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In her corner - 20 Ways Women Can Lift Each Other Up

Action Plan developed by female CEOs to list the ways we can mentor and support female leaders to step into more senior roles.

The room is split.

Half the room argue that it is an old myth that women are tougher on each other than male colleagues and leaders.

The other half are crystal clear, some of their worst experiences have been due to other females.

About 8 years ago a seasoned Business Development Executive joined my team. I was taken aback when she said,

I nearly didn't take this role because you are female, and I have only ever had bad experiences with female leaders and CEOs.

Now she wasn't even reporting to me, but so powerful was the first experience that she feared a repeat.

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of joining the CEO Institute's International's International Women’s Day breakfast in Sydney. It was a brilliant chance to network, to share stories and get some much-needed time for creative thinking and even more importantly, resolve to keep going!

If you know anything about me, you can probably guess that I put them to work.

I challenged them as a room full of powerful female (mostly) leaders to make sure we are using our voices to make the path easier for people coming behind us. I shared personal reflections around the fact that I don’t believe I did this well earlier in my career.

I challenged them to think about how they got to their roles, who made the biggest impact and any regrets for things they did or didn’t do along the way.

I also asked them to reflect on events or times in their career when it was harder than it needed to be. 

Together we agreed to let go of any old feelings of “I worked hard for this and so should you" attitude and instead be generous with our learnings and make it easier for future leaders.

We all collectively acknowledged the incredible leaders, male & female who championed us along the way. Thank you for believing in us.

As a group we then came up with 15 tangible steps to make an impact on the talent in our organisation. There was a clear resolve that it was time to stop talking and commit to an action plan - with intent and priority.

Here is the action plan:

  1. Network - take your team with you to events. Show them how to effectively network and demonstrate the positive impact it can have on your career in the short, medium and long-term. Encourage people to get out and broaden their thinking across industries.
  2. Challenge people’s thinking. Challenge them to think about how things could be done and not to accept the status quo. A terrific example was to paint a higher vision of an individual's capability to help them see what you see. Advocate for their ideas or proposals in meetings and challenge her to build on the ideas to really create value for herself and the organisation.
  3. Making time and space for mentoring so that it is an intentional and planned commitment. Don’t leave it to chance. An idea was to hold coffee roulette, so you are mixing and meeting a broad group of talent across the organisation. 
  4. Re-defining roles – challenging the model, looking hard at roles and really questioning how they could be done and not settling for a status quo approach. Start thinking and focusing on how we can make this work vs. sticking with old ways of doing things.
  5. ‘Planting a Seed’ – Set a Vision for talented future leaders. Do you see them as potentially CEOs one day? Tell them. Ask yourself regularly who you have planted a seed for. All of us were unanimous that someone did this for us.
  6. Flexible work options - this really matters and is a game changer for female participation in senior roles. Women leave when they are torn between wanting to achieve their professional ambitions and carry the bulk of care. How can we rethink what is possible and work with our leaders to retain them?
  7. Encouragement of policy implementation - lead the way you want others to follow. Encourage parents of both genders to be taking parental leave. Focus on policy that ensures you have a more inclusive workplace where people belong. Really think about the message and implications of all the policies you put in place.
  8. Enjoy being a woman’ - celebrate the unique gifts we can bring to a workplace. How lucky are we to be here right now, in this time and place where there are opportunities. Advocate for these unique strengths in our workplaces and be vocal about the benefits of diverse thinking.
  9. Giving confidence. Careers take the magic combination of Patience, Persistence & Resilience. Are you engaging and really outlining your experience and guiding others on when to be patient, how to be persistent and helping them with resilience. Nominate her for internal or external awards and recognition.
  10. Sharing stories. We all have stories to tell. Stories of success and of failure. All of our stories matter and the more we share them, the good, bad and ugly, the better chance we have of inspiring the next generation of leaders. Don’t assume people don’t want to hear or they’ve heard it all before. Who can you share with today?
  11. Early talent identification - take the time to engage deep in your organisation and find the talent. Don’t leave it to your teams. They might miss that magic combination, that spark of energy and challenge that is needed for leaders. Can you name 2 or 3 that you personally are nurturing at this stage of their career?
  12. Giving opportunities - don’t always look for the obvious choice and don’t make assumptions on behalf of people. Sometimes the assumptions we perceive to be “kind,” like the single mother who we assume won’t take up a leadership role overseas, is the very best person for the job. Give people opportunities to step up, let them manage their own context and be there to support them along the way.
  13. Text a message of encouragement - so simple and so powerful. Who can you text right now and share a quiet word of encouragement. I see you and your talent. It might feel hard right now, but I am confident you have got this. I’m here at any stage. I want to add to write a personal card. We heard stories on the day of leaders who were inspired and held onto these cards as sacred career mementos. So powerful.
  14. Be CEO of your own life - how do you show up as a leader? People are watching. This one has two angles, Firstly - if we want incredible female leaders to put their hand up for senior roles, we better think about how we are making the roles look. Are you too busy, always hassled and complaining or have you sorted that out to make the space to show up. You are the best PR for any role when seeking successors. Then secondly, guide your leaders to really focus on every aspect of their own life. Success will take discipline and ease. The discipline of being responsible for your own energy, exercise, systems and processes. Show them how you do it, then encourage them to experiment with what works for them.
  15. Adopt a mentee - yes now. Seek out someone with excellent potential. If you are in the position to sponsor them and have a clear impact on their career. Do it.

Here are my Bonus Five

  1. Offer to co-present or collaborate on a project to amplify her voice.
  2. Attend her presentations or meetings to show solidarity and support. Offer constructive feedback and guidance on her work. Never ever show up for 5 mins and then leave. It sends the exact opposite message you are trying to convey. 
  3. Recommend her for speaking opportunities or panel discussions.
  4. Share tools and resources for work-life balance and self-care or become an accountability partner for a life goal.
  5. Be the leader you needed in your own career.

No more accepting myths or anecdotes about female leaders not supporting females.

We all agreed, it is our absolute intention to stop, reflect and ensure that we do everything in our power to make the road easier for leaders who follow.

Are you in?