“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example”
Jacinda Ardern, Kamala Harris, MacKenzie Scott, Christine Lagarde, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Barra and Angela Merkel are just a handful of spectacular souls changing the face of leadership. And, as much as their impact – and that of other dynamic women- has been proven and is desired, there is still a large gap in the number of women in leadership today.
Indeed, according to the OECD, less than a quarter of top leadership positions worldwide are occupied by women. This share ranges from about 16% in Africa to almost 30% in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.
While various reasons exist for this disparity, there is hope. One way we can bridge the disconnect is through mentoring and positive role modeling.
For companies to get the talent they need in the fields where they need it, women (who make up half the population) will have to play a substantive role. And right now, they are not.
–Sandra Sancier-Sultan and Sandra Scharf | McKinsey & Company
Learning From Life vs Learning from Mentors & Role Models
While we can learn a lot from books and the classroom, even more valuable knowledge is gleaned from experiencing life itself. And in business, what better way than to learn than alongside a mentor?
Mentors and role models can be a boost not only for business education, but they can also share the emotional and psychological burdens of boardroom atmospheres that often can often feel intimidating and overwhelming for emerging women leaders.
In fact, of the hundred or so top women leaders I have coached, their biggest obstacle has been taking up space in a male-dominated company or industry. In other words, feeling isolated and alone, they are challenged with stepping fully into their power and in so doing having a strong – and approachable – presence.
This male majority has been a phenomenon in nearly every organization I have worked with (and there have been quite a few!). Given this, the more we women can come together and lift each other up, the more we can see those numbers above rise. Shared experience can be a strong bond.
“My role model didn’t tell me, he showed me.”
The (Leadership) Elephant in the Boardroom
Lack of equality with men in top corporate positions has been a topic that has received a great deal of attention in recent decades, yet the issue still persists around the globe.
Perhaps it’s the elephant in the boardroom. Outside of their domain, companies profess to a commitment to hire more women, including women of Color. But when it comes to actual hiring, women still lag behind men.
While women’s presence at all levels of the corporate ladder showed improvement in 2020 says McKinsey, the “broken rung“ still exists: men are promoted at higher rates as managers over women, causing a lack of progress for women towards more senior positions. Women of Color lag even further behind.
Additionally, as aforementioned, women often experience being the ‘Onlys’ and ‘double Onlys’: in a room: they are the only of their gender or racial identity. That means working under a microscope, under continual scrutiny.
While the corporate workplace is not an even playing field for women, there are ways other women can help.
Social Support Networks Prove Valuable in Women’s Leadership
According to Insead, larger businesses are aware that social support is vital for women to work their best – and promote diversity and inclusion.
Examples of such support networks are:
- Formal or informal mentoring and sponsorship: the ideas of being aware of our own impact and being there for each other are “advertised” and encouraged
- Peer support: special interest groups (women in mining, women in tech, etc.)
- Role models: more and more trailblazers becoming aware that their experiences, mindset and energy can most certainly benefit others
Have been in existence for years, and research highlights evidence that informal mentorship and sponsorship to help women is especially effective.
Are just that- those in under-represented groups see others like themselves succeed. That leads to reassurance that they, too can achieve. Role modeling becomes even more effective when these admired women leaders also become mentors.
Provides an atmosphere of accomplishment: professionals who attended a for-women only networking conference were more likely to receive a promotion.
Whether it’s mentoring, peer support, or role modeling, they are all beneficial. Those that were free to choose their own mentor found greater value in it versus those who had no choice in their selection. From a coaching standpoint, this is obvious. Trust and fit are the top factors to any successful relationship – especially one where a person is asking another human for support. It just wouldn’t work otherwise. I have experienced coachees walking through some tremendous discomfort towards a way of being and doing that is infinitely more rewarding for them. And they never would have drummed up this courage had they not felt good in our relationship.
Sheryl Sandberg has often credited those who have mentored her along the way, describing one mentor as her ‘champion,’ and sharing that she received opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Mentoring programs are a win-win situation for both mentors and mentees.
If there isn’t a formal mentorship program or competent female leader in your company who is a good match, look to the outside. Many trade associations offer mentorship programs. Check out WLMA, the Women’s Leadership and Mentor Alliance.
You may also find someone in a professional or community group.
Also, we at Authentic Leadership International are always delighted to hear from you and to be of service in any way we can.
Business Dictionary has some advice: “Observe your mentor’s behavior closely, especially how she reacts in stressful or difficult situations. It is important to develop your own leadership style but utilizing what you learn from a successful manager to mold your own behavior can be a good starting point.”
“When you see a role model, what you see is a person who has the courage to be who you wish you could be.
Stop wishing and just be.”
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Colleen Slaughter, Proud Executive Coach to the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
As an Executive Coach for Women in Leadership and Transformational Facilitator, my intention is to help leaders in positions of high influence to understand their worth at a profound level.
Supporting women leaders to truly thrive and step into their greatness, while succeeding in male-dominated industries and spaces is my native genius.
My technique and approach show you how to achieve incredible career success without compromising any part of who you are and what makes you magnificent.