The number of women in positions of power and influence in almost any field – -business, government, medicine, education — are shockingly low. I believe two things are at work. One you can influence that will change your situation, forever. The other you cannot change; however, it will become irrelevant when you change the first. Let’s look at the issue of gender diversity, and then what you can do.
Maybe you have experienced the proverbial glass ceiling at times in your own career, despite your hard work and stellar performance.
Why is it that even though companies with gender diversity create better results, we are far from having gender diverse organizations — even in the western world?
It’s easy to point fingers at some unknown “them” or to assume most men think women aren’t capable of leadership positions. But the truth is many men believe strongly in women’s equality in the workplace. And even in organizations with dozens of gender diversity programs, women often still fall short of holding even 25 percent of the leadership positions in those companies.
The other reason frequently assumed is that women leave their positions to raise families when their career would normally be in full swing. This seems plausible since raising a family and being in a position of power and influence are two huge commitments. However, Robin Ely, a professor at Harvard Business School, did a study of 25,000 Harvard MBA graduates and found over 90 percent of the women graduates had stayed in the work force full time, yet still had significantly lower positions in their organizations than their male counterparts.
What we cannot change is that human beings tend to associate with people like themselves — whether it is race, gender, economic, or cultural. When people immigrated to the United States in large numbers they often set up small towns or sections of cities to band together with people who spoke their language and had similar customs. We still do. You can find old German settlements in Texas, Chinatowns in L.A. and San Francisco and Little Italy in Boston. This desire to flock together with “our own kind” just is. And it happens in the corporate world and politics, sometimes intentionally, but often at a subconscious level.
In her TedTalk, Susan Culantuono tells of a male executive committed to mentoring men and women; yet at the end of the year realized he mentored the man in the inner workings of the business that will move him to the top while he mentored the woman in assertiveness and networking skills. He intended to help them both; but after looking at the year realized the skills he assumed the woman needed were ones she already cultivated to get where she was and would not take her to the top of the organization. This is a common problem with would-be supporters of women rising to the top of organizations — subconscious biases. You can fight this, argue it, or try to legislate it away — but your efforts will only scratch the surface of the problem and certainly will not make enough change to help you personally.
What can you do?
You have to look at your own subconscious conditioning that is keeping you underneath the glass ceiling instead of on top of it.
I am not talking about assertiveness training, or pushing yourself to work later hours, or somehow muscling your way to the top. In fact, I will bet that is what you have been doing. Although some of those things may have been important and gotten you where you are –struggle and assertiveness will not get you to your goal.
1. Belief in yourself.
2. Cooperation and collaboration with others.
3. Strong desire for your goal.
I often tell people the most important thing I received from Harvard Business School was not what I learned about business, but the belief it gave me in myself. The challenges I overcame to get there and to succeed while at Harvard taught me how capable I really am.
What have you overcome? Each person has their own hurdles, whether personal or professional, that demonstrate their ability to do what it takes — when needed. You need to cultivate your memory of all your various accomplishments so you start to become convinced without a shadow of a doubt at your own capacity for success.
If your goal is doing something you have never done, then stop thinking about all the things you do not know and begin to remember all the times you handled something well in the past — maybe even something that at the time you were not an expert.
If you feel inferior to others in your desired field, then stop comparing your weaknesses to their strengths and start comparing your strengths to other people’s weaknesses.
These shifts in attention over a sustained period of time will help you believe in yourself enough to take action and succeed.
Have you ever noticed other people not as qualified as you get positions you wanted? Have you ever seen people doing jobs above you that you know you could do better? It is because they were willing to believe in themselves before they were perfect.
It would be a loss for you, your organization, and possibly the world, if the only thing that prevents you from achieving your big dream is a lack of belief in yourself. I always seem to find the resources I need, the information required, or people who can help — once I commit and believe I can do something.
There is not a person anywhere on the ladder of success who was not at one time a novice at what they are now good at. The ones at the top most likely did not wait until they were perfect to try.
We will talk about the next two requirements to get you to the top next time. Until then, start to cultivate your belief in yourself.
Ask some of your closest friends and co-workers to write down what they think your greatest strengths are, and to give examples. Make a list of all your varied accomplishments. If you have a big goal or position you want, break it down into all the various components and start to list some of the qualities you already possess. Every day write down something you did well. Think of all the ways you have made your bosses, your spouse, or your children “look good” by all the things you do. Don’t stop at the things you have gotten accolades for, dig into all the ways you shine. At night before you go to bed, look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’re amazing.
My roommate from college gave me a gift when I left for Harvard — a teddy bear with a pull cord that made it talk. It said:
- You’ve got what it takes.
- You’re on your way to the top.
- You are a born leader.
Be your own wind-up teddy bear and nurture your belief in yourself. It is the one thing you have complete control over, if you are willing to feed it the right messages. Start today!