I was reading Time magazine’s The 100 Most Influential People for 2015 and was struck by the lack of women on the “Leaders” list. While the magazine’s overall picks were interesting and balanced with an inclusion of both men and women; its leadership roundup still show the scarcity of women in power. Of course, there were the two spectacular performers; Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (my personal favorites), but I would have loved to see more female achievers. Even in 2015, we still lack more women who are corporate titans topping the list.
In my career as a public relations and communications professional I have seen numerous of well-educated, sharp women who, in many cases, were the smartest in the room. However, they usually were not the ones at the top. Many, though hard working, had only risen to the mid-manager level because they consistently played by the rules — rules established by men.
Even in today’s fast-paced world women are trained to listen to so many subtle messages telling us ” we cannot play the business game.” Unfortunately, we are conditioned to believe we do not or cannot fit the CEO model. In her book, Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business, Pat Heim, Ph.D., discusses the male business culture and how to use this information to your advantage. Heim gives you an insight on how the game has been played and how you can play the game with confidence.
If anything is going to change, we must, yes, “lean in,” step up and not confine ourselves to the old rules. One of the most successful women in the entertainment industry, today, is the screenwriter, director and executive producer Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes, who has been twice honored by Time magazine as one of the “100 people who help shape the world,” not only broke the glass ceiling she smashed it with top ratings and well-written, well-produced television shows. With runaway successes like television’s Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and her most recent success; How To Get Away With Murder; Rhimes has set the tone for other women in the formerly very narrow field of television.
The takeaway here: If you live your life with parameters prescribed by others, you will never know how far you could go up the ladder of success. Today’s women are delivering what most industries need and want in terms of leadership, imagination and results!
So, why are there only a few examples of women CEOs and what can we do to change this fact? Power begets power. A study published by Utah State University researchers has found that, in the vast majority of cases, Fortune 500 companies replace female and minority CEOs with white men.
Women or minority CEOs succeeded other “non-traditional” CEOs in only four of 608 transitions from 1996–2010, according to the research. The study also found that boards are more likely to promote women and minorities to top leadership roles when an organization is in crisis, and when companies led by minority and women leaders decline, boards are more likely to replace these leaders with white males.
Here are is my takeaways for those of you fearless enough to reach the very top:
- Do not limit yourself with self-doubting talks. We can be too hard on ourselves. In the game of business confidence is key; visualize yourself succeeding and you will achieve great things.
- Give yourself permission to be successful and influential. Don’t wait for opportunity — take it!
- Think BIG; do not confine yourself to conventional choices. We are born leaders; able to blend imagination, innovation, and skill. So, think “outside of the box!”
- Follow other successful women on LinkedIn and discover how they worked to smash the “ceiling.”
- Pay NO attention to the folks that say you cannot make it.
- Do not strive for perfection – it is a no-win proposition. However, be the best you can be–be at the top of your professional game!
By Sylvia Hampton