What’s age got to do with it? Plenty, as it turns out.
A couple of weeks ago we wrote a post about the challenges of leadership as an older woman. It seems that there are just as many challenges facing young female leaders and emerging leaders. There are also some unique problems facing young women as they develop their leadership potential.
Lack of role models:
Probably the biggest issue is that there are not a lot of role models to model themselves on, because females are still underrepresented in the leadership arena, especially at senior levels. It’s hard to shape yourself as a leader when you can’t see it in practice within your organisation.
It’s hard enough for established female leaders to build and retain credibility, but for young women it is even more difficult. The stereotype of young females shows them as more interested in boys and makeup than in pursuing a career, and for those who do choose careers, it’s only a matter of time before they quit to raise a family. The perception can be that a career is a short term option for young women.
Women vs women:
Even today some women fit the stereotype well. Those are the women who don’t understand why a female would choose to become a leader. She’s different. She’s a bit big for her boots. She thinks she’s better than us… The pressure to conform is enormous, especially when it’s applied socially. Young women have to fight the system; they don’t want to have to fight their female colleagues.
So how would a young female young professional approach rising to the top? There are several ways to channel efforts that will help.
Network – Especially if your field or company only has a few women in powerful positions, seek peers in professional associations, and community organisations. Good places to meet other professional women, these groups can provide relationships valuable for comparing experiences and troubleshooting difficulties.
Seek mentors – Actively seek individuals whose style you wish to imitate in some way. Female mentors are in a position to fully understand how it is to navigate stereotypes, and can help you develop your own style. But don’t overlook male mentors, too. There are men who recognise the special value of female leadership and will support you as you develop your skills. Having a male mentor may also smooth your entry into leadership circles.
Engage a Leadership Coach – For answering questions and navigating changing workplaces and roles, a good leadership coach will also help encourage and prepare you to lead meetings and give presentation with confidence.
Be involved – Be active in projects and animated about your involvement in them. Talking with enthusiasm about specific work related topics will see you emerge as someone who knows what is going on, without seeming to be bragging about your role in operations.
Take your doubts to the top – Ask for advice and feedback on all aspects of your performance, including leadership, from superiors, rather than subordinates. “Asking up” will get you answers you can use. “Asking down” might make you seem less confident, and lead people to question your choices.
If you are a young woman in leadership and you need support, take a look at our executive leadership coaching and mentoring. With my support, you won’t feel so alone.
And don’t forget, when you attain success as a leader, look for younger women to mentor, ensuring others have opportunity to lend their talents to leadership roles.