Women, it's time to reach for those leadership roles

Inc. Magazine

Oprah Winfrey, in her electrifying speech at the Golden Globes, said that things are changing.

Girls have more women role models, and there are more examples of leadership to follow. Reese Witherspoon and Elizabeth Banks head their own film production companies, knowing that their roles are limited if they leave the casting and directing to others. Michelle Williams brought #MeToo founder Tarana Burke with her to the Golden Globes, and Meryl Streep brought Ai-Jen Poo, founder of The National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Geena Davis heads an institute focused on gender bias in the media, continually reminding us where our blind spots are with regards to gender equality.

After hearing the powerful messages delivered around the world by leading women in Hollywood last week, I believe we’ve turned a corner on gender equality. The issues are out, they’re being talked about, and women and men are taking action. Hollywood has been turned on its head, and I think other industries will follow.

The change Winfrey talked about, the power shift that’s happening in Hollywood, is going to require women to strive for leadership positions to be a moral and ethical compass to the gender balance cause. Women need to continue to rise to the top in all industries to ensure that we have more open, innovative and thriving organizations.

Here are three ways women can rise to the challenge of leadership:

Don’t be too busy for leadership

Women leaders work hard. We are perfectionists. We believe the value we bring is in a job well done — that is when we’ve led our employees to complete their tasks efficiently and effectively. We even work alongside our teams. Those are all excellent qualities.

The problem is, many men approach work differently. Male leaders will spend more time delegating, networking, self-promoting and making deals. They are hard-wired to think more high-level. They don’t mess with the nitty-gritty as much, trusting others to get it done. And if a task is only 80 percent complete, they see it as better to move on than waste a lot of time and energy on it.

Men see women who are very busy, who stay in the weeds, striving for perfectionism, taking on projects that are for the good of the team or company instead of their immediate sphere of influence (or themselves) as, I don’t know how else to say it, icky.

In my workshops on gender balance in leadership, men tell me that they don’t understand why women are so “hectic” and “busy.” One man actually said, “She kept her head down in her laptop so much I didn’t even know she wanted a promotion!”

Always be looking for opportunities

I hear from many women that they are simply too busy to look for opportunities. Too busy to network, too busy to look at job boards, too busy for social media.

This has to change. We have to get our heads out of our laptops and start making time to network. We have to think about what we want in our careers, decide on it and start asking for it.

We have to create and use every coffee shop, company event, meeting with our boss or extended team as an opportunity to let people know who we are and what we want. Now, I know that may sound icky to some women. But the truth is, if we don’t promote our own self-interest, we can’t truly promote our team or organization.

So keep your head up and look around — that’s where the leadership roles are.

Ask for more money

Recently, I was chatting on a plane with a CEO of a construction company. Using the opportunity to do some research, I asked him what he sees as a big difference between men and women in the workplace.

He said, “Men ask me for more money, women don’t.” He went on to say, “I always give them (the men) more money just because they asked me. It might not be all of what they want, but at least 50 percent.”

I then asked, “So if women don’t ask you for more money, what does that mean to you?” Without skipping a beat, he said, “They’re not leadership material. If they can’t advocate for themselves, they can’t advocate for the company.”

I was stunned; it made total sense.

Advocacy. That’s really what Hollywood said at the Golden Globes and what the #TimesUp movement is all about, and what I’m saying here. As women, if we don’t advocate for ourselves and our own self-interest, if we don’t strive for more leadership roles, we can’t make the change that’s needed. So go for it, whatever “it” may be.

If your head is up, you can see it.

Melissa Lamson is the president and CEO of Lamson Consulting, which helps companies and business leaders cultivate a global mindset and bridge cultures.

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