One of the best books I read this year was called Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. This book was great for many reasons but what I enjoyed most about the book was the fact that almost all the themes that she touched upon were able to inspire and encourage me.
Sheryl discussed a concept that I was familiar with but had never really given too much thought to; ‘the leadership ambition gap.’ This can be described as the inner obstacles that women must overcome to reach higher levels of executive management. She argued that women do not aspire to be in these positions because there is an inner belief that we cannot have it all.
From a young age, women are taught to be; nurturers, carers, family orientated, good cooks and so on. Men on the other hand are taught to be providers and are told to aspire to be great leaders both in the workplace and in the home. Many women are actually told not to be too ambitious because it could ‘scare men off.’ It’s crazy to think that there are men out there who would have their ego and pride hurt by small encounters with ambitious women. Can you imagine what would happen if they were married to one?
Some of the internal barriers women face are;
- Being told that we are aggressive, when in actual fact we are just expressing passion
- Wanting to be liked rather than asserting power
- Downplaying ambitions and successes
- Being afraid to negotiate
- Only applying for jobs if we believe our skill-sets are a close 99-100% match to the job description, unlike men
External research and the accompanying statistics led to a light bulb moment where I finally realised that these barriers were affecting me and how ambitious I allowed myself to be. Barrier number 5 really stood out to me because I knew that it was the reason that I had allowed some great opportunities to pass me by. But with any great awakening comes action plans. As women we must learn to adapt our thinking, our attitudes and our corresponding behaviour in order to successfully address any internal barriers that we face.
How can we do this?
1. Conduct a personal SWOT analysis
What are your strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities and threats do or could you face within the next 6 – 12 months? Once you develop a better understanding of yourself, you can take steps to turn your weaknesses into strengths and your threats into opportunities.
2. Develop an inner confidence and don’t allow anyone or any situation to shrink it
Self-confidence is described as the ability or belief to believe in yourself to accomplish any task no matters the odds, difficulty and or adversity. Confidence is one of the major keys to being successful in anything and everything. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would someone else?
3. Join a network of liked-minded ambitious women
It can be as simple as joining the women groups in your companies or through meet-up.com. Alternatively you could start a small group with your friends where you can encourage, inspire and motivate each other to do and be better. You could create a forum to discuss important women-related issues. Networks can be very powerful and women must learn to lean on each other.
4. Practice negotiation techniques with yourself and/or your family or friends
Just as you have practised interviews in the past, there is nothing wrong with practising how you approach negotiation. This will help with your confidence once you are in front of the person or people that you want to negotiate with. Practice makes perfect and if you make yourself appear like a seasoned negotiator the outcome is more likely to be favourable for you.
5. Challenge the stereotypes where appropriate
We have to get men and women to re-learn and develop new ways of thinking. This can only be done when we speak up and challenge negative stereotypes and old customs. Be the change you want to see happen.
The leadership ambition gap is a very real concept even if many of us are unaware that we are in it. No matter our age it is our duty to close the gap in order to make the world a better place for our daughters and our granddaughters.
Some ask themselves
“Am I ready to be a world changer?”
Others ask themselves
“What can I do now to be a world changer?”