It’s long overdue, however, the view from the top is becoming more female. Credit Suisse’s CS Gender 3000 revealed that in 2019 the percentage of women on boards globally reached 20.6% up from 19.9% in 2018. In the UK the proportion of women on boards rose to 30.3% last year from 26.9% the previous year, while in the US it the figure climbed to 24.1% from 22%.
And for those who don’t think the pace of change is fast enough, news that asset managers Columbia Threadneedle and RBC GAM have vowed to vote against boards which lag in promoting women to the board – will be welcome.
So, what advice awaits the next generation of women who battle their way to the top? To coincide with International Women’s Day, leading growth and corporate finance advisory firm Waypoint Partners connected with its network of high profile international female leaders to bring the six powerful lessons and insights:
1. Stay authentic
“Leadership requires you to slow down, think about all sides and set a clear vision,” says Julie Barnard, President, Centigrade.
“I’ve found that one of the essential elements of leadership is honesty about your own strengths and weaknesses. Invite your partners and your own people to bring their strengths to the table. Everyone has a role to play, everyone feels a need to contribute and if we collaborate together we can deliver the vision.”
2. Fail fast
“It’s hard to admit failure. But failing fast means having the strength to act quickly when something isn’t working,” says Tamara Littleton, Founder and CEO of global social media agency The Social Element, and Co-founder of crisis simulation and training company Polpeo.
“I learned this the hard way in 2014.
“We set up shop in Australia thinking that we would work with local agencies and grow into Asia. It didn’t work. Agencies didn’t want to collaborate. The market was too small, and it wasn’t the right gateway to Asia. We lost around £250k on the venture, but if we hadn’t faced our mistake early on it would have been more.
“I love the approach to failure taken by the X Company – the company founded by Google that created self-driving cars and delivery drones. It sets ‘kill criteria’ – if one ‘moon shot’ project hasn’t met certain expectations by a set time, the project gets killed. This takes the emotion and subjectivity out of it and makes it easier to move on.”
3. Ask the ‘stupid question’
“Recently, we asked a group of leaders to fill in the blank in the statement ‘Machine Learning is …’,” says Elizabeth Lukas, CEO, Decoded.
“Responses we got back included ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘a black box’, ‘automation’, ‘how the machines will take over’, ‘a complete mystery to me’, ‘very technical’, ‘very powerful’, ‘something I should know more about’, ‘for the IT team’ and ‘the future’.
“What this illustrates – and I’ve seen this time and time again – is that leaders make assumptions that are incorrect because they don’t want to ask ‘the stupid question’.
“This is especially true when it comes to technology and it can be dangerous as it thwarts collaboration and fuels confusion. If you aren’t comfortable with technology and how it’s applied, you cannot effectively lead.”
4. Do it your way
“In a male-dominated industry, it can sometimes be challenging for women to work in a way that feels true to themselves. Find a way to seize opportunities when you come across them using your own personal style and methodology,” says Angela Lurssen, Business Development Director, Waypoint Partners.
“Do your own research and decide whether you are encouraging, asking or telling – all are needed at different times. Stand up for what you believe in.”
5. Be their boss, not their friend
“Being the boss is a unique role. You want to have a great team, and you want people to like you. But I learned the hard way that for your employees, you need to be their boss and not their friend,” says Lisa Myers, Founder & CEO, Verve Search.
“If you behave like someone’s friend, it’s very difficult to lead them. It’s hard – you’re fighting your instincts – everyone wants to be liked and reach out to people. But instead, as a boss, you need to be empathic and caring. You can still be warm – a great, supportive, trusted and admired boss.”
6. It’s all about focus
“Strategy is about making the right choices so focus on the most important goals, projects and members to execute your vision,” says Dagmara Szulce, Managing Director, IAA Global. “Too many distractions lead to chaos and you won’t get anything done.”
Confidence – whether to fail fast, make mistakes or be true to yourself is the overarching theme from this diverse array of advice. With talent, resilience, and determination, today’s senior women business leaders show that it is entirely possible for women to carve their own corporate niche … and to do so with flair.
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