Gender equality in senior leadership roles is a hotly debated topic in the workplace. Even though Canada is considered a leader in the promotion and protection of gender equality, studies show that on average women make 26% less than their male counterparts and corporate boards are on average 84% male and only 16% female. If you’re an aspiring female leader, you may find yourself experiencing barriers to first being invited to the table and secondly being heard at the table.
As a female executive in the Human Resources field, I found myself reflecting on what aspects of my career, personal life and personal attributes contributed to my success. Not only am I at the boardroom table but I have a voice that is respected and sought after.
- Gain family commitment: The personal commitment of family members is essential to career success for any female leader. When chores and parental responsibilities are shared equally, both parties have equal opportunity to achieve greater career success. Many years ago my husband and I weighed the pros and cons of relocating for my career opportunity with HGS Canada. My husband decided to leave his secure job of 19 years to support my need to enhance my career. He continues to proudly own many of the household tasks that most often fall to women, balancing our family responsibilities and equality to match career aspirations.
- Dump any sense of entitlement: The phrase “No one owes you anything!” are words of wisdom from my mom. Always do your best, take advantage of short-term opportunities to learn and gain experience and focus on your personal brand. Just like a company’s brand, we each have a personal brand to grow and protect. If you don’t know how you are perceived today, be humble and ask for input from your family, your manager, your peers and most importantly, those who report to you.
- Speak their language: To impact operations you must understand operations, their mission, objectives, costs, contracts and what is used to measure operational success. Business leaders measure return on investment and want to know how much a change to the business will cost on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. As an example; Human Resource professionals instinctively know why employee programs affect such things as retention but we don’t always know how to translate the impact into dollars or revenue. The most important piece of information to know is the revenue per hour each employee generates. Once you know this, you will be able to translate each person retained into ROI.
- Master your craft: Credibility, trust and respect are earned through interactions with others in the workplace. Along with practice, practice, practice, adopt a life-long learning approach to your field so your knowledge is current. Seek opportunities to attend professional learning and proactively book conferences, courses and annual learning events in your calendar. Don’t just attend the event. Make it a practice to enhance your workplace with at least one new process or best practice learned.
- Teach don’t tell: Senior leaders are intelligent, successful people and have earned the autonomy necessary to move their business unit forward. The key to being heard is in your ability to influence with or without authority. Influential leaders recommend best practices and clearly demonstrate the pros and cons to the choices a senior leader or senior executive team could make. Influential leaders educate others on the factors that contribute to their recommendation.
The path to equality is still being forged. Progress is slow; some experts say it has plateaued. In the book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg shares her insight, her victories and her passion to make a difference in gender equality. After reading Lean In, I was inspired by Ms. Sandberg to share a little bit about myself. Speak up when you have equality but speak louder when you don’t.