It's the last week of women's history month, and continuing with the theme of empowering female leaders in the workplace, I want to speak to a problem that is still very much pervasive in today's workforce: the issue of visibility for female leaders.
Undoubtedly, gaining visibility and recognition is crucial to success in today's competitive workplace. It can impact the career trajectories of any professional. Still, it's especially essential for high-potential female leaders aiming to reach the c-suite- as it directly impacts their ability to achieve their career goals.
However, despite the importance of visibility, women leaders often face unique challenges (even more if they are women of color) in getting recognized at work. Some of those issues are undeniably endemic to a system that has traditionally favored men. Unconscious bias contributes to the lack of visibility for women leaders. They are often overlooked for opportunities or receive a different level of recognition than their male counterparts. For the sake of this blog, I will focus on our locus of control, which is what female leaders can do within their realm of influence- starting with our thoughts and attitude.
It Starts with Your Mindset
Often when a client brings the topic of visibility (or lack of it) to our session, they tell me that they feel invisible and downright ignored, while their white male counterparts seem to get otherwise. When I probe more, I ask if any proactive steps were taken to aid in landing the desired recognition. I often hear things like, "I thought my work would speak for itself" or "I hate self-promotion. It's not my thing" As a result, they do not speak up in high stake meetings, and they do not land that stretch assignment opportunity, thus leaving the path open for "Jonny" to get the visibility.
Here is the thing:
If you do not ask, you will not get it. You must seek to find.
This type of self-sabotaging limits the ability of talented women to get the visibility they need regardless of the system. Female leaders sometimes shoot themselves in the foot by not being vocal or proactive in seeking that visibility.
The bottom line is:
Nobody will recognize you for something if they can't see it. Female leaders must proactively and intentionally advocate for themselves to overcome these visibility challenges. but first, let yourself be seen- believe that you are enough.
Are you a female leader struggling to gain recognition and advance your career? Keep reading below.
Five proven strategies for increasing your visibility
1. Raise your hand: Take the lead and ask for opportunities to take on new projects or tasks, even if they fall outside your everyday responsibilities. This will help you showcase your skills and signal to others that you are ready for more. Especially look for cross-departmental collaborations that have visibility or are strategic to the organization. It will help you build relationships and create visibility for yourself within the organization
2. Network: I know the idea of networking is a dread to many. However, first I invite you to make it work for you. Reframe the idea of networking from a shore to an opportunity to connect with others. If you can, attend company events to build relationships with colleagues. Building solid relationships with colleagues, mentors, and other industry professionals helps increase their visibility and gain the recognition needed.
3. Build and promote your personal brand: Women leaders should intentionally seek to develop a solid personal brand by sharing their expertise. One way to do this is by creating a professional website or blog. Use social media platforms like LinkedIn to showcase your knowledge and accomplishments. Examples of these could be writing articles or thoughtful posts. This can establish you as a thought leader and increase your visibility within the industry.
4. Seek out the spotlight: Women leaders can seek opportunities to take on high-profile projects or lead initiatives showcasing their skills and expertise. Volunteer to speak in conferences or panels. An excellent place to start is alum networks and employee resource groups.
5. Support other women: Female leaders can also support and lift up other women in their organizations, which can help create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. Also, you can help other women in your industry by serving as a mentor or sponsors. This will not only help you succeed, but it will also increase your visibility and reputation as a leader.
Women must stop giving in to their fears and self-sabotage and start proactively advocating and working to increase their visibility. I'm aware that this will not solve the problem completely, but it's worse if there is no action whatsoever.
However, it's important to note that if we want to drive change drastically. Organizations must also 1) address systemic barriers and biases that prevent women from achieving their full potential and 2) facilitate pathways for female leaders to develop and thrive.
Here are some ideas where organizations can start:
Make it a business priority to develop and support high-potential female talent. If we want results, companies must include a metric directly tied to developing and supporting women at work and tie it to compensation or a tangible reward.
Implement or facilitate spaces for them to thrive- such as a dedicated employee resource groups or mentor/ sponsor matching programs.
Provide funding for the appropriate support, either in the form of a budget for executive and leadership development coaching or reputable programs. Investing in your female high-potentials usually pays off in the long run.
Finally, please reset unreasonable business expectations. According to a recent study by Deloitte, women leave the workplace because of a need for more clarity in career advancement prospects and a lack of understanding and flexibility on the companies' part of the additional responsibilities that women often bear outside of work.
If you are interested in exploring how I can help your organization or yourself, as a female leader, gain and sustain visibility, develop your professional brand, and accelerate your career success reach out by filling out the form here. Otherwise, follow me via LinkedIn.