At the start of the year I was looking for a women leader’s network on meet up in London, UK. I wanted to broaden my networking and speaking opportunities and this seemed like a good place to start. There are lots of meet ups for women entrepreneurs but nothing for the women leaders I know that exist. So I decided to set one up. Membership is building slowly, but some of the feedback I have received is that some women business owners don’t regard themselves as CEOs, and even more pointedly, some women CEOS are almost embarrassed by the title. Is this really true, and if so, rather sad?
In the UK, we’ve had a woman Prime Minister-Margaret Thatcher. Currently, all the political parties are led by men and only the Labour Party has a woman deputy; Harriet Harman whose title is Shadow Deputy Prime Minster.
The only women running FTSE 100 companies are Moya Green at Royal Mail, Carolyn McCall at easyjet, Angela Ahrendts formerly at Burberry now joining Apple, Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco and Liv Garfield soon to be joining Severn Trent from BT.
In the public sector, the figures are marginally better. In a recent report Sex and Power 2013, 32% of councillors in the UK are women, and only 12.3% are council leaders and 13.3% are elected mayors. In 2012, 22.9% of local authority chief executives were women.
There are many reasons for such disparity in the numbers of men and women in senior positions. Culture of the organisation; many boards are led by men in most sectors and therefore decision-making rests with the majority presence. Also, some women don’t believe they are good enough to be the CEO or ‘the one at the front’ so don’t apply for such key posts. Also, the myth that ‘you can have it all’, the career, family and a life doesn’t help. I’m not saying you can’t, but it is challenging and requires a lot of juggling and probably additional support. A change in mindset for many organisations too.
In response, women are increasingly starting their own businesses, because it gives them the flexibility of when they work, who they work with and in conditions that suit them better. Some want to include motherhood and having a family, and some just want to get off the corporate ladder which is probably not taking them anywhere fast! Others are working part-time and want to start small businesses to support them.
So, the statistics tell us that we aren’t making our presence felt enough in the market place. Yet, our male counterparts have no difficulty with titles and going after what they want, and that includes more pay and more senior positions.
So how can we change attitudes to women in leadership? A woman leader is not a bad thing.
I do think we have to modify our thinking about ourselves and these positions. Note, I didn’t say CHANGE.
To be the CEO, director, or leader requires confidence and self-belief. not just self-confidence, but confidence in one’s ability.
- Confidence to take decisions. If you get it wrong or not the outcome you were seeking, you’ll handle it.
- Confident of who you are.Try not be so affected by what people think of you. It’s true, they may not like you (for a host of reasons, over which you have no control) but that doesn’t stop you from doing your job.
- Confident that you are going in the right direction. You have to lead from the front. Create a vision and enrol your management team and staff in the vision and what it will mean for them and the organisation.
- Confident in your abilities and strengths. You have the skills, experience, knowledge and so on, and it is alright to know that and use them. Don’t apologise for having an MBA or being qualified.
- Confidence that you cannot do this alone, get the right support and then, this can be so much easier.