The newest professional development trend is focused on cultivating women leaders to not only ascend into higher-level positions but also become game changers for their teams, organizations, and industries. I find that many large corporations have established new women’s affinity leadership networks for the sole purpose of providing a workplace community whereby women can help other women learn and grow. But although these groups are essential, they don’t begin to fully address the range of issues women face in the halls of corporate America. It’s critical that successful women in positions of power understand their new role. Individual achievement is not enough to distinguish yourself in this decade. Top leaders must also know how to identify, prepare, develop, and champion their female colleagues for greater career advancement.
The New York Times article, “Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work” revealed that 40% of all workplace bullies are women and that women bully other women 70% of the time! In this article Michelle Cirocco explains, “In the corporate world, we’re taught or we’re led to believe that we don’t get ahead because of men. But, we really don’t get ahead because of ourselves. Instead of building each other up and showcasing each other, we’re constantly tearing each other down.”
Women have historically suffered from a social phenomenon called “tall poppy syndrome.” We are psychologically, socially, or culturally unprepared to embrace our own success – and are likewise reluctant to champion the successes of other women. In this article I want to discuss three of the main culprits at the core of this issue regarding women in business while exploring some practical solutions to help improve our female perspective.
#1: Own Your Abilities with Confidence
Problem: Women hold fewer high-level corporate positions, which makes women fiercely competitive as they fight each other for prized promotions. The only reason that a woman would tear another woman down in order to promote herself is a lack of confidence and self-esteem. When there is a struggle on the inside due to poor self-image, it often gets expressed as sabotage of other women. This type of female jealousy or resentment is sometimes referred to as “tall poppy syndrome.” The tallest poppy in the field is the first to get cut down. Similarly, when women become conspicuously successful they are often attacked by envious colleagues.
Solution: Overcome your own negative belief systems and internalized issues of inadequacy. In my experience if you don’t believe in yourself then you will feel threatened by the accomplishments of those around you. You need to focus instead on leveraging your own power to be wildly successful as an empowered woman who is also an empowering, inspiring leader. Become a role-model for the new trail blazers. Showcase your feminine power by bringing along other women and developing them on successful, high-performance teams. Then you can compete effectively and confidently for top positions of power and influence in a male-dominated world.
#2: Reveal and Share Secret Struggles
Problem: As women we are often afraid and insecure about sharing secret stories of career detours, setbacks, or workplace vulnerabilities. I think that many women don’t share their difficult stories because they lack trust. They are afraid that their personal narrative might later be used to sabotage their advancement or cause them public embarrassment. As a result, many young women with extraordinary potential are reluctant to step up and play a bigger leading role. Women in leadership positions also diminish their own success as guides and mentors – hiding stories of challenges and struggles that could serve as great inspiration to other women.
Solution: To celebrate our growth we need to fully acknowledge the past failures and adversities that all of us have had to overcome as women in the contemporary world. Within the female sisterhood we need to share those hurtful stories and allow other women to learn from our mistakes. When you share those painful narratives with other women they generally respond with empathy and greater respect for your experiences. Hearing your difficult stories inspires them to persevere and perform at the top of their game, confident in the possibility of their own potential. Sharing of our stories is one of the greatest gifts that women leaders can share with female colleagues to keep their enterprising spirit and career aspirations alive.
#3 :Navigate the Uncharted Waters of Corporate Politics
Problem: Every organization has an unwritten culture of operating procedures and unspoken rules. Women in higher positions are more privy to the secrets of corporate politics and the nuances of the power culture. But rather than helping other women learn to navigate the treacherous shark-infested waters with poise and presence they guard those secrets by adhering to the code of the “good ole’ boy” network. They may also fear being perceived as complainers or gossips because they see themselves as outsiders invited into a male-dominated inner circle.
Solution: Develop a positive 360-degree panoramic perspective on your company’s culture and share it with female colleagues. Only when women who are lower in the hierarchy understand how to play the corporate game will they develop the mastery necessary to ensure their success – and the sustainable presence of women in top leadership and decision making positions. Every company has a unique way of operating through formal and informal methods and guidelines. Give other women the playbook and the magical keys to the kingdom. The more you share your navigation tips the faster they will accelerate their own career success, and that will be beneficial to women everywhere. That includes you – who need the support of the women on your teams in order to prove yourself an effective, well-respected, high-performance leader.
When corporate women lead a sustained movement to rally, support, mentor, and champion each other they will become recognized by the men at the top of the organization as being talented visionaries. These talented, ambitious women leaders who know how to inspire others in a selfless and supportive way will be the first to fill the succession list pipeline. They will also be the ones who leave behind an outstanding leadership legacy as powerful game changers for the 21st century.
Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS is an internationally distinguished executive coach, corporate consultant, professional speaker, and the founding CEO of her own company, Illustra Consulting. A career acceleration and leadership presence expert, Hathorn created the innovative Predictable Promotion System™, a 10-step proprietary process she uses to coach managers aspiring to be directors, directors seeking vice presidential promotions, and VP’s eager to ascend to the C-suite. Hathorn served as a senior level executive for a Fortune 100 company for 25 years, and she has more than 30 years of experience mentoring high potentials for rapid career advancement and extraordinary success.
Copyright © 2011, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS
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