“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin
Recently, a female CEO mentioned to me her plan to transition out of her position to pursue other interests. She asked that if I knew of any potential candidates to let her know. She went on to say that she thought that it would be great if the next CEO could also be a woman but added, “It’s still just so hard. I feel like we have taken a step backwards.”
It is not hard to understand her sentiment as women remain under represented in leadership roles in business and government. According to the Knowledge Center, as of April 2015, women currently hold only 23 (4.6%) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. In law firms and government, women haven’t fared much better. In 2014, The National Association of Women Lawyers reported in its 8th Annual Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, that women made up approximately 17 percent of the equity level of partnership. One of the co-authors of the study, Roberta Liebenberg, described the survey’s results as: “basically showing very little progress, after years of very little progress. Unfortunately, the current statistics are not significantly different from what they were when the first NAWL Survey was released in 2006.” Additionally, according to UN Women, in January 2015, only 10 women served as a Head of State and 14 as Head of Government. These statistics show that the gender gap continues to be far too wide.
My conversation with the CEO and the above statistics got me to thinking about what we as women can do to close this gap. I believe that we must have an open mindset and view ourselves not only as deserving an equal opportunity as men but also as being capable of handling the pressure and responsibility that comes with any high-level leadership position. But as we aspire to do more and be more, we must find the courage to seek out leadership roles. We need to find the strength within ourselves to jump over the hurdles in our head that cause us to be risk adverse, afraid of failure, underestimate our own ability and keep us quiet when we should be speaking up and letting our voice be heard.
So, what courageous acts can we undertake to continue to move forward and upward? Here are some suggestions:
- Be the leader you aspire to be! Set big goals and dare to go for them. Take action despite your fear.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. Take calculated risks to move forward. Don’t worry about mistakes or failures and never let your failures define you.
- Forge your own path and stay the course even when the going gets tough. Be patient, even through the most difficult of times.
- Speak up and find your voice! Be willing to speak up and put your vulnerability on the line. Respectfully say what you think, ask for what you want and don’t be afraid to challenge the consensus or give critical feedback. Earn respect by being a straight shooter and win the trust of those around you.
- Don’t be afraid to be your own best advocate. Women traditionally do not like to self-promote themselves, instead relying on their hard work to (hopefully) win them recognition and advance them forward. Don’t be afraid to let the right people know who you are, what you’ve done and what you aspire to do in the future.
- Always stand up for what is right. Do the right thing regardless of whether or not anyone else will know you did. Have integrity.
“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful generous or honest.” – Maya Angelou.
This post was written by Lisa Mueller.