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Leah Eichler


How Women Hold Themselves Back in Business

Posted: 05/19/2013 9:12 pm

While women are equipped with the necessary skills to perform well as leaders, they are not exercising the ability to self-promote. They hesitate getting their accomplishments known to the people in the highest rungs of the organization resulting to their inability to get the support they need to advance.

This was one of the findings of the latest Conference Board of Canada report released last week. Donna Burnett Vachon and Carrie Lavis authored Women in Leadership: Perceptions and Priorities for Change which is based on the results of a national survey of more than 800 men and women as well as in-depth interviews with female leaders and women who are aspiring for these positions.

The research revealed that the problem does not stem from a women's leadership style which is anchored primarily on consensus, collaboration, and teamwork. In fact, they receive high marks as leaders, with 74 per cent of women and 73 per cent of men in both management and non-management roles agreeing that "women and men make equally effective leaders." They even perform better than their male counterparts in business-oriented and people-oriented competencies.

The issue lies, in part, with a woman's confidence or lack thereof. Compared to men who are more aggressive in putting their names forward for positions where they do not have the requisite skills or experience, women tend to "self-select out." That is, they don't generally take on projects or positions that allow them to advance "unless they feel certain they already have all of the skills required."

But women are also walking a tightrope when it comes to self-promotion, the research points out. Current cultural norms don't look too favorably on females who are proactive and aggressive in flaunting their qualifications to advance as "she runs the risk of alienating her audience." Not speaking up, on the other hand, will also mean not getting noticed as "it's likely that no one else is going to do it on her behalf."

The study authors stressed that this is where mentors, sponsors, and advisors play a crucial role. They give women visibility by allowing them to "let their skills shine in front of the people who make decisions about advancement and career growth opportunities."

Aside from leadership abilities, the report also examined the leadership attitudes, organizational opportunities, and career advancement motivation that affect women's ability to ascend to the ranks of senior management. Their findings show that "attitudes about the need for more women in senior management are still polarized along gender lines."

Some strategies for change include getting the board of directors involved by making woman's advancement a priority; making sponsorship programs of emerging women leaders transparent; and providing more family-friendly policies in the workplace.

Still, the researchers conclude that more women are needed in senior management roles before significant change is felt: "A shift in attitudes will only come when we stop seeing a woman in senior management as the exception and start seeing her as the norm."

By Nicel Jane Avellana, contributor to Femme-O-Nomics.com and r/ally

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  • Carmen Maldonado

    <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em> Graduate Owner of La Criolla – a family-owned spice business established in 1957 Chicago, IL "The Goldman Sachs <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em> program opened my eyes to where I wanted to take the business. One of the modules in the program that really stuck with me was "You are the Leader" because, as the leader, you set the pace for your organization. I had to become more focused on what I wanted to do and actually communicate that to my employees."

  • Saudia Davis

    <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em> Graduate Founder of GreenHouse Eco Cleaning – a home and office green cleaning company established in 2006 Brooklyn, NY “90% of our employees are women, and many are from low-income communities. After graduating from <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em>, we partnered with LaGuardia Community College to offer to our staff financial literacy classes. Some of our staff members are in shelters when they begin working with us, and we help them find resources to get them back on their feet.”

  • Georgette Powell

    <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em> Graduate Owner of Mel’s Fish Shack – a 28-year-old restaurant, which she took over from her father in 2001 Los Angeles, CA “One thing that this program has given me is a lot of inspiration. The first day after our orientation, I was in tears because I finally felt like I was in a room with other small business owners who cared, who knew what they were doing and who were serious about it. Running this business is not just about the bottom line. It makes a difference in people’s lives.”

  • Angelica Rivera

    <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em> Graduate Co-owner of Colmex Construction –a family-owned contractor for residential and commercial construction and renovation New Orleans, LA “I think my challenge was even bigger not only as a woman, but a woman in the construction business. Since I'm the one doing all the negotiations and contracts, at the beginning it was really hard for other contractors and developers to take me seriously. With the <em>10,000 Small Businesses</em> program I was able to identify the market that we were going to focus on, and study what they were looking for and offer them that product.”

  • Tory Burch

    CEO and Designer New York, NY "Women entrepreneurs face tremendous challenges. One thing I find amazing about women entrepreneurs is that they help each other, and they reinvest in their communities. The Tory Burch Foundation is about women’s empowerment by investing in women through mentorship and loans. The women entrepreneurs I meet are ambitious, and that’s a word I encourage women to embrace. I think ambition sometimes has a negative connotation, but being an ambitious woman is a great thing.”

  • Melanne Verveer

    United States Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues “Fundamentally, the empowerment of women and girls is not just the right thing to do, but a smart and effective measure to grow economies and strengthen families and communities. As Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s issues, I have seen that gender inclusion is a key element to economic growth, and that if you want to grow economies around the world you must empower women entrepreneurs.”

  • Rasha Lotfy

    <em>10,000 Women</em> Graduate Founder of Afnan Center – supplies local women with raw materials for the creation of authentic Egyptian art Cairo, Egypt “In the Goldman Sachs <em>10,000 Women</em> initiative, I was able to create a professional business plan that focused on my labor force. I centralized my workshops so everyone works together and I can train the next generation of artisans. I am so proud that the success of Afnan goes hand-in-hand with the prosperity of my own workers. Having my own business reinforced my faith in the role of women in society and the economy.”

  • Kabeh Sumbo

    <em>10,000 Women</em> Graduate Owner of Passama Agriculture Trading Company – provides locally processed palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil Monrovia, Liberia “My mother used to have me hold out my open palm to try to catch the breeze. It never worked. Of course there will be nothing there, because you have nothing if you keep your hand open all the time. You have to use your hands to work, to make yourself better. <em>10,000 Women</em> has helped me put my hands to work and formulate my mission, vision, objective and goals for myself.”

  • Arianna Huffington

    Chair, President, and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group New York, NY “You know someone said that a vision without implementation is hallucination, and entrepreneurs are implementing their vision, and that makes all the difference. My advice has to do with resilience, with perseverance, with getting up one more time than we fall down, because we’ve all failed and fallen, and I think that’s the difference ultimately between success and failure.”


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