“Women do not dominate the top tiers of management in any industry anywhere”.
This shocking statement was delivered by the female COO of Facebook at a TED talk in 2012. This is particularly interesting when contrasted against the PR industry, an industry that is dominated by women. This begs the question; why are women not reaching the top of industries that they dominate (let alone the ones they don’t)?
Studies have shown if a man succeeds in his job and is asked how he accomplished it, he is more likely to attest his success to himself. Women on the other hand are more likely to attest their successes to a team of people. Women, seem to struggle to own their own triumphs. This is not surprising when you consider that studies on this particular subject have also shown the relationship of success and likability correlate positively for men and negatively for women.
The life/work balances of women and men is of course a major contributing factor. However, exploring the areas of maternity leave and childcare is not something I am going to delve into in this modest blog. These are complex issues with many solutions, none of which I am wholeheartedly convinced provide answers.
What I am going to focus on is women’s positions within the work place generally, irrespective of family, and their perceived incapability of being able to rise to the top. Surveys have shown that reticence to own their success stems from the beginnings of a woman’s career and appears to be an absolute throughout. 57% of men negotiate their first salary compared to only 7% of women.
Businesses therefore have a responsibility to change this perception and support and nurture female talent within their organisations to increase female presence in the boardroom.
One way businesses can do this is by providing a mentor, female or male, to encourage the future career development of female professionals. Most of all, mentors in or outside the work place already have a wealth of experience, so they are able to provide a guiding hand within the workplace to advise and help their less experienced female counterparts.
Set against a common lack of self-esteem within in the work place, mentors are intrinsically important to recognise praise where praise is due, nurturing talent and ensuring that women are not underselling their achievements and ultimately themselves.
This model of encouragement is the surest way of helping women rise through the ranks in any industry. Indeed, endorsement from a mentor only solidifies a stronger self-confidence and self-belief.
On top of this, implementing a 360 degree peer review system within your company allows for a more balanced and less self-serving system of employee development. Impetus being placed upon your colleagues recognising your achievements removes the issue of underselling yourself – whether female or male.
In the digital age we live in, lack of self-confidence is incredibly detrimental. Whether it be via Twitter or LinkedIn, showcasing your career successes is a major part of your ability to progress. The confidence in your personal posts, what you communicate about yourself and your achievements all contributes to your very own personal brand.
Of course, personal branding extends beyond your digital presence. Within industries, such as PR, personal relationships with people, how you present yourself and your business is incredibly important to your professional reputation both from inside and outside your organisation.
However, strong personal branding is dependent upon the individual. For those women joining industries from an entry level there needs to be a solid infrastructure to support, encourage and highlight its importance within a professional environment. Making it an obligatory element to a role, will increase self-confidence for women as well as men.
Building solid business networks is also an important aspect to any business career. Networking events provide a great opportunity to further your career prospects, however, using them effectively is dependent upon the ability to showcase your best business self.
Nevertheless, applying the trend that likability and success correlates positively for men and negatively for women creates a barrier for women at such events.
Female professionals need to feel empowered and supported enough to go out and be a strong representative for their company, as well as themselves irrespective of this trend. And indeed, many women effectively do so. However, this needs to be apparent across the board in order for the balance of female confidence to be effectively redressed.
A change in perception of success from both women and men is intrinsic to the solution of this problem. The CEO of Monitor 360, a management consultancy, was recently quoted saying,
“I find I spend time having to (artfully) deflate young men's egos a bit and pumping young women's egos up.”
Awareness and recognition of those who struggle to own their professional achievements and responding appropriately is key. I think this sums up the approach that businesses need to take with their employees irrespective of gender, with regards to mentoring, personal branding and networking.
Through strong supportive infrastructure women will be able to move up the ranks, creating a new generation of women in top management positions. In this respect the gender imbalance is being tackled from both the top and bottom levels of business.