As an expert in the advancement of women leaders, Susan MacKenty Brady explains how women are able to inspire one another through their leadership roles.
Are we getting confused about the important role of women’s leadership programs in the advancement of gender parity? I have recently heard (and read) comments that suggest women’s events “don’t work” and we must “stop fixing women.” Allow me to weigh in. Without the removal of organizational barriers and the presence of new ways of working, simply encouraging women to step into their full leadership potential won’t result in their accelerated advancement. However, I have found that women are filled with inspiration and motivation once they hear from other women – usually in an organized setting designed to engage and inspire women to lead- who thought big about their own leadership potential and who made it to the top of their chosen fields. Who doesn’t want to be inspired about ones potential, unique strengths, and personal power? Challenging women to think about if they are leading in big ways is a critical part of the gender parity agenda. Here’s why:
Being talked over / not listened to, implicit and explicit societal encultured messages (e.g. “girls / women must be…”) and ways of working that are riddled with constraints for women (e.g. lack of flexibility to work from home in a knowledge-economy job) can negatively impact a woman’s desire to lead. I have seen over and over that these factors can erode (or prevent altogether) two things in women: 1) our belief in ourselves, and/or 2) our energy to “fight” for what we need if we are to fully step in to our leadership potential. Believing in oneself is something I have devoted a good amount of time over the last decade thinking and writing about, and dedicate an entire chapter in my latest book about, Mastering Your Inner Critic. I have been honored to share with the world (and practice for myself) a simple way to hold myself in warm regard and return – sometimes moment-to-moment – to an authentic belief in myself. In fact, I take very seriously the job of managing my own worthiness because there is no shortage of opportunity to think that I might not be enough, worthy, ok right now.
If women can master the work of believing in themselves despite the context in which many of us still live and work (a working world that wasn’t initially and still isn’t altogether built to be a place where women can thrive as leaders) then organizations can make the needed decisions to alter the barriers that keep women from stepping in (and up) to greater leadership. This “fight,” however, the one most women need to engage in either explicitly or implicitly in order to make the job of leading work for them, needs to be fought by the organizations that seek more diversity in their leadership ranks. This isn’t special treatment, it is ensuring a level playing field and providing the needed (and potentially different) equipment for all players to succeed.
There is no shortage of research about what organizations can do to accelerate gender parity in leadership. In the meantime, what you can take to the bank is that the majority of women who are selected to attend an inspirational or educational women’s leadership experience, or those who decide for themselves to attend an event, leave inspired to think bigger about their own potential. 94% of the women who attended the Simmons Leadership Conference in the last year said they would come again and 96% would recommend attending to a colleague or friend. Why? My belief is that women are awakened to what’s possible for themselves, and leave these events thinking bigger.
So, while scholars and practitioners work to identify and remove the very real organizational barriers that prevent women from having the opportunity or desire to step up and in to bigger roles, we must continue to inspire women and remind them of their power and unique strengths and our need for more women to lead.