3 Ways Female Leaders Can Get Ahead

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Article by Stefanie O’Connell

Women comprise 50.8 percent of the United States population. They earn the majority of undergraduate and master’s degrees. They hold 52 percent of all management and professional-level jobs. Yet when it comes to representation in executive leadership positions, women still lag substantially behind men.

In the late 20th century, women ushered in an era of rapid progress through concerted effort. The gender wage gap narrowed, sex segregation declined, and the percentage of women in management rose. In recent decades, however, women’s gains have slowed. The gender wage gap persists, and the number of women in top management positions and on corporate boards has stalled.

To navigate structural barriers and gender bias, woman often find themselves walking a fine line between two opposing sets of expectations. To access positions of power, female leaders are expected to be competent and tough (stereotypically male traits) while simultaneously remaining warm and nice (stereotypically female traits).

These opposing expectations create a catch-22 for women hoping to advance in leadership positions. Women who assert traditionally masculine qualities are often considered unlikeable, while women who express traditionally feminine qualities are not considered leadership material. As a result, women are less likely to be promoted than men.

Although the onus is on organizational leaders to dismiss these conflicting expectations and remove the unfair hurdles for women, there are some steps that female leaders can take on their own to get ahead in the meantime.

1. Leverage Existing Relationships

Men who exhibit assertiveness and decisiveness are often given respect and rewarded with leadership positions. However, women who attempt the same approach often face double standards and are penalized for engaging in the same behavior men are lauded for. It’s not fair, but women might need to take a different tactic when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder or advocating on behalf of a specific goal. Instead of being assertive, they may want to prioritize relationships and establish a foundation of trust first.

Trust- and relationship-building can be helpful for all leaders, but they are imperative for female leaders, who are more likely to experience backlash against their assertiveness. Establishing a foundation of trust and rapport first can help mitigate that backlash significantly.

2. Look for Win-Win Situations

Women in leadership can manage the conflicting expectations of niceness and toughness by looking for opportunities where the two converge. For example, if a female leader is trying to influence someone, she can first identify how her goals and values align with the other person’s. Then, she can leverage this alignment to push for an outcome that is acceptable to both parties. In this way, female leaders can aggressively pursue their visions in a manner that others perceive to be supportive and social acceptable.

3. Actively Communicate Goals

Stereotypes about what women prioritize in their work/life balance can lead to women losing out on challenging opportunities. Many people wrongly assume that women are not interested in additional responsibilities, increased workloads, or advancement because they would rather focus on their personal and familial lives. To combat this harmful assumption, women need to proactively and consistently communicate their desire and willingness to take on new challenges at work. That way, the people making decisions about these assignments won’t prematurely rule out qualified a woman based on nothing but their own misconceptions.

Women in the workforce — especially those who occupy or are vying for leadership positions — face a number of obstacles that their male counterparts do not. While it is the responsibility of everyone to recognize and stamp out discrimination wherever they find it, we have not yet reached a world beyond bias. Until that time comes, women can use these tips to continue striving for their goals in the workplace.

A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.

Stefanie O’Connell is a financial expert, Generation Y advocate, speaker, and author of The Broke and Beautiful Life.

By SUCCESS Magazine