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Leadership for women

Who Says Leadership Is Reserved for Men?

Be seen, heard, and understood in a man’s world.

I will never forget the day I was thrown out of a client’s office for being ‘just a silly girl’. After all, what do women know about the property market? I was a bright and enthusiastic young woman in my 20s, selling software in London. I had just landed a meeting with a corporate real estate company, and I was excited to go and pitch my offering. I walked in to meet an older man who looked confused, refused to shake my hand, and looked behind me as he asked if I was alone and where the “sales guy” was. As I proceeded with my sales pitch, he became infuriated, stood up, and barked at me to get out!

There I was, standing in the pouring rain, crying and ashamed with an overriding feeling that I was not good enough. That experience deeply affected my confidence. Role models and authority figures can have a huge impact on us. We can carry the damage they inflict for many years, and it can be especially detrimental for a young woman carving out her career. That is why I wanted to ensure that no other young woman should have to experience bias and sexism to this extent. That experience, amongst many, has been one of the key drivers for me in creating WILD – Women in Leadership Deliver.

WILD is a platform for all women, both current and future leaders, to come together and share their knowledge and expertise. I work closely with women to find and use their voices, and I hear the same challenges over and over. Women at work in male-dominated sectors face the ‘double bind’, especially in meetings. Women get overlooked, discredited, and talked over. If they do speak up, they face being criticised in appraisals for being aggressive, bossy, or over-emotional. This stops women from speaking up at all and leaves them questioning, ‘What’s the point?’ 

One key tip to overcome this problem is the amplification method. If a woman goes to speak in a meeting, other women at the meeting address her by name, repeat her idea, and show support for the ideas presented. Other colleagues (male counterparts included) then further build upon her idea. She feels that she is able to be heard and that her ideas are valid. It may seem like a small thing, but little biases can build up and lead to a huge discrepancy when it comes to gender inequality.

A business does not benefit from diversity if a woman is simply included, and not able to contribute effectively. Women can feel scared to speak up and feel that their ideas are not valid. Imposter syndrome and thoughts like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not smart enough’ can start to set in. This results in feeling powerless, inadequate, and frustrated to say the least. It leads to you holding yourself back and not bringing your whole self to the workplace.

Whilst stereotypes are endemic – particularly the ‘think leader, think man’ stereotype – women can often be their own worst enemy. I frequently get asked on panels and podcasts, “What holds women back the most?” My response? Themselves! Women have been taught to picture themselves in a quiet space. There is subconscious confusion about the role we must play due to generational influence. Are we supposed to be the nurturer, the caregiver, the mother, and the homemaker? Or are we supposed to be a go-getter, a strong career-focused leader? We can be both.

We can bring together the powerful combination of both masculine and feminine energy with an understanding that it’s okay to be a nurturer and a go-getter at the same time. Women possess much power to inspire and influence. As a matter of fact, women make great leaders. It’s not that we are better than men, or men are better than women. It’s just that we have a different skill set – a complementary skill set.

Women are known to have high emotional intelligence and lead with empathy. Empathy is a key quality of a great leader. Thus, the solution is clear – leadership is not just for men, it’s for ALL of us together, side by side. I often say that we need to get out of our own way as we can sometimes get wrapped up in our feelings of not being good enough. We live in a society of comparison and a world of perfectionism due to social media. In reality, true satisfaction comes from building inner confidence so that we can contribute with conviction and without doubt.

Here are three powerful tips to become a leader in a male-dominated environment:

1. Get good at leadership skills, especially when it comes to presenting with confidence. 

We have all been in poor presentations and great ones. The great ones are memorable, and it drives credibility and respect. Being able to present well will take you far in your career and naturally demonstrates leadership.

2. Build your own women’s network. 

This can start with just three or four women. Include women from the company you work for and even external stakeholders, such as clients or potential clients. We crave community and belonging – especially in the UAE, where most of us are expats – so create a space for women to be heard. This can help you network and build bonds. You can become the leader and get to put essential skills into practice. I started with four women when I worked for a company, which then grew to 15. As a result, I was able to forge solid relationships to do business and make friends along the way. 

3. Put your hand up. 

If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. Never be afraid to ask for a promotion or pay rise and the steps needed to get you there. Using your voice will make you feel empowered. Your boss will also respect you. Leaders don’t shy away, they put their hand up. The world needs women to speak up and speak out. It’s time to claim your personal power, own and use your voice, and become the leader you have always dreamed of being so that you can smash the glass ceiling.

I am launching an exclusive group coaching programme called Speak UP, Speak OUT, which starts on the November 6. This powerful programme will feature with other women from the WILD tribe, ensuring that you learn the skills to own and use your voice, present with impact, shine with confidence, and step up as a leader ready for an amazing 2022.

Learn more about Emma Burdett and her work empowering women through WILD @emmaeburdett.

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