Boy I never thought I’d say this but I’m tired of the gender/leader banter. Maybe because that’s all it feels like – banter. Yesterday I picked up the current Harvard Business Review. The headliner this month is “Emotional, Bossy, Too Nice: The biases that still hold female leaders back – and how to overcome them.” In the past, I would read an article like this and nod, or sometimes yell out “hallelujah” because someone smart or famous or influential, or all three acknowledged the barriers that exist for women leaders. Now it just feels old. This banter has been going on for decades with little progress if you measure it by the number of women in the C-Suite. Now the authors point to “second generation gender bias”: the unintentional bias imbedded in organizations’ structures and communication patterns, “akin to ‘something in the water’”. Well that’s helpful.
That being snidely said, perhaps their “how to overcome” tips are where the value lies in this piece. First, focus on the purpose of the work and distract yourself from wondering about the perception of your performance or how you are “coming off”. The tip is a little too close to “keep your head down and you will be rewarded” (dangerous advise at best), but I think it is actually deeper. Be strategic about your next steps, consider your actions not in the context of your performance, but in the context of furthering the goal. For example, you network not because you should you network but because it will further your goal. “Anchoring in purpose.” I like it.
And the second tip was right up my alley so to speak. “Create safe ‘identity workspaces’”. Leaders need to learn to lead, to experiment with different approaches, to watch and evaluate other similar leaders. Many women don’t have this environ and so it must be created. And I quote: creating“…a coaching relationship, a women’s leadership program, a support group of peers – in which women can interpret [these] messages is critical to their leadership identity develop”.
So, anchor your efforts in purpose, get your company to support you with a coach and don’t drink the water!