Did you catch the buzz around International Women’s Day – the stories, events, following campaigns like #BalanceForBetter? But underneath the success stories is the common question, “How’d you do it? What’s your secret?”
Yes, we hear about the tenacity, grit, the personal sacrifices made, the winding career pathways which eventually led the leadership role. Digging deeper, I’m always intrigued to find out if there was someone or a few people on whose shoulder she stood on? Was there a female who mentored her, encouraged her? Invariably, the answer the is no, they were mostly men.
This is what needs to change.
While we should celebrate women who’ve ‘broken the glass ceiling’, especially in male-dominated industries, the true measure of success can be better gauged in the generations of women to come. This means that women in leadership positions today are in a unique position to not only break the ceiling but to make room for the next generation of women to rise up and take their place in a more gender-balanced world.
Does that mean that all women should be in leadership positions? Not necessarily. But for women who are in leadership positions, including myself, what can I do to raise up a sister on my shoulders? Am I looking out for a junior female executive? Am I mentoring a sister coming up the ranks?
If no, why not? Men benefit from informal mentoring that takes place. The same doesn’t quite exist among women, or perhaps it’s less intentional.
So what can we do?
Leadership can be caught: Informal coaching
Studies show that 39 per cent of women feel their bosses always have their back, compared to 50 per cent of men, revealing that women face more difficulty in getting support from their direct supervisors compared to their male counterparts.
This means that women, more so at mid-career levels need more support and mentorship from women who have gone over the ‘mid-career bump’. The challenges range from starting and raising a young family, work-life balance, leadership development and navigating the politics of breaking into a boy’s club.
Men in positions of power generally don’t offer women mentoring opportunities compared to other men. This means that the onus is on women in senior positions to look for opportunities to informally coach a younger executive, either inside or outside of your company. What does this look like?
It could be informal coffee sessions to share, informal coaching during a ‘learning moment’ when working on a project or being part of a team initiative. Being intentional and deliberate is what counts.
Keep the door open: Collaboration not competition
Once women move into leadership positions, some become more of a hurdle than a help to other younger women climbing the ladder. Some research shows that the Queen Bee syndrome emerges once she has secured her leadership position and refuses to help other women do the same, expecting them to experience the same stress they went through and ‘earn their stripes’.
Thankfully, most of the time this isn’t true. True leaders know it’s a privilege to lead and work to remove obstacles for their employees to achieve their best for the team.
Tilting the balancing for women
In a Women in Business report, women in Singapore make up 33 per cent of senior management, the highest ever. But numbers are still a stretch compared to ASEAN’s 21 per cent.
One of the key hurdles is the lack of access to developmental work opportunities. Company policies that address the gender wage gap, bias in recruitment, flexible work arrangements, training and mentorship need the commitment of senior leadership. It’s heartening to see some women take the mandate and lead the change in corporate culture within their own organisations but more still needs to be done.
Even if it takes 200 years to close the workplace gap, let’s work together to move the needle forward for a fellow sister. It’s no open secret. The next generation of female leaders is waiting.
The question is what am I doing to help? What can we do together?