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Female leaders in the workplace – how do we break through?

Lawyer Life, Leadership, work-life balance, Working environment

WRITTEN BY ALICIA KOCH, FOUNDER OF THE LEGAL BELLETRIST 

Article 2 of 3 in the Female Leadership series

In our last article, we discussed barriers women face in the workplace. Things like the broken rung effect and the entitlement gap. Each explaining why there are so few women in senior roles in the workplace – a type of unconscious bias (both by women caused by societal ideas of the broken rung and the entitlement gap as well as the subliminal bias of their male counterparts) that women don’t belong in senior level positions.

But we couldn’t disagree more – women have so much to bring to the workplace. Offering different benefits and positive additions to the workplace. 

This is not a male vs female thing. 

Rather it is women and men working together – with equal pay, equal say and equal standing in the workplace. Even in senior roles.

Unfortunately, it just appears that women haven’t been given the “leg up”. And there is still a disconnect, despite surveys and studies to the contrary, between the notion that women offer a great deal to the organisations that they work for and there just not being enough women in real leadership roles in the workplace to take any guidance or motivation from.

We are seemingly short of role models……

The song “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon comes to mind – 

“We the great and small

Stand on a star

And blaze a trail of desire

Through the darkening dawn”

And I am not sure about you but I am suddenly imagining Melanie Griffith in Working Girl commuting to New York City in her sneakers!

And it is this movie that, in at least some ways, firmly represents what it means to break-through in the workplace. To become the person you know you are meant to be. Despite any previous notions to the contrary.

And it is the most obvious example I can use in not only setting the tone for this article but also highlighting what we already know – we deserve to be here. We deserve to be in senior roles. We deserve to succeed.

Working Girl, in my opinion, remains a timeless example of the working woman – women that are fierce, passionate, courageous and resilient all at the same time. Possibly ahead of its time (in its messaging), Working Girl celebrated the bravery and ambition it takes to maintain your values while fighting for a place in a system that isn’t designed to accommodate you. The real love story isn’t between Tess and Jack or even Tess and her job—it’s in the love and belief Tess has for herself (Working Girl’s message is timeless, even if the hair and the shoulder pads aren’t).

And following on from Tess’s realisation, women need to believe that they are stronger than we give ourselves credit for and we are able to achieve more than what we have been led to believe (both by society and ourselves). We may think that we are alone and that we cannot breakthrough the glass ceiling in the workplace (something we will also be discussing in our next article – watch this space). But that simply isn’t true. Even if we cannot see it. 

And therein lies the seemingly obvious realisation – there are just not enough women in any industry to show us that we can – there are not enough role models to show the younger generation of women what is possible. What they can do. Who they can become and what they can achieve. 

But we can change that….

Female role models in the workplace (just a few shining examples) – 

Alyssa Carson

The 19-year-old astronaut in training who is on a mission to become the youngest person ever in space and one of the first people on Mars, graduated from the Advanced Space Academy at 16-years-old, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. 

In an interview conducted by The Female Lead, Alyssa was asked one question which has seemingly stood out  – When you first decided to train as an astronaut, did you have any preconceptions as to what one looked like?

“When I was younger I didn’t really have much of an idea of who astronauts were and I think that’s the biggest issue – so many kids are interested in space and haven’t always seen visible representation in the media, like women and younger people. One thing for me that I’ve been trying to change is to encourage younger people who are interested in space to go for it at any age. The youngest person, in the USA, to fly to space was 32 and I always just thought why is that. Of course, you have to do the training and attend University but why have we never sent anyone younger.

I think the next steps should be to get more women involved in the industry – which is already happening and is amazing to see – but also to capture the younger generation in this. Seeing more females of all ages working in the various roles throughout the space industry would be amazing.

Alyssa was then asked – How important are female mentors to you? And her obvious answer was – 

Really important. So many female mentors have made me think that what I want to do is definitely possible”.

Jacinda Adhern

Jacinda is the 40 year old New Zealand politician who has been serving as the 40th prime minister of New Zealand and leader of the Labour Party since 2017. She was first elected to the House of Representatives as a list MP in 2008, and has been the Member of Parliament for Mount Albert since March 2017. In 2017 (and at 37), she was the youngest head of state in New Zealand.

Due to her amazing leadership, she will govern New Zealand for a second term after the Labour party secured a historic landslide victory in the general election in 2020, attracting so many votes it could become the first party in decades to be able to govern alone. 

She is an incredible leader transforming public assumptions about women in leadership, taking her daughter in 2018 to the UN, becoming the first world leader to bring their baby to the UN general assembly. She eliminated COVID-19 in her country announcing in April 2020 that there was no longer any undetected community transmission of COVID-19 and that her country had effectively “eliminated” the virus, with health authorities aware of and able to trace each current case. She banned military-style semi-automatics less than a month after the Christchurch shootings. She became the first NZ PM to march in an LGBTQ+ Pride event. In 2020, she pledged to provide period products to all girls committing to end “period poverty” by giving all school-aged people who have period’s free sanitary products. And those are just some of her highlights. There are so many more.

But even a woman as highly regarded and as highly accomplished as Jacinda revealed that she suffers from “imposter syndrome” and she tries to turn her self-doubt into “something more positive”.

We can all understand it. No matter how well we do or how high we fly – we still doubt ourselves. An unfortunate result of decades of believing that we are not worthy. 

But we can overcome all of these doubts and misgivings and turn it into something positive. Just like Jacinda. 

There are so many other amazing female leaders – 

Just take your pick!

There are other women in leadership roles that are shining examples of how women can (and do) succeed – take congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for example, or president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, or CEO of Nasdaq Adena Friedman, or Oprah Winfrey for goodness sake. Or any of the other 100 most powerful women in the world as listed by Forbes.

There are many powerful and successful women in senior and leadership roles. 

We just need to look beyond our own insecurities, our own inabilities and be our own cheerleaders. Believe that we can do it. If the women listed in Forbes top 100 woman can do it, so can we! 

We just need to look beyond our own fears to see them. And be them.

So how can women “break through” in the workplace?

I wish it was as easy as – “Abracadabra”. But it just isn’t.

But we need to start somewhere. 

You often find that success is found outside of your comfort zone. And more so than that – by tackling the things that scare you to the core. 

Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, said that while girls are taught to play it safe, smile pretty and get all A’s, boys are taught to play rough and swing high. “In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave,” she said in a TED talk. Even when women are ambitious, the socialisation of perfection often leads them to risk aversion, Saujani said. So teach girls bravery, not perfection. 

Leave the perfection to The Stepford Wives. Spoiler alert – it is science fiction (aka not real and not realistic)!

Because it takes bravery to succeed not just being perfect. 

Every successful entrepreneur and business leader did what they were afraid to do instead of just letting the fear rule their personal and professional lives. Often the best way to overcome fear is to acknowledge it. Recognise that the fear is there, but go for it anyway. If we don’t, we may miss one of those serendipitous “aha” moments that could inspire us to take a different approach and, by so doing, achieving greatness. 

So it comes down to this – if we want to be viewed as equal in the workplace, if we want equal pay and equal opportunity. If we want the recognition that we deserve (and have earned). If we want the working conditions that are favourable to us. If we want to have that work-life blend and not fear having to always “be on”. If we want to simply excel, then –

We must stand our ground and demand the respect we deserve – and it starts by behaving as if the entitlement gap has been closed and the broken rung has been well and truly fixed. 

Women need to lead by example in order to be role models to other young women entering the work force. 

In an article by Business News Daily titled Key Steps Women Can Take to Be Strong Leaders, the following was set out – 

“As each woman in the workplace does her part to work toward gender equality in her workplace, the gaps will slowly but surely close. It isn’t a matter of the different strengths that men and women bring to their careers, but instead how we accept the meshing of those strengths to drive companies forward in meeting their goals and setting new ones while achieving individual success”.

And that’s the point really. We don’t want more than men. We just want the same.  And it really starts with us simply standing up for ourselves (and each other) and being brave

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid” – Goethe

So let’s do that! Let’s be bold, let’s be brave and let’s succeed!

In closing, we hope that these quotes will inspire you to do great things (whatever they may be) – 

Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.”

Maya Angelou

“A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done.”

Marge Piercy

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

– Marie Curie

“She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear.”

Atticus

About the Author, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.

Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism. 

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.

Email: legalwhizz@gmail.com 

2 Comments

  1. Olya

    LOVED this articles! Great references and so inspirational. And very well written.
    I totally agree. I heard this so many times: not more or better but same.

    Reply
    • friedaL2020

      Hi Olya, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the article. Equality is really all that we are asking for. It amazes me that we are still struggling to achieve it, despite all of the steps which have been taken to progress women forwards.

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