Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Leading as a Woman

Source : 2014 Leading Women. Research study: Closing the Leadership Gender Gap

I heard an insightful presentation from my manager (who is a woman and the first woman that I have worked for in about 18 years in the tech field & an awesome one at that!) and it had me thinking about Women as leaders especially in the tech industry. Here are some perturbing statistics :

  • 4.6% of the Fortune 1000 CEOs are women 
  • Women earn 30% lesser on an average than a man for the same job ( it applies to executives too)
  • In a study of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates designed to understand why the gender gap in leadership is so persistent, the one factor that stood out was mismatched expectations between men and women about who was going to be responsible for the home front. Even among the Millennials, men were much more likely to say that they expected to be in a traditional relationship, where their career was primary (don't let me get on a soapbox on this topic, you will beg for mercy I promise you :-) )

The reality from my perspective is re-thinking Leadership as it exists in all it's glory today. Leadership at work is usually seen as a "zero-sum game". You don't always have to put work first in order to rise to the top. It is alright to be "dual centric" -- you sometimes prioritize personal life over work and sometimes prioritize work over personal life. You are not just successful at work but don't feel the pressure or guilt of not being available at home. Reality is there is no such thing as work-life balance - some weeks priorities at work take precedence - an Ops Review, a customer summit or a deliverable with  a deadline AND other weeks your 8 yr old's SAT's (State Administered Tests) or Diorama projects become all is just letting go and being alright with just tackling what is a priority then.
My advice to women (and men alike) is lessons I have learnt sometimes by observing but mostly by living and working in the Silicon Valley :

# Be Authentic - I don't believe specific traits define a leader, in fact I will go ahead and make the statement - your leadership emerges from your life story. Your life story provides the context for your experiences and through it you can find the inspiration to make an impact. Discovering your leadership requires a certain degree of commitment to develop/discover yourself. 
# Be Aware of your blind spots - Every single person has blind spots aka weak points. Being self-aware and brutally honest with yourself is key here. You are in denial if you don't see yourself as other's see you. And this perception gap is something you have to fix if you want to see yourself grow as a leader.
# Competency - I had watched a Ted Talk by Susan Colantuono - Closing the Leadership Gender Gap (the missing 33%). 

In seeking to identify Leadership traits, according to her (and I agree) there are 3 pillars.One of the key pillars is skills and competencies with running the business - strategic value, execution and financial acumen. It has to do with aligning your own or your group goals with the vision and mission of your organization and helping achieve the goals of the organization. That is the missing 33% of the career success equation for women - it doesn't mean that women are not capable enough or mathematically inclined or strategic. It just means that most of the career advice we are given is conventional and built around soft skills like networking, personal brand, self awareness (guilty as charged but I believe its critical), assertiveness, confidence, empathy and people skills). The reality is  the advice that is usually missed is equally critical (if not more critical) - Competency. I define it as the ability to have

  •  the strategic ability to have a vision of what is required for your market (that will get you the revenue and market share
  • Executing to that vision 
  • Looping back on how your group's  accomplishments are helping the organization realize it's vision and mission. 

I do believe at the end of the day your work and reputation does speak for itself.

I want to leave you with this quote by John Quincy Adams

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

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