One of my good friends is in the finance industry, and she’s ambitious. She wants to move up. So a frequent topic of conversation for us is “how to succeed as a woman at work.”
You’ve got to be assertive … but not too assertive or you’re seen as a b—buster. You’ve got to be nice … but not too nice or you’re seen as a pushover. You’ve got to look good (put together, well-groomed, nice nails) … but not too good, or you’re seen as using your sexuality to get ahead.
It’s a fine balance – and one with very real career implications.
The fact is, while many of us wish there were more women leaders, women are still in the minority when it comes to leadership positions in most industries.
In fields like manufacturing and energy, women hold fewer than 20 percent of leadership positions. Those rates are barely inching up: over the past decade, the percentage of female leaders jumped an average of just over two points across 12 industries studied by LinkedIn.
Just two percent in 10 years.
That said, there’s also good news. For example, according to data from LinkedIn, some industries have outpaced that rate of progress, significantly upping the rate of hiring women in leadership positions. These include real estate, finance, and the legal spheres.
There’s more good news:
When you put women in leadership, you establish a virtuous cycle. Why? Because one of the best indicators for hiring of women at all levels is increasing the number of women leaders.
In other words, if you want your firm or company to hire more women overall, get more women into the C-suite and top-level positions. “Female representation in leadership is a top indicator for hiring of women at all levels,” says Sue Duke, senior director of public policy at LinkedIn, “thereby creating a deeper bench of female talent at more junior levels to be promoted into leadership roles.”
A good example of female talent and women’s leadership
Gemma Toner is a good example of both female talent and women’s leadership. Toner advanced at AMC Networks to eventually become SVP of new media development. She then acted as SVP of business insights and strategy at Cablevision, and has more than 20 years’ experience as a senior executive in the cable industry.
And in her current role as CEO of Tone Networks, she’s applying that business acumen and industry experience to help grow more women leaders.
Tone Networks is a micro-learning platform for “time-starved” professional women. When you sign up, you select a few things you’re interested in, and you get a few videos emailed to you on that subject per week. Each video is around 3:30, so it’s not a big time commitment.
I watched one on “When You Witness Someone Being Bullied at the Office.” I admit I was a bit skeptical at how much a presenter could cover in a video that was so short, but it was very well done, outlining how to respond if you’re a colleague versus a manager.
Toner created the network to help women leaders (and future leaders) know they’re not alone and be able to network together more effectively. And in a recent interview, she shared five things she wishes she’d known before becoming CEO (all of which are relevant for both current and future women leaders):
1. The Highs and Lows are Significant
There are always high points and low points at work. But when you’re at the head of the company, your peaks and valleys are even more pronounced.
“Some days I marvel at what we’ve have accomplished, and other days I’m not sure how we’re going to get it done,” Toner said. “Now I focus on my goals and keep my eyes on what I want us to accomplish, trying not to get bogged down in the weeds.”
2. Trusted Advisers are Mission-critical
When you’re in a more junior position, you can kind of get away with doing it all yourself. But once you advance to a certain level, you simply can’t do that anymore (at least not responsibly). “If you know you have a weakness in a certain area,” Toner says, “find a strong, trusted adviser to guide you in those areas, and then do what they advise!”
It’s like being a good president. You can’t know about everything – but you can surround yourself with people who are experts in their particular part of the shop.
3. It Gets Lonely
“As the leader of a company,” Toner says, “I know all eyes are on me. That can be a lot of pressure and stress. Even though I have a great team, it gets lonely at times.”
It’s helpful to know going in that it’s normal to feel lonely sometimes (even with a great team). It doesn’t have to be that way all the time, but it is true that it’s lonely at the top. It’s still worth being there, though.
4. There are Network Relationships and then there are Authentic Relationships
As you rise in the ranks – and especially at the top – you start managing more and more relationships. You’ve got to be able to maintain a strong network, yes, but it’s also important to prioritize the “real” relationships.
Authentic relationships, Toner says, are “where the power lies and where I want to be with my relationships.”
5. Get Comfortable Asking for Help and Advice
“You don’t have to be all and do all,” Toner says. “Ask for help – it doesn’t make you weak – in fact, I’ve often found asking for help can be extremely freeing and offers the opportunity for someone else to invest in my vision.”