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5 Ways to Encourage Women Leaders (If you can see it you can be it!)

When I first became a Creative Director about a decade ago, only 3% of CDs in North America were women. Today the number hovers at around 11%. I know what you’re thinking: That’s it? 11%? You must be joking. But alas, it’s true.

Of the dozens of Creative Directors I had worked with, in both Toronto and Vancouver, only one was a woman. It’s common that a female designer, art director, or copywriter might never work under a female lead. In fact, 70% of young female creatives say they have never worked under a female Creative Director.

The disconnect deepens:

Women influence upwards of 80% of consumer decisions, and 60% of social media sharing. With 89% of teams being led by men, how can we expect content to accurately represent women—the ones who are the largest influencers of spending and media sharing?

Female leadership makes good business sense.

Encouraging young women towards leadership roles has a measurable impact for business.

Many studies (The World Bank, Peterson Institute, MSCI World Index) document that effective female leadership improves employee productivity and increases corporate profitability. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies that increased the number of women in executive positions to 30% saw a 15% increase in profitability.

So, how do we encourage women to seek leadership roles in Advertising, Marketing, and beyond?

1. Talk to girls about leadership and allow them opportunities to lead when they are young.

Leadership skills build confidence and become second nature to girls when we create opportunities for them to make decisions and solve problems.

Team sports are a terrific way to develop lasting leadership skills.

In Canada, 41% of girls aged three to 17 don't participate in sports. Disappointingly, that number jumps to 84% amongst adult women.

A survey by Ernst & Young shows that 90% of women in senior managerial and executive roles have played sports throughout their education. Amongst C-suite executives, that rate dramatically rises to 96%.

2. Provide access to mentors.

If you can see it, you can be it.

One of the top reasons that women do not make it to leadership roles is that they lack access to role models and mentors in leadership positions to help them envision their path up the career ladder.

I was a decade into my career before ever experiencing female leadership.

Mentorship stats:

  • 25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary-grade change, compared to only 5% of workers who did not participate

  • Mentees are promoted five times more often than those not in a mentoring program

  • Retention rates were higher for both mentees (22% more) and mentors (20% more) than for employees who did not participate in a mentoring program

(Gartner 2006)

3. Embolden girls to take more risks—starting young.

Girls and women are socialized to achieve in school and at work while also looking perfect, being the perfect student, partner, parent, etc. Unrealistic perfection-based expectations are everywhere we look.

Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, says we teach girls to avoid failure and risk and teach boys to be brave and take risks.

When girls avoid risk they miss out on the opportunity to build the psychological risk tolerance that boys do by sheer virtue of the fact that boys break more bones and get more bruises.

Focus on rewarding girls for taking risks.

4. Encourage public speaking skills.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

For most of life’s richest opportunities, strong public speaking skills provide a distinct advantage. Speaking skills fuel one’s ability to win over a crowd, to inform, and to motivate a team.

Encourage young women to take the steps to learn this skill. TED Talks for teens, ToastMasters, and debate groups are good places to explore.

5. Develop unstoppable confidence.

The confidence gap is real. (And really, really irksome).

Evidence suggests that confidence matters just as much—if not more—than competence. And yet our young women are lacking confidence in a staggering way.

  • Women apply for promotions when they feel 100% qualified, and men will apply for the same when they feel 50% qualified.

  • Men initiate salary negotiations 4x as often as women, and when women do negotiate they ask for 30% less than men.

  • In studies, men overestimate their abilities, while women underestimate theirs—their performances do not differ in quality.

(For a 13-minute boost of confidence, check out this TEDx Talk by my friend @DrIvanJoseph The Skill of Self-Confidence.)

Encourage the young women in your life to invest in growing the skill of self-confidence. In my estimation, there is no more powerful investment.


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