In a recent TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, speculated why there are so few female leaders. She thinks they undervalue themselves and their abilities, which in turn causes them to be undervalued in the workplace. While men tend to attribute success to their own abilities, women won’t take the credit – instead attributing success to extraneous factors. And when a woman doesn’t own her accomplishments, no one else will, and she’ll be left behind while men are promoted in her place.
John T. Jost, a professor of social psychology at NYU, once asked 132 college students – 64 women and 68 men—to write an essay about computer shopping. The students were asked how much they would pay an author who produced the same composition. As a group, the women paid themselves 18 percent less than the men paid themselves for the same work. An independent panel judged the quality of the work to be equal and indistinguishable on the basis of gender. And these women were some of America’s most promising students: Yale University undergraduates. From the strength of the result, Jost concluded that women think they are worth less.
So what can female leaders in the workplace do to step up their game? Debi Benedetti, a career coach and founder of Beyond The Possible, suggests doing an in-depth self-evaluation using an assessment tool such as DiSC, 360s, Strengths Finder, or the WFF LCA. Utilizing that information, she should develop a personal SWOT, (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). This will allow her to find herself and find her voice.
All too often, Benedetti says, women feel their hard work should be noticed, but it won’t unless they message it correctly. Instead of a humble/passive stance or an overly aggressive stance, women need to find a confident, balanced message that she can own. Doing the self-reflection work will help her craft and deliver that message authentically, which will create trust in her and her ability to lead.
I think it also helps to look at role models (male and female) and internalize how they do things. For example, if you’re a salesperson, sit in on a call with your sales director and a top client and notice how the director enters the conversation, asks questions, and persuades. Try out the successful approach yourself, adjusting it to what feels most comfortable to you. Even if the assertiveness feels foreign in the beginning, with practice it will become second nature, and you will begin to value yourself more internally as a result.