3 Ways Women Hold Themselves Back

Posted on December 3, 2012.

The Washington Business Journal recently honored their Power 100, “The region’s most influential business leaders”.  It’s a solid list with several people I know and respect. But what struck me was that only 17 of the 100 are women.  Where women make up almost 46% of the workforce and over 40% of management roles, why did only 17% make the list?

What’s even more interesting is that I would argue the Washington area has an even higher percentage of women in leadership roles.  The topic of pay disparity and glass ceilings has been going on since I started working in the 70s.  But from managing men and women for over 20 years, I’ve made several observations that I think keep women out of executive roles and off the list. Forget about the obvious maternity leave and unfair burdens from home. These are things I’ve witnessed in the office:

1.    Women don’t ask for money. I’d be hard pressed to remember one top talented male that did not ask me for a raise at least once. Most more than once. Yet, I can think of maybe only one or two women who did. And those women asked not because they realized they were really talented, but because they were the breadwinners at home.   Most women still have the “Field of Dreams” philosophy of “if I work hard, I will be recognized”.  You might, but you probably won’t. Your boss is too busy and your boss thinks if it’s that important to you, you’ll say something, just like all the men. 

2.    Women don’t find mentors.  Many of the “powerful and influential” leaders I’ve known will readily admit they had a mentor or ally along the way.  They find someone internally or externally who guides their career and clearly has power and influence over the path that career can take. I’ve known a few women who had mentors like that and every one of them ended of at the executive or C-level of their company.

3.    Women don’t toot their own horn. I found that many women are shy about touting their accomplishments. Again, they fall into the “Field of Dreams” syndrome.  Women need to make sure that when they’ve done something above and beyond, or exceeded goals and expectations that people are made aware of it.  There’s nothing wrong with keeping people informed. Send a quick note to your boss to say, “ just wanted to let you know we won that large proposal” or “wanted you to know we’re tracking 10% ahead of goal”.  Believe it not, your boss will appreciate being kept in the loop.

It’s not all on us as women to improve our trajectory into the elite group of the powerful and influential. But if more women followed these 3 rules, I think we’d see way more than 17% in the Power 100.