As an executive coach in London, I work with many women who want to improve their leadership skills. The number of women who have leadership roles has increased, and there are now almost double the number of women on the FTSE 100 boards than there were in 2011. Women leaders now make up 23.5% of the total, which is fantastic news, although 95% of that increase is in non-executive directors. When you look at the stats, only 1 in 10 of the women on the board are actually executive directors.
Research has suggested that for women, though they can lead as well as men, it can be harder to become a leader in the first place.
Why is this? I don’t think it is down to levels of training or job title, I think it is down to our identity; how we see ourselves and how others see us. To be a leader, one must develop a leadership identity, and for some women this is difficult due to the learned passivity that we are taught from a young age.
One of the ways women can improve their leadership identity is by developing ‘authenticity’. As there are fewer female role models in business, some women spend a lot of time focusing on how they are perceived and worry about what other people think. This means that they become distracted from the job they have been asked to do, being a leader. By focusing purely on the role of leadership, women can succeed in their roles and prove themselves, and thus presenting an authentic leadership identity to others naturally.
Another way women can enhance their leadership identity is by identifying who they reflect with and having a space to explore different experiences with other female leaders. By looking at how other successful female leaders work, it can help women in their own organisations.
Though discrimination of the sexes is largely a thing of the past, for women to reach their potential and become inspiring leaders they need to be encouraged and supported.