IT IS widely recognised throughout most of the developed world that there is a gender imbalance at the senior management and leadership level.
Studies show that women intuitively demonstrate leadership qualities conducive to today's business environment, so why is there a disparity?
Women around the world are heavily involved in the entrepreneurial sector, and marrying leadership to the natural instinct for enterprise is a likely progression that can be effectively achieved.
In my experience, confidence is a key strategic element for women taking their place in leadership positions. Yet, women who may feel confident in many areas often are their own worst enemies in the workplace.
Every day, I hear voice-mail messages from women who do not sound confident. Typically, it's because women often end their sentences with an upward inflexion, much like everyone does when asking a question.
This makes the speaker sound tentative, unsure, and generally not as confident. And it's not just in voice-mail messages. As you walk the halls of your workplace, travel on public transportation, or even in business-related meetings, listen to the conversations.
Women do this much more often than men, in a variety of environments. When communicating the same information, men typically make statements of fact; women tend to ask tentative questions seeking approval.
Women often qualify their statements. Instead of saying: "In my opinion," women often say, "It's only my opinion," or "It's just my opinion," neither of which are as strong an opening.
Women qualify their "thank you's" as well. Instead of just saying "Thank you" when someone gives a compliment, women often say things like, "It was nothing," or "I really didn't do a lot," or some other qualifier that diminishes the value of the contribution for which they are being thanked.
Listen to the way men and women accept credit on behalf of their team.
Women have a tendency to give all the credit to the team; men (at least the smart leaders) give lots of credit to the team without diminishing any of the credit due to the leader.
There's a difference between "I didn't really do much, the team did all the work" and "I can't take all the credit; I couldn't have done it without the hard work of my team."
It's often been said that "women take care; men take charge". After all, women are "caregivers" almost by definition, finding themselves caring for their children, their parents and parents-in-law, their team members at work, their friends, etc. They often do this instinctively.
The answer is not for women to stop caring for others, but they do need to start caring for themselves as well. After all, the old adage is true: "If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of others." By the same token, if you don't take care of yourself, you'll have difficulty meeting the challenges of leadership and taking charge.
More importantly, women also need to see themselves as being ready, comfortable and in charge. It continues to amaze me how many men I meet who are, at best, semi-competent, but nonetheless manage to have the confidence of a superhero.
At the same time, I have met so many women who are absolutely capable and ready to assume larger job responsibilities, but are tentative or unsure about their ability to do so.
I believe lots of women seem to be waiting until they know they'll never make a mistake once they move up the corporate ladder, while men seem to understand that they will make mistakes, they'll move on and "get over it".
Effective leaders (both male and female) are not born, they are made. It's a combination of communicating appropriately and confidently, looking after yourself, and realistically knowing your capabilities.
All of these things can be learned. The challenge for women is to continue learning as they move forward in their careers, responsibilities and lives.