Giving women the confidence to be in senior management

I’ve lost count of how many times I, and my female colleagues, clients, friends etc who are in senior management, have commented on “how lucky” they are to be in their role, or how they “stumbled into it by accident”.

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When I was told I was going to be made a partner it took me a long time to actually feel proud of what I’d achieved, and part of me is still waiting to be “found out” for not being as good as others seem to think I am!

I feel fortunate in that colleagues (both male and female) have pushed me and helped me to identify strengths in myself that I never really attributed to being a “leader”, but just really about doing my job.

I see this attitude of “well I’m not doing anything special” in lots of women I work with, so how do we give women the confidence to put themselves forward and take on senior management roles, without feeling like imposters or that they don’t deserve it?

In my opinion, there are three things that those in senior management should be doing to help give women in their organisation greater confidence to take on senior management roles themselves:

Pay it forward

A former line manager once told me that his job was to make himself redundant, through the way he developed me, and I think this is true for all of us.

I certainly don’t want to be doing the same thing I am now in 10 years’ time – we need to free ourselves by empowering others to be better than we are, and this includes through helping them to recognise their own strengths and recognising that there is no “cookie cutter” model for senior managers.

Encourage inclusivity

Try to identify and eradicate behaviours or cultures which work against women feeling able to take on leadership roles.

Not long after I became a partner I realised I could never attend department management meetings, which were always held at 8:30a.m. on one of the days I take my kids to school.

Whilst diaries are always a nightmare, when planning management meetings, socials etc there should be consideration given to how timing may inadvertently prevent people (particularly with childcare responsibilities) from taking part.

Similarly, are there behaviours in meetings which could make women feel less empowered to take part, e.g. people regularly talking over each other and individuals not being given chance to speak.

Prioritise development needs

Whilst companies are quite often happy to promote “hard skills” training, training on skills such as effective management, line management and presentation skills and coaching and mentoring can be seen as less valuable to a business.

Actually, investment in these skills can be hugely beneficial – not only because the improved skills can pay dividends in terms of improved management abilities, but also because of the positive impact this can have on staff retention rates.

Personally, professional coaching has been really beneficial to help me stop feeling like I need to be “superwoman” and get better at setting boundaries as a leader.

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