By Karolina Gwinner
The topic of women in leadership has resonated with me ever since I realised that the bosses, mentors and role models I admired and learned from were all males. Yes, it would seem that I was biased! But, in reality, there were not many women in senior leadership positions that I knew and could approach for help or guidance.
When I shared this observation with my female peers, I learned that it wasn’t just a personal problem. It was actually a much bigger issue; my peers all agreed that they often feel the same way.
It has been 12 years since I made this discovery. During this time, I’ve worked in a few different industries, both in Europe and Asia, but things haven’t changed that much or as quickly as I’d like to see them change.
We Need To Talk More About Successful Women In Leadership
In my current role as a leadership trainer and coach, when I ask participants of my programmes to describe a leader they admire, surprisingly, they rarely talk about a successful female leader. This wouldn’t be shocking at all if a group was mostly made up of males, but exactly the same thing happens when a group consists of only females!
So, the questions are: Why cannot we, women, talk more about other successful women? Why don’t we reflect on what we can learn from them? Are we still lacking sufficient female success stories, which we are able to share with others?
On A Mission To Find Accomplished Female Leaders
You can imagine how excited I felt when I was invited to facilitate a one-day leadership workshop at the recent Women in Leadership Summit in Singapore. Yes, this was my chance to ignite a much-desired discussion: Who is the female leader you admire the most and why?
That summit happened to be a perfect place for it. It brought together many successful women from a wide range of industries, many of whom hold senior leadership roles in multinational corporations or run their own thriving businesses.
And the best part is that we all came together with a common goal in mind. We wanted to share our experiences, learn from each other and support each other on our way to the top. You could really feel the energy, enthusiasm and passion flowing around the room. I’m so glad that I was there: it was a great investment of my time!
Top 5 Leadership Tips From The Women In Leadership Summit
In case you missed the summit or want to refresh what you learned, here are my five key takeaways.
1. Plan Ahead And Mobilise Your Support Network
One of the top challenges for women leaders is that they also play the role of primary caregiver for their families. However, in most cases, with proper planning and preparation, these responsibilities can be shared with others, such as family members, helpers, friends and so on.
‘You don’t need to do it all alone!’ Rachel Eng, deputy chairman at Wong Partnership LLP, assured us. ‘Create a support network that you can depend on, so that when you are at work, you can fully focus on your job and create excellent results’.
Think of all the people in your life who could help you take care of your family. Let them take over some of your current responsibilities.
2. Be A Professional First, And A Woman Second
‘When you’re at a meeting, focus on a common goal, and not on I’m the ONLY woman at the table,’ suggested Wong Sok Mei, global finance director at Diageo Travel Retail.
Think about what you are trying to achieve, and how you can best contribute to achieving the common goal. By shifting your focus from something you have no control over to something you can control, you will become much more effective as a leader and the value you bring to any meeting will increase tangibly.
3. Speak Your Mind At Meetings
‘Many women, especially here in Asia, lack the confidence to speak up in meetings and share their ideas,’ noticed Li Li Kuan, country manager and COO at Barclays. ‘As a result, it might seem like they contribute less or are less engaged in various projects than their male colleagues.’
Don’t follow this trend. Break the habit of ‘quiet participation’ and try to speak up more often. Start by preparing for each meeting, reading as much as you can on the topic and being ready for a discussion.
And, if you’re still afraid of sharing your own views, you can try:
a) to summarise a discussion, or;
b) to paraphrase what someone said and check for understanding.
The good news is the more you practice speaking up, the easier and more natural it will become for you.
4. Don’t Blend In, But Connect Instead
Have you ever felt like a misfit? Dr Chitra Rajaram, head of Mediacorp Community Segment, shared with us her personal story of how, in 1998, she became the first female editor of a daily Singapore newspaper, Tamil Murasu.
When she first joined the newspaper, it was impossible for Dr Chitra to not stand out. Not only was she the first female editor but she was also much younger than her colleagues and she spoke, acted and dressed differently than the rest of them.
It seemed that there was no way she could connect with her colleagues without blending in. However, Dr Chitra didn’t want to blend in. She felt that she could bring much more value to the organisation by staying true to herself.
So, instead of changing in order to blend in, she took small steps to connect with her colleagues. She made an effort to get to know them better and she improved her tamil language skills, so that she could speak and write in this language. This gained her the respect of her colleagues and enabled her to connect with them.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember that you don’t have to blend in; but do make sure that you connect with those around you.
5. Regularly Upgrade Your Own Operating System
To work in the most efficient and effective way, the operating system of your computer needs to be regularly upgraded. Right? ‘Likewise, if you want to succeed as a leader, you have to upgrade your own operating system,’ suggested Crystal Lim Leahy, director of NUS Centre for Future-Ready Graduates.
Your mindset is the key to what you think and how you feel and behave every single day. It acts as your operating system. So, as Crystal challenged us, ‘How often do you invest in upgrading your mindset?’ Do you always keep your mind curious and open to learning? If so, congratulations! You are cultivating a growth mindset, which is a crucial ingredient to developing yourself and becoming a better leader.
If you keep it that way, you’ll outrun your competition in no time.
Confident About The Future
These five top tips from the Women in Leadership Summit resonated with me the most. I have already implemented tip number one into my own life and it works wonders! I’m not only more productive at work and achieving better results but I also have more energy to play with my little daughter when I spend time with her.
I keep searching for female success stories and I share them with others, as they inspire us to aim higher and play a bigger game. I hope that, over time, more of our role models will have female faces.
As Rachel reminded us during the summit: ‘Your kids need a role model.’ Why don’t we try to make it a female one?
Which tip resonates with you the most? Let me know in the comments.
Karolina Gwinner is an Influential and Inclusive Leadership Expert. She helps leaders overcome their fear, build confidence and bring out their inner S.H.I.N.E. so that they can become their best and get the best out of their diverse teams. Karolina has worked with leaders from numerous leading organisations including: Barclays, DBS Bank, Fuji Xerox, AIA, Roche Singapore, Singapore Airlines, Changi Airports International, Raffles Hotel, MOM, MOE, ACRA, Singapore Polytechnic. Her specialties include: Influential Leadership, Executive Presence, Women In Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Diversity and Inclusion. To find out more visit: www.karolinagwinner.com or connect with Karolina on LinkedIn