For many women, navigating a path toward leadership can feel like walking a tightrope or navigating a maze. It’s incredible that even today, despite how far women have come, they still face challenges securing senior-level roles. Women who aspire to move up the ladder or receive compensation equal to their male counterparts continue to face criticism and judgment. Gender bias is alive and well.

When men are authoritarian, they gain respect. But women of equal intelligence and skill are often called bossy; their ideas brushed aside. Women with substantial accomplishments have a right to celebrate their successes, yet they’re labeled as arrogant when they do. Despite voluminous research that confirms women’s extraordinary productivity levels, emotional intelligence, and remarkable leadership capabilities, they’re still not functioning on an equal playing field.

I have had the privilege of working with, and learning from, many successful women. Those experiences allowed me the opportunity to offer suggestions that stem directly from my observance of these leaders.

Acknowledge Reality

It’s maddening when less-experienced male colleagues present ideas that sound remarkably like yours. Saying it shouldn’t be so is useless. Getting angry only hurts you, and you don’t need the stress. But if you acknowledge this reality and learn to rise above it, you can devise new strategies. Take the high road. Credit will come to you soon enough.

Support Other Women

Opportunities are not as plentiful for women as they should be. It’s natural to feel competitive. But working against each other is destructive. Women who support each other tend to be very successful.

In 2016, The Washington Post reported that the women on President Obama’s cabinet sometimes had to “elbow their way in” to meetings, adopting a mutual support strategy called “amplification.”

When one woman made a critical point, other women repeated it, crediting the author. Their male counterparts were forced to recognize these contributions. They could not claim the ideas as their own.

According to the article, a former Obama aide who wished to remain anonymous said, “We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing.” The former President noticed. And while his respect for women was already a hallmark of his presidency, he grew more dependent on women and female junior aides.

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Create a Mutually Supportive Environment

Develop your leadership style, regardless of your title. You are a leader, not the words intended to describe you printed on a business card. Your style is unique. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Observe the women whom you admire. You’ll note that each is also unique. There will be a wide range of styles.

Understand how your values influence your behavior. You need only define what leadership means to you, and what success looks like to you. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it.

In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.” Sandberg believed that it’s about making others feel better just by being you. Yes, you can indeed have that much influence on others.

No one can promise a promotion or raise because you do these things. But you will start to realize your power. There are no limits to what you can do. Believe in yourself.

As Susan Scott wrote in her book, Fierce Conversations, “Leadership is not a title; it’s a daily practice.”


To read stories of more successful women, click here.