How can we help female leaders to thrive?

Andrea Cusack, Sheppard Moscow Partner, reflects on a recent client feedback session. She asks "To what extent do we feel personal pressure to enable other women in their careers?  Or is it more about working as leaders to create organisational cultures in which female leaders thrive?"

Recently I had the privilege of facilitating a live 360 feedback session for a senior in-house lawyer.  She had gathered a high-powered group of colleagues to enable her to sense check how our leadership programme had impacted her role day-to-day.  The conversation was rich and insightful for all of us.  One strand of the discussion that really stayed with me, and that I’ve been mulling over since related to a comment made to my client about the need to ‘grow an ego’.  This was short-hand for the notion that this particular woman could put herself forward a little more and could stamp her authority more fully on her role.  There was a fairly clear division of views - along gender lines – about what this really meant.  And it was interesting to see how value-laden the phrase was for people.  The women disliked the idea that in order to get on, and fully inhabit the authority of her role, this leader would need to ‘throw her weight about’.  The men seemed to see it as a natural and necessary part of leadership development.  It’s odd really, since the simple meaning of the word ‘ego’ is that it is your conscious mind, the part of your identity that you consider your "self." 

While the question of what it is that leads many women to the implicit belief that we ought to keep our ego in check is beyond the scope of this note, one practical tip I can and do offer to women pondering this for themselves is this:  keep working on it because eventually, despite the social conditioning, it will feel natural and authentic to step into your authority, especially when you’re doing so in service of others.  For example, with the help of her colleagues’ feedback, my client realised that in order to protect the company’s interests and develop the team, she needed to stamp her personal and professional authority on her role as General Counsel – and that she could do so in a way that would be both feminine and authentic to herself.  


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