Research reveals a disturbing trend in the way female representation drops the higher women go in the ranks of leadership. According to a McKinsey study for Lean In, although women make up 50% of entry-level corporate positions, they drop to 25% at the executive level and only around 7% at the CEO level.
Why are women falling off the leadership ladder or getting stuck at the bottom steps? We know it is not a lack of capable, qualified, and motivated women leaders. So, why aren’t these women holding the top positions?
One of the reasons may come down to an underlying lack of confidence. Confidence can play a crucial role in career advancement as hiring managers often mistake a projected confidence level for competence.
In the Harvard Business Review article, “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?” the author cites the glaring difference in how men and women project confidence in the workplace, especially in interviews for promotion. The article says, “We are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women … is the fact that the manifestations of hubris – often masked as charisma or charm – are commonly mistaken for leadership potential and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.”
Unfortunately, in many workplace situations, women are passed over for promotions despite being more qualified, skilled, and capable because hiring teams either place too much value on confidence or are not discerning enough in evaluating a candidate’s confidence.
How are we to change this unfair situation? Frankly, it could mean a complete overhaul and dismantling of systems and long-held cultural beliefs that leadership is based on something as superficial as an overt display of hubris and charm.
We cannot sit back and wait for this kind of change. Instead, women leaders need to find their voice so that they can project their capabilities and skills. This new voice cannot just be placed on paper or heard only in the workroom with our colleagues. We must use it loud and clear with the executives and leaders who decide who moves up the company ladder.
So how do you begin to find your leadership voice and use it to rise in your career? Here are some tips:
Know Yourself: The best way to project confidence is to have confidence. This belief comes from a deep understanding of who you are, what you are capable of, and what you can offer to your organization and the world.
Your first step to gaining more self-confidence is to define your non-negotiables. Make a list of the things you will not negotiate on in your life and your career. These core values determine what you will and won’t accept from others and what you will and won’t accept yourself.
Next, you need to adjust your mindset. Did you know that your outlook on life is not fixed in stone? You can change it. A more positive attitude will affect how you behave and, in turn, how people behave around you. With a new or stronger growth mindset, you will welcome new challenges and recognize any setbacks as opportunities to learn.
Another way to build self-confidence is to change the way you see yourself in context with others. Do you often view yourself as “too much” or “not enough” for other people? When you change yourself to please others, you can end up pleasing no one — least of all yourself. When you learn who you really are, you start feeling more comfortable letting others see that unique individual.
Believe That You Deserve a Seat at the Table: Women are often affected by self-doubt when it comes to success and competence.
Self-doubt is an unsupportive belief that leads to thinking that you don’t deserve to be where you are, which thoroughly damages your self-confidence. Women need to practice more positive self-affirmations. Tell yourself that you deserve that higher position, you belong in that seat at the table, and you are just as qualified (or even more so) to rise the ranks as your male colleagues.
Creating an alter ego (Latin for “the other I”) is how some successful people achieve new levels of self-confidence. You could create a distinct and separate self from the personality you think you have as a strategy for building your energy. Did you know that as a new performing artist, Beyonce created an alter ego, Sasha Fierce, to separate her shy personality from her stage persona? I’d say it worked, wouldn’t you?
Start Speaking Up: For centuries, girls and young women have learned that they should be quiet and unassuming. While men who speak up for themselves are “motivated,” women who do so are “bossy.” Women need to change this false narrative by speaking up more.
For example, do not wait to be asked a question or your opinion; volunteer your talent and thoughts in meetings and even in social gatherings. And, here’s the most important part — don’t apologize for your views.
Marguerite Soeteman-Reijnen, chair of the executive board of Aon Holdings and chair of Topvrouwen, also encourages women to use their voice through social media.
“Take a look at the power of social media and how you can spread your message and your content,” she tells us in a Rise and Lead interview. “It’s something that more women should pick up and spread their content. Don’t just spread the content of others, but start giving your insights about what you think of a particular story, why do you post it, what’s keeping you busy.”
Seek Mentorship and Support: A mentor — male or female — can help guide you in honing and amplifying your leadership voice. A recent study by the Bentley University Center for Women and Business found that most women leaders would serve as mentors if asked. So, it’s time for you to ask.
A mentor or a support group will help you build up your voice and confidence, enabling you to seek higher leadership roles. Marian Spier, the founder of TEDxAmsterdamWomen and FEM-START, told us in a Rise and Lead interview that there are three groups of people you need in your life — a mentor, a sponsor who will promote your business. and your tribe. “When I was going through the motions as an entrepreneur, I would encounter closed doors,” Spier says.
“I would call up my mentor or somebody from my tribe and ask them for help… Don’t be shy, ask for help, and build relationships.”
Rise to Leadership Program
The “Rise To Leadership” is a personal leadership development program for ambitious women in business who want to elevate their career to top leadership, increase their value to their organization, and make an impact in the world.
To fast-track your career to top leadership, you first need to understand your unique value, find your voice, create a vision of growth, and start leveraging your gifts and influence to gain exposure and access to decision-makers.
The Rise to Leadership program is your opportunity to cultivate the confidence you need to hone your leadership competencies and rise.
Start this year by developing your leadership voice. Learn more about the Rise to Leadership program here.
Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.