Article Published: September 16, 2014
Article Published: September 16, 2014
By Tacy Byham, Ph.D.
During the past year, I have been writing a book called "Your First Leadership Job" with my co-author Rich Wellins. We know that stepping up as a manager is one of the most courageous decisions in a person’s career, yet over 87 percent of first-time leaders feel frustrated, anxious and uncertain about their new role (Leaders in Transition, DDI, 2014). Too often, first-time managers are left to sink or swim, trying to navigate the waters of their first management role without direction, development or any knowledge of the do’s and don’ts of formally managing a team.
It’s worth noting that 42 percent of those new leaders around the globe who are moving through this transition are women, according to data from The Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 (GLF) from DDI and The Conference Board. Although more women graduate from college than men and are earning entry-level jobs in fields previously dominated by men, women are still outnumbered in the ranks of leadership. At the same time, the business case for gender diversity has never been stronger. That same global study found that organizations with more women consistently perform better financially. Companies in the bottom 20 percent of financial performance had only 19 percent women in leadership positions; companies in the top 20 percent have 37 percent female leadership.
We are devoting an entire chapter to women and leadership in our book, and are leveraging a few of our insights and interviews for this article.
What’s Holding Women Back?
Interestingly, if women are under-represented in the leadership ranks, what is holding women back is not competence. The GLF found that female leaders rated themselves as effective as males on an entire array of competencies. Multiple other studies show that female leaders are every bit as competent as their male counterparts. In fact, DDI’s own testing and assessment processes, which look at real behavior, not survey data, show little difference in gender leadership competence for over 10,000 leaders.
So, we dug a little deeper into the GLF data and learned that women cited a lack of opportunities to lead teams and to have global leadership experience—factors related to career advancement. We can ponder—are they turning down opportunities given the travel requirements associated with a global leadership experience and the impact on family? And/Or, do they lack confidence to stretch into a larger role with more responsibility? There isn’t a clear answer. Authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay—both prominent broadcasters—point out in their book The Confidence Code (2014) that confidence is a key differentiator. A quote from their book sums up the situation: “men think they can and women think they can’t.” The GLF echoes this theme with women tending to rate themselves as less effective as a leader than their male peers.
Not convinced yet? Recently, Real Simple/Time (2014, September) released their Success Poll. They surveyed 1,000 women on how they define success, how much importance they attach to it, and the risks they’ve taken to achieve it. Their polls revealed that only 8% of women consider themselves a success all the time. And, 36 percent of women often feel others at work think that they are more qualified than they think they really are.
So, what we need is an attitude change. Or a different set of voices in our head guiding the way. A great voice is Sheryl Sandberg, who said, “Women need to shift from thinking ‘I'm not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that—and I'll learn by doing it’” (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, 2013).
The Wisdom of Women (and Madonna)
For our book, we started up a conversation—four dozen conversations to be precise—with top women around the globe. Here are some advice tips for women on the ascent up the corporate ladder from our interviews:
So take a chance, seek a mentor, and strike a pose, like Madonna in her Vogue video, and others will see you as poised, credible and confident. In turn, you’ll build your own inner confidence to stretch, grow, sometimes fail, and overall learn.
Tacy Byham, Ph.D. is DDI's Senior Vice President of Leadership Solutions.