When addressing the gap between the 45 percent of women who are in the workforce and the 25.1 percent who are in top leadership roles,* the blame game is a favorite pastime.
There is no doubt that an ingrained corporate culture and the subconscious bias of male managers contribute significantly to the leadership gap and must change. But if we woke up tomorrow in a Utopia where all the movers and shakers in Corporate America became vocal advocates for the development of their female talent, the gap wouldn’t be bridged. It might be narrowed, but not bridged.
Why? Because one of the major contributors to the leadership gap would still have gone unaddressed: the limitations that women impose upon themselves. Only when women let go of the negative self-perceptions and the behaviors that thwart their own advancement will their representation at the top accelerate.
Having worked with hundreds of high-potential women over the past 21 years in our WOMEN Unlimited programs, I have observed, over and over, three leadership-resistant behaviors. Unfortunately, women often think these behaviors are career advancers, when the opposite is the case.
Holding on to non-leadership tasks: Too often, women believe that doing a good job will get them a better job. Not so. Competency is presumed. What matters is the type and variety of tasks embraced. In order to progress to leadership, women must free themselves from the same-old approach to tasks. Instead, they must recalibrate their skills and behaviors to those of a senior leader. For example, as a woman engineering manager transitions to a business manager role, she needs to understand the broader corporate landscape. If she stays tethered to her technical expertise, she will not fully embrace her larger business role.
Clinging to a “one right way” approach: Research has shown that women are often more uncomfortable with risk and ambiguity than men. This may prevent women from pursuing the best business solutions. Their perspective remains inward, on themselves, rather than outward on corporate success, clearly a career-limiting stance.
Failing to reach out for help and input: Women may feel that asking for help and seeking advice are signs of weakness, a throwback to their early career when solo successes were perhaps an advantage. Not so. As a woman advances her career, she needs to orchestrate the appropriate solution, rather than trying to find it herself. Reaching out for help and input becomes increasingly necessary, because as the issues become more complex and less tactical, she most certainly will not have all the answers. By embracing collaborative solutions and acting on them, she can accentuate what she knows, rather than what she doesn’t know.
As we work to close the leadership gap, we as women must look to ourselves as well as to others. Without changing our core values and beliefs, we must revamp how we look at work, how we define our roles, and how we contribute to corporate growth and profitability. The glass ceiling is there to be shattered. We just have to take a good, hard whack at it. DW
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi is President and CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.