I had no female role models at the first company where I worked. The executives were all male, and I didn’t have a great relationship with my male boss who was neither supportive nor invested in my professional development. I left after four years. Looking back now, I wonder how I even lasted that long!
My next position was with a large national company and although the executive team was male, there were many women in leadership positions who were great role models; who encouraged me and gave me sound advice and direction. I stayed with this company for eight years; almost unheard of in today’s workplace.
Female role models are important for ambitious women. If we can’t look up and see women who have been successful, we are less likely to be successful ourselves. One of the first pieces of advice I tell my clients when they are moving to a new company is to determine if there are women in leadership positions, and if these women been promoted from within. These women are potential role models. They have learned the rules of the game and have been successful navigating to the top.
The presence of women in leadership roles supports our ambition. We see that it is feasible to survive and thrive in the environment as a woman. That possibility fuels our tenacity and passion to stick it out despite the challenges a competitive male dominated environment presents. When we witness other women advancing, we are optimistic about our own potential.
It’s also important to understand how these women reached leadership positions. What was their career path? What did they learn about what it takes to get ahead? Pay attention to their leadership style, executive presence, communication, and behavior. It reveals how the culture of the organization rewards high achieving women. What do these women do to leverage their talent and advocate for themselves and their team? How do they get visibility and credibility? How do they earn recognition? There are many valuable lessons to learn from role models.
If there are no female role models, of course, you can be the trailblazer and fight the battle to get to the top. Understand, however, that this will be a very challenging journey! Look to build a supportive network of allies and champions who will advocate for you. Finding a sponsor of either gender is especially helpful for women to expedite their advancement.
In a recent article in New York Magazine, the author states, “If we want the next generation of women to be strong, assertive, and demanding in this environment, we have to give them models that show them how.”
Find those role models and seek their advice and wisdom.