.
The days of keeping employee salaries confidential should be long gone, as being secretive about compensation enables companies to hide payroll biases and gaps. When pay rates are openly discussed, women can see where they fall on a salary grid. This, in turn, will help them see what their work is actually worth, especially if what they receive is significantly less than a male employee performing the same work. Greater transparency means that women will become more engaged at work: According to Gallup, information and empowerment are intangible necessities for employee engagement.
Pay transparency equalizes the field in many ways, although entrusting workers with this information might feel uncomfortable at first. That could be why only about a third of creative corporations are fully transparent, as indicated by Robert Half’s analysis. Yet it’s an essential step in giving young women leaders a better understanding of how to advocate for promotions and salary raises. Without this sense of perspective, women will continue to make anywhere from 54% to 90% of white men’s earnings, per 2018 figures from the American Association of University Women.
2. Help women identify and hone their strengths.
Women sometimes feel as if they have to pretend to be something they’re not in order to get ahead in business. Yet Susan Lucas-Conwell, global CEO at Great Place to Work, points out that this can lead them to lose sight of their inherent advantages. “Whether perceived or real, women leaders sometimes feel pressure to conform to the male leadership model, and if she bends to that pressure, she sacrifices one of her own sources of strength and personal power,” Lucas-Conwell notes.
Instead of standing by while the women you work with undersell or bury their innate abilities, provide a platform for discovering and fostering them. For instance, have all employees take strengths assessments; then, ensure that you offer training and mentoring that enables future women leaders to bolster their strengths. Similarly, if you see a woman colleague who doesn’t seem to recognize her individual talents, help her see that you value her unique capabilities and want her to develop them.
3. Be an outspoken voice for women in leadership.
Everyone in the workforce wins when leaders advocate for talented women to take charge of teams and departments. Women are keenly aware of the status quo. When they hear a company’s executives say they support women climbing the ranks but see few or no women in leadership roles, they assume they can’t apply for supervisory or C-suite positions.
A simple evaluation of interviewing and hiring practices can have a profound effect on the ratio of men to women leaders at your organization. So can sponsorship. As noted in Harvard Business Review, men tend to have more sponsors supporting their rise than do women. But sponsorship matters, particularly for positions involving financial control.
Encourage everyone to not just spot and groom the leaders of tomorrow, but to be their champions as well. Match high-level mentors with prospective star players, then encourage the executives to become their women mentees’ loudest advocates. When employees have the support of a supervisor or colleague, they tend to be more engaged, more innovative, and more supportive of others, according to Gallup’s research. That’s exactly what you want in a leader.
In your office right now are women who may be harboring profound capabilities and promise. The sooner you acknowledge their excellence, the sooner you can help them build their confidence and share those talents with your whole company.