Women Supporting Women: What Can Women Do To Get A Seat At The Table?

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February 8, 2022
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“That pushed me to put myself out of my comfort zone and really started to reach out and make those connections myself versus waiting to be noticed through good work. And I think that’s really what has helped me to make a difference because it helped me to establish new connections and network that helped to open doors for me.” – Cristina Falcone

Workplace gender inequality issues are being heavily discussed right now as global organisations grapple with ways to address the pay gap, invite more women into leadership positions, and foster environments that promote diversity and inclusion. These are the compelling results that Rise and Lead Inc has been advocating and working for to bring about gender equality in the workplace, in governments, and in society as a whole.

According to a 2021 report by the Catalyst, women represent 45% of the S&P 500 workforce, but only 4% of the CEOs. This shows that despite recent slow improvements in the number of women who have been promoted and voted into leadership positions, the impressive goals of gender equality and the realisation of diverse and inclusive organisations are yet to be achieved.

This was the topic of the panel on ‘Women Supporting Women: What can women do to get a seat at the table?’ at the 2021 edition of the Rise and Lead Summit. The panel, which was moderated by Jennifer Eckhart (a National TV Journalist, Radio Personality, Public Speaker & Contributing Author), included panelists Zuzanna Púčiková (the Head of EU Public Policy at Uber), Samia Guessabi-Colombijn (the VP of Legal Excellence for Northern Europe Compliance, Risk and Governance at Accor), and Cristina Falcone (the Vice-President for Public Affairs at UPS Europe).

Zuzanna Púčiková opened the discussion with a word of advice for parents on achieving a healthy work and life balance while working on their goals for promotion and getting a seat at the leadership table. Zuzanna advised that “we (parents) need to give ourselves some slack sometimes and really take it a day at a time, or an hour at a time. Determine what is your priority. Is it delivering on a big project or is it spending my time in the afternoon with my kids, bringing them to the pool? You shouldn’t be hard on yourself and hold yourselves to high standards.” This advice is beneficial, especially for working mothers who have overwhelming societal and personal pressures to be perfect and maintain outstanding work performances in order to merit promotions to leadership positions.

One of the biggest challenges that women who juggle a number of responsibilities face is juggling all of them successfully. This creates a barrier against these women when applying for and/or getting a promotion as they or their organisation might believe that they are already too busy for the additional challenges of a new role. As Samia Guessabi-Colombijn advised, the key to managing all the responsibilities as a successful woman in the workplace is to “Work hard, but sometimes just take deep breaths, celebrate your successes and just relax.”

From personal experience and the experiences of other women, it’s not always easy for women to overcome workplace biases and barriers despite how hard we work and our successes. During the discussion, Cristina Falcone shared that the barriers that she experienced and was forced to overcome during the course of her own career journey were shyness and a hesitancy to be proactive. Cristina expressed that she did a course in women’s leadership that “helped me understand why I had these feelings. And some of it is just frankly to do with the way we are raised.” Many of us women, as a result of the way we were raised, tend to be shy or too humble to the point of these traits holding us back from advancing in our careers and other areas of our lives.

In order for us to overcome the limitations of these traits and get a seat at the leadership table, we need to operate outside of our comfort zones, make contact with the people who need to know us and our abilities, and fight (work) for the positions that we deserve. According to Cristina,  after the leadership course, this realisation helped her to push herself “out of my comfort zone and really start to reach out and make those connections myself versus waiting to be noticed through good work. And I think that’s really what has helped me to make a difference because it helped me to establish new connections and network that helped to open doors for me. And it helped people see me as a leader, not just a hard worker.”

According to Deloitte, women hold about 16.9 percent of board seats worldwide, with only 5.3 percent chairing those boards and 4.4 percent of CEO roles globally. With these low numbers, what hope do women in the workforce have of achieving their career goals of leading organisations? While sharing some actionable tips for women to apply to enter the workforce or advance to the next career level, Samia Guessabi-Colombijn advised women to “Forget about the myth to ‘work hard’. It is just not enough”.

Samia went on to advise that women should “get yourself a good mentor” and sponsors as these are two different roles that people can play in women’s careers for advancement. Samia also advised women to understand the importance of the onboarding process when taking on a new position in an organisation; whether as an entry-level employee or a senior level executive. “Onboarding women is very important because, more than working hard, you need to understand the culture, understand the toxicities”, she went on to elaborate.

Along with having good mentors and sponsors, it is equally important for women to have strategic career plans in place. While speaking on the importance of having a career plan and a strategy, Cristina Falcone noted that, “Just like anything, you need a strategy for yourself. You need to understand ‘where is it I want to go?’, ‘what are my non-negotiables?” She used this to highlight that it is not only important to know what you want, it is also important to know what you do not want in your career or organisation.

Admittedly, these are a lot of tips and strategies to execute along with other work and life responsibilities and it could be easy to lose yourself in the pursuit for career advancement. Zuzanna Púčiková advised women not to try to be anyone else just for career advancement. “Being yourself is super important”, she advised. She also advised women not to say no to career opportunities as although these opportunities might be outside of their comfort zones, they might help you to learn important skills and lessons that may be useful for your career journey.

One of the challenges, which both attendees and panelists agree is very prevalent, is visibility for women and the thin line between visibility and showing off. To this, the panelists agreed that there is indeed a thin line between visibility and showing off, but this depends on the way an individual goes about it. According to Cristina Falcone, women should share their progress in a way that also sheds some positive light on the organisation. This way, it does not look like showing off. And when it comes to the mentality of being ashamed to be visible, Cristina Falcone went on to admit that this is something that a lot of women experience but “It is something that you’ve got to push yourself beyond.”

Generally, many women shy away from fighting to get a seat at the leadership table due to reasons that range from balancing the additional work responsibilities with other life/family responsibilities, to competing with others for a position of power. In this situation, Zuzanna Púčiková advised women to “try to find your own way” of fighting for what you deserve and desire.

The panel discussion on “Women Supporting Women: What Can Women Do To Get A Seat At The Table?” is part of the discussions at the 2021 edition of the Rise and Lead Summit, which is available to be viewed here (insert YouTube link). To enjoy more discussions from the Rise and Lead Summit 2021, subscribe to our YouTube channel.




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