By Zeynep Ilgaz
What does it mean to do something “like a girl”?
A popular ad from Always tried to answer that question by asking subjects to demonstrate running, fighting, and throwing “like a girl.” Older subjects put on a weak performance, but when young girls were given the same instructions, they ran, threw, and fought as hard as they could. The ad asked, “When did doing something ‘like a girl’ become an insult?”
While close to 52 percent of professional jobs are held by women, we’re substantially underrepresented in leadership roles. Only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. At this rate, it’s estimated that women won’t achieve leadership parity until 2085.
However, not all barriers facing women can be attributed to the glass ceiling imposed by the traditional workplace. Women often hold themselves back from advancement with self-imposed barriers.
After all, adult women in the ad performed “like a girl” with just as much mockery as men.
What Holds Women Back
In a conversation about the likelihood of the U.S. electing a female president, Hillary Clinton said, “There’s still this built-in questioning about women’s executive ability, whether it’s in the corporate boardroom or in the political sphere.”
Much of this questioning stems from women themselves. Women are held back in the workplace by:
- A fear of failure. While men know their personal worth isn’t determined by professional failures, young women often fear that workplace missteps will cost them their job, reputation, and success.
- Family matters. Some women fear that employers will view them as vulnerable, inefficient, or unmotivated if they decide to start a family.
- An inferiority complex. Some women still believe that men are stronger leaders, have better ideas, and are more equipped to achieve success.
Women can only break through these barriers by helping themselves. Here are three things every woman can do to propel herself forward, whether she’s an intern or CEO:
- Be yourself. When I started my company, I thought that if I acted tough, I’d achieve more success. I wore pants to work and rarely dared to talk about my family. But one day, I decided to stop pretending. I started talking about my family with customers, and to my surprise, people began relating to me, our relationships grew stronger, and the company culture became unbelievably transparent.
- Trust your instincts. Women are wired with great intuition. It was a big risk for my husband and I to uproot our lives to move to America, but we trusted our ability to succeed in a new place, and we’ve never looked back.
- Embrace mistakes. In my company’s early years, I was afraid to talk about my mistakes. I thought my team would think I was weak — but I was wrong. This view led to a lack of transparency, inefficient processes, and a damaged bottom line. I realized that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and improve.
Lead Like a Girl
When women adopt leadership roles, they contribute a unique set of skills, ideas, and life experiences that can broaden the entire company’s insight, strategies, and bottom line.
On average, Fortune 500 companies with more female board representation achieved a significantly higher financial performance than those with fewer female representatives.
So how can businesses — especially those led by women — recruit and nurture talented female leaders? The best way is by creating a supportive environment that actively empowers women to lead by:
- Encouraging mentorship and collaboration. Women increase their chances of succeeding in business when they have mentors to provide real-life examples.
- Letting family come first. Having a family should never deter anyone — man orwoman — from pursuing a career. Create an atmosphere that nurtures family life with benefits like flexible work schedules, on-site childcare, and education.
- Taking the pressure off. Women should feel comfortable vocalizing their ideas — not just agreeing with their male counterparts to protect themselves politically. Encourage everyone to speak up.
Women are great at building relationships, empowering others, tuning into people’s needs, and balancing a staggering number of responsibilities — skills that are great assets, not liabilities, in the workplace.
Even if you fail, you’ll fail like a girl. And there’s nothing wrong with that.