My work with female leaders over the last eight years has revealed that the advancement of women in the workplace is no simple issue. I've interviewed more than a hundred female executives, held workshops for more than a thousand, and individually coached many more. These women are based all over the world and have diverse cultural backgrounds.
Interestingly enough, the issues, though complex, don't vary much. Women feel as though they aren't treated equally to men in the workplace, are passed over for promotions, and that opportunities aren't being given to them.
Most women also want more recognition and appreciation, take criticism or negative interactions personally, and look inward assuming they've done something wrong before blaming someone else for the problem.
When I've seen women step back from their jobs, go part-time, and even say they're happy to be where they are, I always question it. Something hasn't sounded right to me... Most people in the corporate world are there to achieve something.
They are excited to progress in their jobs, whether it's better learning, participating in high-profile projects, more achievements, higher titles, or more money. And finally, my suspicions have been confirmed:
Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion, conducted a study, Lost Leaders in the Pipeline (with co-author Lisa Mainiero) that found women do have strong ambition. In fact, in her survey of 615 professional women, 74 percent self-identified as very/extremely ambitious.
Yet, Bonnie says, "Their ambition is not nurtured in the workplace and diminishes mid-career after five to ten years. The assumption has always been that women lack ambition or leave for family reasons, but that's not necessarily the case. Research shows that more women would remain in the workforce if they had programs and support that enabled them to be successful over the course of their careers. "
I knew it! Women do want to achieve, accomplish, even climb the corporate ladder. And they want to be recognized and appreciated while doing so.
Bonnie goes on to advise companies to do the following:
"First, companies must acknowledge that women enter the workforce with enthusiasm, optimism and ambition. In order to move their gender diversity initiatives forward, companies must let go of assumptions about what ambitious women want and need and identify how they can specifically support the women in their environment.
"It is also critical that companies leverage innovative workplace practices and modern career paths to sustain women's ambition and support work life integration in order to retain future female leaders."
I would add that, while sometimes uncomfortable, women need to ask for what they want clearly and concisely. Also, confidence is still an issue--act like you deserve it, know that people think you're extremely competent (you wouldn't be where you are if you weren't), and exhibit that confidence in every meeting or interaction you have. Especially with male counterparts.
As Katty Kay, author of The Confidence Code, put it--studies show confidence is, in many cases, more important than competence.