The state of women at work

Someone once told me that men make better leaders than women in the office, because men delegate and enable processes, while women at work create little authoritarian states around them.

This statement stuck with me and I’ve often thought about it over the years and what I realised was that although I attended an all-girls school, and extensively studied feminism and its counterparts, none of those prepared me for working with women, inspiring them and empowering them.

In fact, I often find myself threatened by powerful, high-performing women. In our office, I work with several talented women, all with different qualities and personalities. When one of them does well, I have to remind myself that recognition is not a see-saw – one does not have to go down, for another to go up.

This train of thought never came naturally to me, it is something I’ve worked on for the past five years. This included consciously pointing out when a female colleague does well, assigning tasks according to their strengths but not avoiding giving them tasks that might play into their weaknesses.

I’ve done tons of research on start-up culture, women in leadership roles, fighting generalisations and mentorship. One of my favourite resources is the Harvard Business Review, and what I found interesting is that a lot of the data points to women being more effective than men in leadership positions.

Another interesting finding points to women, when self-evaluating, rating themselves as better leaders later in their life. This correlates directly with women also only describing themselves as more confident than men after 40. It seems like we are not only feeling threatened by our female colleagues, we are also doubting our own capabilities when we are trying to establish our careers.

The irony is that the research also clearly shows that male managers believe women to be slightly more effective than men at every hierarchical level and in virtually every functional area of the organization. So is it time for us to realise that we just might be standing in our own way?

In another ironic twist, the research points to women being more self-aware than men, as reported by their managers. Self-awareness has long since been recognised as one of the foundational leadership skills of the 21st century, as leaders who know who they are, and how they’re seen by others, are more effective, confident, respected, and promotable.

From all of this, it does seem that we are uniquely positioned to take and succeed in leadership roles.

So, way back in 2013, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote an article that argued that women weren’t unrepresented in leadership roles due to their inability to lead but because of their failure to effectively weed out incompetent men. He argued that instead of lowering our standards for women, we had to raise the bar for men – the article naturally made some folks uncomfortable.

Smack-bam in the middle of the post-truth era like we are, he attributes the lack of equal female representation in leadership roles to the fact that we are still associating leadership with masculinity. The good news is that he now predicts that the rise in automation will eliminate the need for managing tasks (an area where men tend to perform better), while the need for managing people (an area where women tend to perform better) will increase creating opportunities for leaders with strong people skills and a high EQ.

So yes, we are standing in our own way, but we also need to start seizing the opportunities that we are clearly overlooking.

Talking about overlooking things, an easy win for every aspiring professional out there is to engage in a mentorship relationship. Asking for help might not be too high on your list, but thinking that is the extent of mentorship is a fallacy. The truth is that currently men are still the stakeholders and they have all the experience. Therefore finding a male mentor is crucial. As an ambitious twenty-, thirty-something woman, positioning yourself to learn from these men is key in career advancement.

So what do we take away on the current state of women at work? We are standing on the cusp of what can potentially be the greatest influx of female leaders in history, if we seize the opportunities presented to us and if we fight for the career we want. Working on our confidence, taking steps to be mentored and leveraging our self-awareness to better lead and empower, is just a few measures we can take to both achieve these goals and inspire them in our fellow female colleagues.

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