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Inspire Your Female Leaders To Ascend To The Top

Forbes Council Member


Kimberly Lewis

Kimberly B. Lewis, owner of Motivational Muse, LLC.

A report titled “Why Women Aren’t Ascending,” which was released earlier this year, revealed that there is an “ambition gap” among women. In fact, 56% of women between the ages of 30 and 44 years old report they do not aspire to become a top executive — 73% of women ages 55-64 said the same.

It seems, as women age, many lose their aspirations for leadership positions. The poll of more than 4,400 Americans of varying races, occupations and income levels, found that for both men and women who report not having aspirations to obtain leadership positions, family concerns sometimes take the lead. But for women, the top two reasons were: “women have to prove themselves more than men do” and “executive levels are often “boys clubs.’”

This is somewhat surprising because those of us who advocate for equality have noticed a positive shift in discussions and openness around diversity, equality and inclusion. However, this poll tells a different story.

It appears that personal desires are not matching with collective desires. In general, people think that diversity, equality and inclusion are important, but they don’t see it or necessarily want it in their own companies in a big way, according to Katherine Phillips, director of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School, when speaking on the study.

For me, it comes down to how I value myself. I may deserve to be valued, respected and admired for what I do, but friends, family, staff, co-workers, clients and customers all have a long list of obligations and distractions competing for my time and attention. So, what we often see is women like me, putting themselves last. Change takes time, and perceptions mold how quickly and radically that change happens.

I believe women must gain a better understanding of what drives value, and we only need to look at our corporations and organizations for the answers. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What do our customers value?

2. What attributes do you value in your best employees?

3. Who most positively impacts the business?

4. What do the valuable people in your life bring to the table?

Compare the answers to your characteristics and attributes, and then ask the following questions about yourself:

1. What value do you find in yourself?

2. What talents and gifts do you have?

3. How do these talents and gifts show up at work?

If you have a hard time giving yourself kudos for your value, ask co-workers what they find valuable about you and the work that you perform. Keep track of your accomplishments no matter how small you might think they are. Make sure that your skills are noted on your evaluations. This should begin to move the needle on how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. I call this “tooting your own horn.”

Annually, I ask my leadership team to make a list of their professional accomplishments, even if it is a team effort (and most of the time, it is). As directors, they are responsible for the accomplishments and the failures of their departments.

When I gave this assignment to my team for the first time, most of them had a hard time making a list. They were uncomfortable “tooting their own horns.” The second year we did this exercise, they were much more at ease. We did it in a group setting because I wanted the entire team to realize the value that they all bring to the table. As I looked around the room, I saw heads nodding and a few surprised looks because they didn’t realize all of the great work being conducted by their co-workers. Everyone seemed to gain a heightened level of respect for one another.

This is a practice all leadership teams can incorporate — in nonprofit or for-profit industries — as a way to develop perspectives of self-worth and accomplishments. Once women realize that they are already operating at a high level of responsibility, I believe that they will begin to see themselves as leaders and “opt-in” for their next move to the top.

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