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Embracing Women’s Leadership: Breaking Barriers in the Workplace

woman ascending the ladder of corporate power

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s crucial to acknowledge the challenges women face in today’s workplace. 

At Ivy Planning Group, this conversation was sparked by my husband and business partner Gary. He once asked in a meeting, ““Women raise your hand if you want to get a promotion because you’re a woman.” The response was minimal as very few hands go up.

“Why not?”  he asks.

One woman immediately responds, “I want to get promoted because I’m qualified. Not because I’m a woman.” Most of the women in the room nod in support.

Gary’s subsequent question challenged this notion, “I didn’t say you weren’t qualified, and in fact why did you have to differentiate the two.”

This prompted introspection, with some women expressing frowns and groans in the room. 

“And what if part of what makes you best qualified is your lived experiences as a woman? Your unique perspectives coming up in the organization, faced with different barriers and overcoming them? The way you see people, R&D, products, the marketplace, work relationships?”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t want anyone to think that I didn’t earn my job.”

So Gary gets a bit provocative and says, “Then I might as well promote the guy. Hey guys, how do you feel about being promoted solely because you’re a guy?”

Laughter fills the space, with one of the guys exclaiming, “I don’t care why you give me the promotion. Just give me the promotion!”

Therein lies the conundrum of being a female leader.

HBR published a finding that given a list of 10 job qualifications, men on average will apply for the job if they have only 6. But women on average will apply only if they have all 10 of 10.

Most women, even now, feel they have to be “better than” to get the same opportunities as men. Heck maybe even work harder to receive less. 

We feel compelled to demonstrate that we work hard to earn what we receive.  While a man might be OK being assigned a coveted client because of his golf game, a woman is likely to frown on anything that appears to be non-meritocratic.  We don’t think that we have that kind of privilege. I get it, we want to be taken seriously and respected. So why do we have to deny our full selves in order for that to happen? By limiting ourselves to showcasing only our qualifications, we inadvertently handicap our potential, ignore the complexity and power of bringing our full selves to the workplace and the marketplace.

I must admit that deep down I’m a bit envious. I wish I were more comfortable saying I think they should pick me because I’m a woman. 

While it’s illegal to break a tie based on gender - and that applies for men too! - it’s an expectation that ties will only be broken for skills and competencies that are required for the job. While we should be looking for those skills in everyone, we shouldn’t ignore or fail to reward them when we see them more frequently in some than in others. 

It's time to shift the narrative and embrace the multifaceted nature of leadership. She demonstrates the kind of leadership and role modeling that we need for today’s workforce.

She has created a team environment that has been more engaged, that has led to more productivity in today’s environment. 

She has shown us unique insights into the customers and stakeholders of the future.

Doesn’t that mean she’s better?

Happy Woman’s History Month!


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