by Keeran Gunnoo, Global Employer Brand Director
The truth is unavoidable. Everywhere in the business world, women are hugely unrepresented at the top. Only 4% of CEO positions with Fortune 500 companies, and fewer than one in five corporate board seats, are currently held by women. And while things are slowly loosening up – notably with the steady increase of female MBA students – there’s still have a long way to go.
But against this background there are some stellar exceptions – women who have set their own direction and succeeded largely on their own terms. Inevitably, their success raises the question of what sets them apart from their peers. I’ve narrowed it down to four key elements.
Though findings by Goldman Sachs and Columbia University have found companies employing women in large numbers tend to outperform their competitors, many of these competent women still feel undeserving of a promotion, underestimate their performance, or fear asking for a raise. Call it assertiveness, courage or keeping cool under pressure – fostering real self-confidence can push you further and faster in the workplace. Developing assertiveness, managing anxiety and supporting your colleagues can win you respect, self- assurance – and even that promotion.
It’s become something of a truism to suggest that empathy in the workplace is the natural inclination of women. There is a way to make that work in your favour, though, with a softer management style that focuses as much on the person as the performance. Management with empathy doesn’t mean that you’re a pushover or favour a culture of under-achievement. On the contrary, a little personal understanding earns a huge payback in terms of loyalty, since employees are far more likely to go that extra mile for a popular and inspiring leader.
We’ve all come across the superwoman effect – high-achievers who juggle home and family commitments, as well as a demanding career schedule. Learning to successfully balance several areas of your life is key for those who want to “have it all.” There are also ways you can use your workplace to your advantage: flexible working arrangements, childcare vouchers and job-sharing can all help you feel like Superwoman – minus the mask and cape.
Stress can burn out the most ironclad constitution and crumble the steeliest resolve. Anyone can feel stressed if they don’t have a support network. The impact is multiplied if you feel isolated, so things like mentoring, balancing your schedule and taking regular breaks can make a huge difference. And never be afraid to ask for more workplace support – because no one makes it alone.
Empowering women to achieve success, and thereby creating an equal environment for employees, is one of the most effective tools for accelerating global development. That’s why in 2014, Unilever strengthened their Enhancing Livelihoods ambitions of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, by creating a new pillar on ‘Opportunities for Women’, with a focus on their economic empowerment based on rights, skills and opportunities. Unilever’s ambition is to empower 5 million women by 2020, and you could be one of them.