There's been a lot of talk these past years about the need to have more women in leadership roles, yet progress is slow. Why is that? I believe it is in part because we haven't gotten to the source of what's really getting in the way: our inherited bias. And I'm not just talking about the perception of women in the workforce, but the one we women have about ourselves, which stops us from taking on things we are not highly certain we can deliver on. 

Science says there is a large gap between the typical mindset of women and men, especially as it relates to qualifications and competence. At Hewlett-Packard, for instance, it was found that men will actively seek out a job promotion, if they can do 60 percent of what's called for, while a woman will likely only go for it, if she can do 100 percent of what's required. 

In general, women are not stepping up because we think we have to have it mostly figured out before taking it on. While that's not the case with every woman, and there has been progress made in recent years, data from Crunchbase found that of the U.S. startups that received funding from 2009 to 2014, only 15.5 percent had at least one female founder. In the corporate world, it's even lower: Women represent 45 percent of the S&P 500 workforce, but only 6 percent of the CEOs.

In an interview on my podcast Unmessable with Amel Karboul, former minister of tourism in Tunisia (and one of few women to hold a top government position), explains how she would often push the women on her team to take on roles they didn't know how to do, which would, ultimately, lead to their growth. 

Here's how you can help more women taking a leadership role in your business, which (statistically speaking) will help your company perform better.

Encourage (if needed, push) women to step in and close the gap. 

It's important to empower your team members, no matter their gender. But as Hewlett-Packard found, women usually need to know that they can do most of the required tasks for the job, while men mostly wing it and figure it out as they go. That's a genetically inherited bias that we need to consciously dismantle.

As a business leader, a great place to start is by openly talking about this inherrited bias, if you suspect it may be happening with women on your team. Perhaps even initiate a private discussion with a woman that might be holding herself back. The bottom line is, check in. It may be this or something else, but by openly talking about it you now have a starting point that could be a game changer.  

In a recent client session with a woman CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, she shared that, throughout her career, people trusted her with bigger roles and responsibilities than she thought she was able to handle. And that's why she is the head of this company now responsible for 20,000 employees. People saw something in her that she didn't even see yet, but that trust allowed her to step into her power. Be that business owner who looks for those leadership qualities in women and shines a bright light on them.

The loudest one in the room isn't always the best one to promote. 

Many on your team might get promoted because they make their presence known, but that might not always be the right choice. To counteract this, as a business leader, focus your attention on unveiling who drove the results, rather than who is taking the credit. Ask pointed questions that surface this information and reward transparency. 

According to the Harvard Business Review's analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that distinguish excellent leaders. Karboul even notes that, while serving as a female executive, many of the men on her team would come and complain to her whenever something came up. While the women, as a unified practice, handled whatever was needed without needing to politic much or strive for that extra face time.

Strong female leadership is an asset that many companies, big and small, are unwittingly missing out on. In fact, according to a study by Peterson Institute for International Economics, companies with 30 percent of leadership occupied by women can expect at least a 15 percent boost to profitability. This, among countless other reasons, is why it's so important that we empower women to overcome these genetically inherited biases that no longer serve us.

Published on: Mar 26, 2020
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