Last week I was honoured to feature as the guest speaker at the Robert Walters Executive Breakfast, an annual event held for their top EA’s. The list of EA’s was impressive, with representatives from many of the country’s top businesses.
The topic was ‘Closing the confidence gap between men and women in senior leadership’ and a big part of it was looking at how we gain confidence as women to set ourselves on the path to senior positions.
Researching the topic was interesting. I could not believe that in such a gender equal society we still have only 13 – 15% of women in leadership positions. The numbers didn’t seem right? And on investigation it wasn’t a case of competence, so much as confidence that has been proven as the missing link.
I showed the guests some of a TED TALKS discussion by Facebook COO SHERYL SANDBERG
Sandberg gives examples of confidence issues in women and talks about the obstacles faced by women wanting to further their careers. One of her most powerful statements was ‘keep your foot on the throttle until the day you leave’. She advises that regardless of your future plans, you should keep moving in a forward direction until the very day you leave your organization.
We also discussed work life balance and the importance of wellness in your daily lives. About a third of the guests already had workplace wellness plans in place, and many of the EA’s wanted to implement plans within their organization. Some interesting research has been carried out by Robert Walters (as part of their White Papers on ’empowering females in business’) which suggests that the majority of both employees and employers see the value of a workplace wellness programme. That to me is a win!
When aiming for career leadership, research suggests three key steps to progressing your career: 1> Mentoring 2> Training Programmes 3> Networking with Senior Leadership (in that order)
We discussed the importance of mentors, and the way we can work with our mentors as an ongoing part of our careers. I shared several of my role models with the audience and I was surprised to learn that not a single person in the room had a mentor or role model that they were working with to further their careers. I wondered if this was to do with our Kiwi mentality of ‘hanging back’? Or perhaps a lack of confidence in approaching a mentor? So much research points to mentors as being the single most important step to career success – so why is this not the norm in NZ? That is a question I cannot answer.
One of my beloved Kiwi role models is Wine Entrepreneur, Erica Crawford. Formerly of Kim Crawford Wines and more recently Loveblock Organic Wines. Erica’s business savvy is second to none and her career speaks for itself. After eight successful years of growing the Kim Crawford business the wine label became a top wine exporter to the US and Canada. The company was eventually sold to Vincor International and Erica was able to pursue new ventures in NZ’s wine and lifestyle industries.
I gave this example to the audience and encouraged them to find their own role models and mentors – a ‘smart support person’ who is willing to work with them on their future careers and give unbiased business direction.
I closed the talk with a simple yet powerful life analogy. “Look after yourself so that you can look after those around you.”
No one can be powerful and project happiness onto others unless they are really happy within themselves. While we know this – it can be easy to forget. Whether we are mothers, partners, colleagues, friends, daughters or otherwise, it’s always great to remind ourselves of our own needs.
I loved meeting the EA’s at The Langham and the discussion that followed. I look forward to more inspirational talks to come.
More interesting reads here on ‘The Confidence Gap’ & women’s leadership: