The news of the past year--with near-daily stories of sexual harassment and assault, gender inequality, and other issues affecting women in the workplace--has reinforced the fact that, however far women have come, we still live in a male-dominated world.
In a recent survey conducted by The New York Times and Morning Consult, a third of the men polled reported they had done something at work within the past year that would qualify as objectionable behavior or sexual harassment.
We see the need for change in countries around the world and in virtually every field and industry. Good as it is that so many stories validating women's experience are coming to light, that's just the first step. We need to make #metoo not just a hashtag but a call to action.
Working to bring more women into leadership is an important way to advance the cultural change we need. That means identifying prospective leaders and mentoring them through the sometimes-difficult early years of their leadership development.
It's also true that the best, most enduring change begins within, and as we're working toward cultural change we also need to work on changing ourselves--the only element we have complete control over.
We start by owning more of who we are and what we have to offer. When we do, we reclaim our own power. Here are some things you can do--right now, where you are--to make it happen:
1. Become a person of value.
If you're waiting for someone to recognize the value you bring, you may well be waiting forever. Recognize your own worth. If you want to work on a project, speak up. If you want to lead a team, say so. No one will appreciate your contributions until you appreciate them yourself. Work to become known as someone who can be counted on.
2. Let your voice be heard.
Studies show women are much less likely than men to speak up in meetings--and when they do speak up, they apologize repeatedly and allow themselves to be interrupted. If you don't believe you have anything worth saying, how will others have confidence in you? Recognize the value of your opinion and believe that what you have to share is worth listening to.
3. Speak with confidence.
If your communication style seems a bit weak, practice being assertive. That doesn't mean you have to be rude or hostile. Simply drop the apologies and qualifiers when you speak and others will see you as more authoritative and confident. Know what you are saying and say it with strength.
4. Stop trying to be a pleaser.
Many times women take on the role of the pleaser in an attempt to be noticed. If getting someone coffee isn't part of your job, let it be done by someone in an appropriate role. It's nice to be nice, but always trying to please others won't get you anywhere. Instead of serving or promoting you, it belittles you and leaves an impression that you're unsure of yourself.
5. Know your stuff and then some.
Play to your strengths. If you can identify what's unique in your background, use those skills to advance. And if you don't have all the skills you need to succeed, go out and learn. Take a class, read a book--do everything you can to distinguish yourself and grow professionally.
6. Learn how to handle conflict.
Instead of engaging in conflict or avoiding it, learn to communicate forward by acknowledging the conflict and asking, "So how do we move past this?" Don't make or allow personal attacks; keep it professional. Don't email when you are angry and don't read emotion or tone into texts, emails, or directives. Don't hold a grudge; once the conflict is over, shake hands, hold your head high, and get back to work.
7. Take on a leadership role.
You don't need to have a leadership title to be considered a leader in your office. Whatever your position, find a leadership role you can excel in--whether it's heading up a key initiative, solving problems and resolving conflict, or calm decision making in a crisis--and push yourself to be the go-to person for those situations .
8. Don't be afraid to ask for a raise or promotion.
When you're ready for a raise or promotion, chances are you'll be asking a male boss, and it can be intimidating. But if you've been with a company for a while and you are clearly considered a rising leader, don't be shy. Make your expectations clear and state in simple terms why they should be met. Most employers aren't going to give you a raise or the job you desire unless you request it with authority. Your boss can't argue the facts of your performance and leadership, so take the time to figure out talking points for those areas. The more data you have, the better chance you have of winning the fight.
9. Find a sponsor.
Look for sponsorship in your workplace by building strong relationships with your boss and other senior leaders. Pay particular attention to cultivating relationships with the individuals who believe in you and who publicly support you--they are going to be your best advocates and your biggest supporters.
10. Lead by example.
If every person became who they wanted to see in the world, their leadership would bridge many chasms and fill in many gaps. There's so much room for individuals to step up and out and show what true effective leadership is--and that happens through leading by example. Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect, and mirror what you admire.
Let's not look back but instead dream a new future by changing the present. It is time for a change, and change will come only when we as women own our own power, voices, and confidence, knowing that others will follow our lead.