Over the past few decades, it’s undeniable that strides have been made as it relates to the advancement of women in the workplace. However, it is also quite clear that women still have a long way to go — particularly as it relates to leadership roles.
For many qualified women, the climb to the top of the corporate ladder is often fraught with obstacles. And, for those who do make it to the C-Suite, another round of challenges present themselves in a male-dominated environment.
According to Simone Harvey, senior global program manager at Airbnb: “You can do all the homework and have the right data but if you’re not listened to and if your opinion isn’t valued then your recommendations are falling on deaf ears.”
Despite this daunting reality, Harvey, and many other women have managed to achieve success in their respective fields. In this article, Harvey, and fellow female trailblazers, Kathryn Chinsee, Innovation Lead at MC Systems and Serah Radhaykissoon, Head of Financial Services (Mobile Wallets) at Digicel, share key strategies female leaders can employ to build authority in the boardroom.
Build Healthy Relationships at Work
A little goodwill can go a long way. Harvey believes women should be proactive about developing positive relationships in the office, including with their male counterparts. Noting that many women consider it “off limits” to nurture relationships with men at work, she encourages women to manage these professional relationships just as they manage their personal relationships. “You have to build relationships with all the people that you need to eventually work with because it’s the emotional intimacy, the connection, the trust, the friendship from those relationships that will help you gain influence in key moments.”
Leverage your insights
In 2020 female consumers accounted for $43 billion in global spending, while 85 per cent of women purchased products. This data was shared by Radhaykissoon as she outlined the value female leaders can bring to the decision-making process. With statistics indicating that 91 per cent of home sales and 60 per cent of automobile sales are influenced by women, it stands to reason that multimillion industries will benefit from the innate insights of female leaders. “From the consumer side, women are setting the tone and if we don’t have enough women at the table we can’t influence our customers,” said Radhaykissoon.
Use Empathy to Create Value
An Untapped AI study revealed that women score up to 10 to 15 per cent higher on EQ than men. Chinsee sees this higher level of emotional intelligence as a skill set women can use to add tangible value to their organisations. “We tend to be more empathetic people, which means that we would consume and appreciate everybody’s perspective a little bit more,” Chinsee explained. She encouraged women to “use that empathy to create different features that maybe someone else may not have considered”.
Be who you are, and be so unapologetically. Acknowledging that early on in her leadership journey, she instinctively apologised for simple things such as offering her opinion, Chinsee advised women to overcome this compulsion. Instead, women must be confident in what they have to say and combat imposter syndrome, which often leads them to believe they don’t deserve to occupy certain spaces. “Don't ever apologise for your perspective,” she said. “Stand up. Wear the bold colour that’s going to make everybody notice you. Speak up a little bit more so that when you have something to say your voice can’t be drowned out.”
Lobby outside of the boardroom
When it comes down to it, the decision-making process primarily happens outside of the boardroom. As such, Harvey highly recommends lobbying before entering these executive spaces. “Key decisions are made at this meeting, in this space, with these people. Your job is to align everybody before you get into that space,” Harvey said. “Let them know what your perspective is, for them to understand where you’re coming from and what drives your decision making. So by the time you get into the room, it’s uncontroversial.”
Focus on areas where you can uniquely contribute
In a highly competitive corporate environment, competing may not always yield the desired results. Instead, Harvey advises women to carve out a space for themselves by investing their energy into projects that others may shy away from. In doing so, women can contribute in unique ways. “Focus on the projects, the efforts, the ideas that other people are not interested in,” she said. By spending time solving the problems others aren’t enthusiastic about, women can differentiate themselves from their colleagues and bring unique value to the system.