Significant change has happened in many countries with regards to women’s emancipation. However, equality in leadership positions stubbornly evolves at a snail’s pace. Though women are increasingly respected as professionals, very few are holding leadership roles. In having more women in leadership positions, organisations can benefit from their fresh perspectives and get to understand their customers better because in the majority of instances they are women and therefore contribute to better decision making. The 21st century is an era in which the demand for women leaders greatly exceeds supply. The world economy is faced with vastly different challenges then those which existed 20 years ago. Globally, companies are restructuring their leadership structures to mirror the gender and racial diversity of their customers, employees and stakeholders. As one of the responsibilities of leaders is to develop strategy for the long-term sustainability of their organisations, it is important that their profile reflects the diverse realities of markets in which they operate or would like to, in the future. Therefore opportunities for girl children as future leaders, not only lie within the borders of our country, but the world is truly their oyster, especially with the global attention focusing on the growth of the middle class and development on the African continent.
The question we rarely ask is, “What are the fortunate few that have broken through the glass ceiling doing to advance the cause of increasing women representation and to build a pipeline of women leadership?” As women, the attitude we sometimes have that paying your dues and ‘knuckling down to work’ philosophies, are the reason it is taking long for the status quo to change because it does not always follow that doing a good job will result in one being noticed. The reality is that life is not always fair. Being too busy to actively help each other as women, perpetuates our own alienation and makes us even more vulnerable when we occupy leadership positions. Change cannot be left to chance and self-promotion. In any case, studies have shown that women that self-promote receive a double standard backlash whereas it is more positively accepted of men because people, in general, perceive female leaders more negatively than ,male ones, even if both sexes behave the same.
Mentoring has become an accepted people development approach in the last few decades for both sexes, but for tangible progress to be made, women leaders must not under-estimate their own power by taking on more active ambassadorial and guardian angel roles to ensure that upcoming women are exposed to experiences and decision makers that will ensure their upward mobility. In a global competitive market where individuals are competing with millions of others who are trying to make a living and carve out their place in history for attention, one needs to be noticed. The advantage of being part of a network is that it allows less experienced and younger women to contact and to be contacted by successful and influential people. Individuals in a network regularly exchange information, support and call favours of each other – without necessarily transgressing the rule of law and good corporate governance. Networks are critical for individuals’ successes due to the advantages one gains through access to privy information, opportunities for collaboration, protection, visibility and upward mobility. The key principle of a network is that of trust as it is based on mutually beneficial exchanges between individuals. What women in leadership can share with their mentees and protégés is not the same as with just any acquaintance.
Thus as women leaders who have achieved success, we have the ability to touch many lives using our gifts, fortunes and positional power, despite the many obstacles such as constraints on our time. The scale in which each of us can make an impact in the world may differ. But whether we touch one life or millions, it seems a worthwhile mission to actively offer ourselves as mentors and to leave the world a little better than we found it.
Published in The Women Leader, Nigeria