Four Things Every Woman In Leadership Needs To Know
Amy Yoder is president and CEO of Anuvia Plant Nutrients and an avid promoter of women in agriculture.
Women have made great strides in business, politics, technology and science. Still, I’ve found that the assertion made by Sigmund Freud back in 1925 that “women oppose change, receive passively, and add nothing of their own” cemented a gender norm that still lingers today.
There are just 44 female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. That is a paltry 8.8% of some of the largest corporations in the U.S. I believe many of these women hold something in common, however. Rather than modeling their leadership after their male counterparts, they have broken the mold and harnessed what it means to be a female leader. From my perspective, women leaders engage the power of teams, have a tendency to share the credit and are driven by both a sense of purpose and achieving business results.
As a sixth-generation farmer, I always knew that I would pursue a career in agriculture. In my program in college, I was one of few women and quickly learned that being a woman, especially at that time, means you need to be twice, if not three times, as good. Below are some important lessons in leadership that I have learned along the way that can help you stay true to yourself while working hard.
Share where you came from.
Too often, successful female entrepreneurs and business leaders neglect to share the story of their beginnings. What does it mean to “share your story?” Very few will care about the name of your dog, what you ate for breakfast or your plans to play Pickleball this weekend. They do want to hear, however, about how you got to where you are in your career, what has inspired you, lessons learned and hardships overcame.
Being vulnerable and sharing your history will make you more approachable, which is essential to leadership today. Telling your story, with all of its peaks and valleys, adds a human element to your brand and is a compelling way to accelerate growth. Weave pieces of yourself into social content, presentations and everyday interactions in the office. By humanizing yourself, you can increase your reach, get in front of more people and perhaps even grow your business as well.
Don’t accept the ‘double bind.’ Recognize and accept your own leadership potential.
Successful leaders are typically seen as analytical, competent, dependable and confident. However, these characteristics are also often used to describe men. As Morela Hernandez wrote, “In corporate boardrooms, women often face backlash or negative career consequences when they are unable to display both warmth and competence — gendered societal expectations commonly referred to as the ‘double bind.’”
Don’t wait for your performance or potential to be acknowledged. Forge your own path and actively make it happen with a balanced and well-thought-out approach. If faced with the assertion that you are too “edgy” or “bossy,” take a moment to reflect. Are you actively creating or elevating conflict? Do you only look out for yourself, no matter the cost to your teammates? Do you set unrealistic expectations or micromanage to the point of stifling progress? If so, you might consider employing softer tactics.
But if you are genuinely being assertive and respectful at the same time, you are exhibiting the qualities of a true leader. Look to correct stereotypical behaviors as appropriate. Change your own vernacular and avoid using terms like “bossy” or “aggressive” no matter who you are speaking to. You can’t control the stereotypes that employees bring to the organization, but you can control company culture and how these stereotypes are dealt with.
Push your limits, and learn from your mistakes and failures.
Making mistakes can be embarrassing and even costly. But mistakes are intrinsically tied to our successes. They remind us that we are human and keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t.
As a leader, you become responsible not only for your own mistakes but also for those made by your employees. This can be burdensome but can also disclose blind spots and help deepen knowledge of the business.
Self-doubt is a killer of ingenuity. Do not become paralyzed by past mistakes. Rather, lean into the fear of failure and do the hard thing anyway.
Practice micro-mentorship with women around you.
One woman at the top might have power, but a group of women together has an impact. As a female leader, there are ways to empower the women around you to learn and grow within the business.
Begin by assessing how you evaluate your employees. Research has found that men are often evaluated based on potential, while women are evaluated based on performance. While this might make for an equal playing field at the entry-level, management and leadership positions are still dominated by men. In order to advance gender equality, men and women must be evaluated for promotions based on the same criteria.
While you might not have the resources to implement a full-scale program, you can practice micro-mentorship to empower the women around you while unlocking professional development opportunities. By not only soliciting but also asking for advice from trusted peers, you are encouraging the women around you to collaborate, not isolate.
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