By Bhavna Toor and Shravani Prakash, First published on ShethePeopleTV
The COVID19 pandemic has forced all of us to take a closer look at how our changing realties could impact the professional lives of women, and by extension, their path to leadership. On the one hand, women’s jobs have proven to be more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs, owing largely to the disproportionately greater increase in the care burden on women. But on the other hand, evidence has shown that women have proven to be better leaders during the crisis, both in the political sphere as well as in the corporate sector. This has made the case for women’s leadership compellingly clear, thus making this an opportune time for women to make bold moves and reach for the highest levels of leadership. For organizations, creating greater diversity in leadership is the most rational response to preparing themselves to succeed in the kind of world we are moving towards.
Therefore, the one question that pops up is -what conscious actions by women professionals as well organisations will help women reach the top in this “new normal” that is marred by continuing uncertainties and is likely to remain increasingly challenging for women? Well, while the major onus of creating pathways to sustainable success for women leaders lies with the organisations and their top leadership, we believe that the development of certain key competencies in aspiring women leaders will help propel them to the top positions in their organisations.
We list out three such key competencies- Courageous Mindset, Resilient Agility and Visibility – which are a part of a Shenomics Competency Framework for women leaders that has been developed after an extensive qualitative and quantitative survey of more than 300 leaders from corporate sector.
Self-awareness is essentially understanding what is important to you, what drives you, your values, what you are good at and can get better at, what is a vision that is most exciting to you, as well as an awareness of how others see you. Building self-awareness can help women recognize and consciously stop the self-limiting behaviour that creeps in because of their mindset that has been Influenced by the patriarchal culture and living in a male-dominated ecosystem.
Enhancing self-awareness entails consciously building an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses as well as assessing your skills and competencies, so that you can decide the direction you want to consciously steer your career towards. It also involves becoming aware of your boundaries and priorities, so that you can utilise your time and energy more efficiently by enabling you to delegate work, both at the workplace and the domestic front. Another aspect of self-awareness Is to get clarity on where you want to reach as well as figuring out what it takes to get to your end goal, so that you can consciously create a clear roadmap to follow.
Following are some recommended actions for enhancing self-awareness:
Cultivate the habit of self-reflection – Introspect and consistently reflect on what is serving you and not serving you in light of your evolving goals and aspirations. Focus on questions like – What should I do to reach the next level in my career? How can I improve? What skills do I need? How can I fill the gap? How much more money can I earn? How do I compete with someone else in the organization? etc. Mindfulness tools such as
meditation, intentional breathing and journaling can create a space for reflection.
Invest in a coach – Work with an executive or leadership coach to elevate your self-awareness, increase your level of clarity around your aspirations and your needs in order (nearly 60% of women leaders surveyed as part of Shenomics research study believed that access to a mentor or coach can help them gain clarity on their
career road map)
Pro-actively seek feedback – Seek regular 360-degree feedback from your professional network as well as friends and family. Leverage your trusted advisors to process the feedback in a safe environment and with objectivity so that you make the most out of it to grow and thrive.
Create a career plan that grows and evolves with you – View your career plan as a living document that can evolve as your self-awareness increases rather than as a static document. This would allow you to shift gears in case you sense a lack of alignment between your values and what the role demands of you.
A courageous mindset is about making whatever choices are necessary for your highest professional growth, as well as making critical decisions for the growth of the business, even if it involves taking risks or the potential of failure. Developing this competency is vital for women as they often don’t take risks or make bold moves to grab opportunities if they feel they are not adequately prepared or don’t feel completely ready. For instance, one observation that frequently came up when in our discussions with decision makers and senior leaders is that women only sign up for roles if they
satisfy atleast 90% of the required criteria while men will sign up even if they meet about 50-60%!
By developing a courageous mindset, you can learn to embrace failure and reframe every adversity as an opportunity to learn. It enhances your ability to respond positively under pressure when things do not go as planned and to know whether to stay on course or shift gears as needed. Expanding your comfort zone and taking risks for your career growth by taking bold steps and
making big bets in your professional life can propel you to reach your dream roles. Backing yourself with a self-belief that you can develop the missing expertise and seek support to make the job work,
happen, you can put your hands up for the big jobs even if you don’t have the all the required skills or feel a hundred percent ready.
Here are some recommendations for developing a courageous mindset –
Focus on the upside – Knowing the positive impact of making a bold move can give you the required
escape velocity to overcome inner resistance and fear.
Manage the downside – Plan and prepare for potential failure ahead of time by taking key actions and decisions in order to mitigate the risks involved.
Seek out role models – Look for inspiration from role models by actively communicating with women
who have had similar journeys and braced similar challenges cultivate a growth mindset – Look at every opportunity as an opportunity to learn and grow. Looking at yourself as a work-in-progress
diminishes the negative impact of the judgment attached to mistakes and failures.
Resilient agility is a combination of resilience and agility. It’s about rebounding from changes and setbacks, adapting to changes in your context and your environment, and committing to ongoing learning, in a way that keeps propelling you forward. It is a vital competency for women to develop as they often don’t prioritise their personal growth and upskilling, which is required for achieving success despite the uncertainties, failures and roadblocks.
Building an agile mindset involves adapting to changing environments and contexts by asking what are the set of skills or knowledge you would need to develop in order to thrive in the new and changing contexts. It is important to invest time and effort in learning and acquiring the skills you would need to succeed on your desired career path. In today’s world, it is crucial to have a wide spectrum of skills and expertise across multiple areas and domains, especially since senior leadership roles are often multi-faceted and require an understanding across multiple domains. Staying abreast of the latest developments in technology, new ways of working and trends for the future are vital for leadership success. An agile mindset would facilitate you to also developing resilience and enable you to bounce back from any kind of failure or setback, and find the strength to keep propelling yourself forward.
The good news is that, as part our research, we found that 64% women feel inspired to invest resources (time, money, energy) in their learning and growth. Following are some ideas for developing an agility and resilience:
Leverage existing opportunities to learn – Commit to continuous learning by consciously investing time in reading, learning and upskilling. Take on opportunities to join external and internal Learning and Development programs.
Identify what you can learn from whom – Build relationships with a set of mentors, teachers and coaches whom you can learn from.
Build breadth as well as depth – Build breadth by attending external forums and staying up-to-date with the latest developments across your industry. Build depth by collaborating with and learning from others on key projects.
Stay focused on the end goal – Consistently remind yourself of your vision and your purpose, which allows you to view setbacks not as a deterrent, but as a source of learning and a test of your commitment to persevere in your journey.
Visibility is about taking the actions necessary to draw positive attention to your achievements, your brand, your ideas and your aspirations. Consciously working on building their visibility is important for women as they are often hesitant to speak up or take credit for their work, because of which they don’t get noticed and consequently miss out on getting the deserved roles or promotions despite having potential.
Becoming more visible involves conscious efforts to speak up during meetings and at larger forums and to express your opinions and thoughts openly and clearly, so that you garner the attention of others. You would also need to build and showcase your “brand” as well as take credit for your achievements so that you become known as someone who gets stuff done and delivers results. As you become a trustworthy, credible brand in your organization or industry, stakeholders would be willing to invest their resources in your growth and development as it also aligns with the organization’s growth. You can also use your skills and expertise to provide guidance and deliver value to your stakeholders, internally and externally, in the form of key insights and ideas that address the biggest questions your stakeholders may be asking.
Some actions women can take to become more visible in their organisations can include:
Look out for high-visibility projects – Leverage opportunities to work on high-visibility and high-impact projects to showcase your work as well as to communicate your intention and availability to take on roles with greater responsibility.
Build high-impact communication skills– Build your verbal and written communication skills. Become adept at public speaking and develop the art of story-telling. Use written communication as an opportunity to showcase your thought leadership – be it through high-quality and crisp communication through emails or articles that share your learnings and insights with others.
Identify opportunities to speak up– Challenge yourself to speak up without waiting until you feel completely ready by looking for opportunities where you can contribute meaningfully.