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Memo to myself : 10 thoughts on how to keep my cool as a female in leadership

Reading time 4 minutes read
The workplace is still far from being equal.

Females earn less, get promoted less, their competences are overlooked more often and they are interrupted 2.1 times in a 3-minute conversation by men. (Nice try though) It's exhausting, frustrating and desillusioning. I feel you, fellow female leaders and it's been the same for me. Everyone who is telling the difference is either reality-distorting, lying or simply ignorant.
However, I also believe in the power of fighting not against, but for something. So, one year ago I wrote these 10 pieces of advice as a memo to myself to keep my focus when things go south or I get impatient with my colleagues ;)

1. Choose your battles and use your wits

Once you start paying attention to discriminative behavior in the working place, you see it simply everywhere. You can't unsee it, it's like scrolling an Instagram feed, you will never get to the end of it. So, you have a choice. You can either fight every single thing that comes your way, or you can choose which ones are worth fighting for and ignore the rest. Random example: I sat through so many workshops where I was constantly being interrupted, ignored or it was simply impossible to contribute, because there was no break that allowed me to talk without interrupting someone else. Instead of constantly trying to fight my way into the conversation, nowadays, I just sit through it all and listen patiently, using the time to form a very smart, eloquent and thought-through response in my head. At the end, when the rest has finally shut up, I let my answer drop. Never estimate the power of well-chosen words after the rest of the room has just spoken for the sake of speaking. You are easily the smartest person in the room without having to interrupt a single man. Well done.

2. You don't need to prove something you already are

I see many of my female colleagues constantly putting in so much effort in proving themselves in a position that they are already in. Think about it, it's not necessary. You got into this role for a reason, you already proved it. Either simply enjoy being here and doing your job, or start working on proving that you're ready for the next promotion. Also never think you need to walk an extra mile to show gratitude for a recent promotion. It's not a gift from heaven, you earned it by hard work.

3. Adopt a mindset of abundance, not of scarcity

Yes, there are too few women in leadership positions. However, by focusing on having to fight your way up, you unconsciously end up assuming that you need to fight against each other (other women) which is a lie that society has made us believe. Even if there are only few positions, adopt a mindset of abundance. By assuming there is enough for all women, you end up fostering collaboration, solidarity and a support network, positive feedback loops instead of vicious cycles. There is no stronger bond than that of female solidarity.

4. Stop saving everyone's time and start saving your own

How many things are you doing on a daily basis that save other people's time or make the system work? Taking notes, putting in meetings, documentation etc. How many of those are actually saving your own time? Keep those and let go of the rest. I would love for all this work to be seen and appreciated but unfortunately it's currently not and you're losing even more time by trying to educate people on something they don't even see.

5. There's a difference between owning your imperfection and pointing out errors to anyone not asking

Owning your imperfection and owning your mistakes is one of the powerful moves you can have. It's counter-intuitive but it's powerful, bold, confident. However, I see many smart women start presentations by pointing out all the flaws, errors and aspects, that they are still not happy with. Stop this, it just undermines your work. And your work is brilliant. So let it speak for yourself and wait, if others are as critical about your work as you are. (Hint: they are not).

Think of what you can do that doesn't require others to change.

6. Don't wait for a written invitation, crash the party.

"I'm never asked for my opinion", "I wasn't invited to the meeting even though I'm the lead on this topic" - stuff that I hear every single day. It would be way more fun if you got proactively asked for sharing your expertise but tbh, that's a big ask. So you can either wait for the hand-written invitation or you can just reward your colleagues with your brilliance by proactively sharing it and making your contribution seen. If there's a meeting you should be in, show up and let them know. If there's an important thought you should share, don't wait until people guessed that you have it, but share it (see point 1). Sometimes it's not bad intentions, but simply stress or naive ignorance that people don't involve you. Colleagues can't read your mind so you shouldn't assume that they can.

7. No "A" for effort

When we feel we are treated unfairly and our work is not appreciated or seen enough, we tend to point out our efforts - look how much time I have spent on this, look how many slides I have built for this presentation, look how many errors I have found - unfortunately this is not the currency for success. No-one really cares about those things, in business, it's results that count. So, a better and smarter way of showing your value and your amazingness is to shift the focus to outcome. This is the money and time I saved for the organization, this is the sales I made with the client, this is how I made the team more effective. Don't argue with roles and responsibilities, but show clear proof of what is changed because of your work.

8. To fight for ideals, you need to set realistic expectations

Confrontation is not a dialogue. It's ok to aim for a vision of full fledge diversity and it's more than overdue. However, expecting hundreds of people to change their behavior from one day to the other is just not realistic and will set everyone up for disappointment. It's a long journey of change and the work load is unfairly distributed, however, shutting down dialogues by just blaming others, calling out other people's errors openly without celebrating their successes and disrespecting progress by always arguing is not enough doesn't create a space for learning but just hardened fronts.

9. Leadership is about being ok with not being liked by everyone

To want to be liked is a human thing, not a female thing. However society and our upbringing usually puts a bigger stress on this aspect so it is harder for us to let go of this notion. So it's important to realize: leading people is not about making them feel good or fulfilling their wishes, it's about empowering others to grow (which sometimes is painful) and also about the need of making tough decisions (otherwise everyone could make them). Keep that in mind.

10. Being a feminist doesn't mean that you carry the weight of all women (past and future) on your shoulders

All of these tips are easier said than done and they require strength - that sometimes you just don't have and that's totally ok. Fighting for feminism is important, but noone can ask of you to carry that burden by yourself or longer than you can. There will come a point when enough is enough and that's ok as well. You don't need to carve a way for all women after you, to set a precedent for society or to prove a point. If you can - amazing, you're super-woman, but it's not a prerequisite and it's ok to let others take over when you are exhausted.