The business world needs more female leaders: according to research by Grant Thornton International, companies with male-only boards in North America, the United Kingdom and India are potentially missing out on $655 billion in profits. The research shows businesses with diverse work forces typically have more creative and strategic thinking capabilities, and are better positioned to adapt to a rapidly changing global business environment.
“Diverse perspectives bring fresh insights that prevent companies from falling into homogeneous thinking and lead to more robust solutions,” says Heather Fraser, CEO of Vuka Innovation and the author behind DesignWorks: How to Tackle Your Toughest Innovation Challenges Through Business Design.
Here are 10 ways women can continue to close the gender gap and become the star of their own career story.
1. Be the Screenwriter of your Career Story
“I’ve followed an unusual career path,” says Marlene Puffer, PhD. In university, she started out in math, went on to be an economics academic, and eventually made her way to Bay Street where she is now a partner and a representative of Women in Capital Markets (WCM). “If you want an interesting story, you need to write your own narrative and then continue to rewrite it often,” says Puffer. Don’t let others determine your path, she says, create your own.
2. Fame, Fortune, or a Star on the Walk of Fame? Determine What Motivates You
The Grant Thornton research found, when it comes to leadership positions, women are driven by different motivators. “You need to dig deep and find out what motivates you,” says Puffer. Do you aim to inspire or does the ability to collaborate and make meaningful changes drive your desire to succeed? Once you determine what is at the root of your motivations, it will be easier to set a plan in motion to help you achieve your goals.
3. Ask for What You Want!
If you want to be a career star, you need to ask for it. “A lack of self confidence often prevents women from asking for what they really want,” says Fraser. Women tend to question whether they can do the job more than a man in a similar position may, she says. There is a prevalence of the imposter syndrome when it comes to leadership roles for both men and women; however, many women still feel like: “I’m a woman in a man’s world,” says Fraser.
4. Find Your Mark
“You can open a lot of doors by playing to your strengths,” says Puffer. Women need to develop a keen sense of what they do well and what kind of activities keep them engaged. “Think about the kinds of work you are drawn to during your day,” says Puffer. “What you find most engaging is also likely what we you are best at.”
5. Be the Leader of the Pack
“The best way to build leadership skills is to try being a leader,” says Puffer. This doesn’t mean you need wait for a leadership role to open up at work. Step up and volunteer organizing a fundraising event or lead a team of kids in the hockey rink. Leading any group can help develop your leadership skills, and give you insight into leadership roles in the workplace.
6. Know Your Instrument
Leadership requires a mix of both hard skills (those that are tangible and learned) and soft skills, like the ability to communicate and problem-solve. “Being a good listener is so important,” says Puffer. While there are different types of leaders, “The key to success is learning what your strengths are, and playing to those.”
7. Embrace Your Stage Fright
The climb to the top can be tough. “You need to learn not to let your anxieties get the best of you,” says Puffer. Even accomplished performers like Adele still experience anxiety before a performance; as she told Rolling Stone, “My nerves don’t really settle until I’m offstage.” Stage fright can energize your performance, but a thoughtful approach to anxious feelings may keep you from making bad snap decisions.
8. Always Look for Your Next Starring Role
Never let your learning plateau. It can be good to be restless, and great leaders are always strategizing for future wins. “Talk to people in your organization to help you anticipate growth,” says Puffer. “Don’t be too worried about moving up; instead focus more on opportunities that will help you stand out in the long term.” Think of opportunities that play to what you enjoy doing, and the types of people you want to work with. “Sometimes a sideways career move can expand your knowledge base and lead to future growth,” says Puffer.
9. The Brightest Stars Are Now Digital
“Digital fluency is all about skills and ambition in a digital world,” says Fraser. Digital technical skills are, “a critical equalizer.” A workplace gender equality study conducted by Accenture found that one of the most significant accelerators of gender equality is equalizing digital fluency. The more you use digital technology in the workplace to increase knowledge, connect and work efficiently, the stronger advantage you may have.
10. Learn to Trust Yourself
“You need to feel good about yourself if you want to succeed,” says Puffer. “The imposter syndrome is more prevalent in women.” You need to believe you can lead if you want others to believe it too. Developing courage takes effort. “Courage is about stepping out and putting a stake in the ground,” says Fraser.
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