There is a constellation of reasons that work to explain why we have so few women leaders in political, corporate, public and social sector spaces. Add to this the limiting and/or erroneous beliefs that women themselves have about being a leader, which can further limit women’s access to and active participation in leadership roles.
Let’s look at some of the more common myths women have about leadership and the implications of these. And, most importantly, we’ll look at some solutions.
“I don’t have a lot of leadership experience.”
Girls are not generally primed to take up leadership positions, which means they often have less leadership experiences when they arrive at adulthood. Discussions at American Psychological Association demonstrated that girls are treated differently from birth and at school. An article called “Still Failing at Fairness” showed that elementary and middle school boys received eight times more attention in the classroom than girls did. When boys called out, teachers listened. But when girls called out, they were told to raise their hand if they wanted to speak. And teachers encouraged boys to give answers or opinions far more often than girls. Hence, women themselves can internalize this belief that a lack of ‘direct’/positional leadership experiences makes them less eligible/qualified to be leaders.
“I don’t fit the profile.”
As Alice Eagly points out in “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership” — and my experience coaching women confirms — there is often a perceived incompatibility between gender and leadership stereotypes where the leadership stereotype is understood as “agentic” (confident, aggressive, ambitious, decisive, active) and more closely aligned with the male stereotype. Practically speaking, this can make it difficult for some women to see themselves (or self-identify) as leaders. Unfortunately, this can also result in others not seeing them as leaders. Hence, an important activity in women’s leadership development is exploring women’s relationship to leadership in the service of helping them see themselves as leaders so that others can also see them as leaders.
“Leadership is based on position and formal authority.”
Being a leader does not require a certain job title or salary grade. Women holding this false belief are limiting themselves. Why stay boxed within your pay-grade? It’s important to understand that leadership involves your ability to influence others, regardless of your position, gender, age or any other trait. The fact is, leadership transcends role or hierarchical status. It isn’t a skill set that magically comes with the job title. Rather, it’s what earns people a job title. So practice leadership, whatever your role. It’s the enactment of leadership skills that makes someone a leader and earmarks them for career progression. Whether you’re a career professional or a janitor, a CEO or a home-maker — step up to the plate. Lead yourself, and lead others.
“I need permission to lead.”
You might not admit this in so many words, but many women hold back from taking the lead, as if waiting for someone to authorize them to take control or to guide people. Waiting for permission is not leadership. In Harvard Business Review’s “Seeing Ourselves as Leaders,” Amy Bernstein explains that it took someone else to point out that she was waiting for permission before she recognized the fact. Then she changed her behavior: “Instead of asking a question, I would offer my view: ‘here’s what I would recommend’ … recognizing that if this thing we were working on failed, I would be the one to blame.”
In general, women suffer a likeability penalty, where women who demonstrate authoritative behavior risk being disliked, which complicates their leadership journey. Hence women are often struggling to navigate this likeability trap, believing that likeability is associated with acting in a certain way (e.g., agreeable, passive, invisible) and/or not doing certain things out of worry for being perceived as “too” something (e.g., bossy, controlling, visible or attention grabbing). Both of these can undermine one’s career advancement and leadership development. Knowing yourself, what you stand for — your values and principles — and where you want to go is part of defining and assuming your leadership.
Remember that outside your comfort zone is where growth happens. Bust some of these myths, and you’ll also shatter the glass ceiling. Then, you can fly.
This content was originally published here.