After spending nearly four years thinking about advancing women's leadership and talking to hundreds individuals and companies, I decided to scale up my efforts by teaching an online course about strategic influence in the workplace to high-potential women.
On a personal level, I never saw gender as a factor in my influence strategy, so initially, I didn't have any gender-related considerations in my course syllabus. I wanted, however, better understand the needs of my target demographic. Once I started interviewing women from all levels of seniority across multiple geographies, I realized that things were not as simple for women as they tend to be for men.
I noticed that the women I spoke to cited several common challenges:
1. Establishing credibility and being heard by others
Despite having credentials, experience, domain expertise, and often seniority, women felt they were not being taken seriously by (mostly male) colleagues and their ideas were being appropriated by others. Here are excerpts from some of the stories I heard:
"Even though I am at a C-Suite level, in meetings, my male counterparts often repeat what I am saying in a different way and take credit for my ideas."
"I have a seat at the table, but I often feel overpowered by a louder voice (usually male) and many times I will say something / offer solutions and as if no one was listening, someone else (usually male) will say the same thing (sometimes even the same words?) and they will get the credit for the idea. It happens to me over and over."
These women aren't alone. A recent study of Supreme Court justices found that male justices interrupt the female justices approximately three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral arguments. They also found that gender carried 30x more power than seniority in one's chances of being interrupted. Ouch!
2. Seeing influence as a form of "dark art" rather than an essential leadership skill
Women I spoke to often saw only the negative side of power and avoided engaging in strategies to further their own interests. There was a common belief that being cooperative and collaborative was the right approach and that genuine effort will be recognized.
Findings by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever show that mental barriers about asking for more often prevented women from negotiating for themselves. In fact, they found that men initiated negotiations to advance their own interests about four times as frequently as women. Their HBR article Nice Girls Don't Ask summarizes some of these findings and the psychological and societal reasons for them. For instance, given that almost all organizations are somewhat political and it takes about 20 people on average to make a decision* in a large organization, it seems that women are not setting themselves up for success by not looking at influence strategically.
3. Struggling to find the right temperature for their leadership style
Representation of leadership is often illustrated as a male trait in our society (89% of business school cases feature male protagonists, and most business books are written by men and about men). Meanwhile, role models tend to give women very limited examples of what it meant to be a leader. Being too nice, for instance, can result in not being taken seriously or being taken advantage of, and being assertive can lead to being perceived as aggressive and not likable. This has made projecting authority more complicated for women and left them with less options to exercise their influence. In addition, they often failed to utilize critical feminine skills like listening, emphasizing and problem-solving, strategically.
So, What's Next?
As I was doing my research for the course, I realized that all the books I was referencing about strategic influence were written by men and all the best Ivy League business classes on this topic were also taught by men (almost all white and middle-aged). They had a very male perspective and didn't take into account the challenges above. Sure enough, on case study did have a woman in it: she was Andy Grove's (Intel's CEO) secretary (!!!).
I had to develop my own cases and examples in order to make the concepts more relevant to women's realities.
After several months of hard work, lots of research and a very successful course pilot, I am pleased to present to you my new global online course: Master Influencer Boot Camp for Women. Starting on Sunday, June 4, 2017, it's a 4-week live course with elements of strategic thinking, emotional intelligence and effective communications.
Miriam Grobman Consulting works with organizations that want to advance more talented women into leadership roles by breaking cultural barriers and giving them the right skills to be successful. Their approach is data-driven, global and collaborative. Contact them if you'd like to discuss the right strategy for your organization. You can follow their Facebook page, Leadership and Women for inspiring stories about women leaders and practical career advice and sign up for their newsletter.
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