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Empowering Women in Business

March is Women’s History Month so it seemed like the perfect time to take a deep dive into women in business. According to a recent Harvard Business Review, women still account for less than 2% of CEOs. But financial organizations with more diversity on their executive teams outperform others, according to the same study. If creating a more gender diverse workforce is good for profitability, why is changing the face of business taking so long and how can businesses support women better?

There are countless factors which contribute to gender disparity but there’s no doubt companies can do a better job empowering female leaders. But we also know, as women in business, we can’t wait around forever for companies to change. We have to find ways to empower ourselves and take control of those factors we can influence. That’s why you’ll find ideas for businesses and ideas for women in this article. After all, if we really want to be effective at changing the face of leadership, we need a bold, multi-angle approach.

How Businesses Can Empower Female Leaders

If you’re a business leader, there are many ways you can promote the advancement of female leaders within your organization.

Here are some ideas that resonated with me:

1. Interview Like You Mean It

If you want to have qualified female leaders in your company, interview like you mean it. Interview qualified women for every open leadership position. It’s the simplest, most direct way to go from talking about hiring more women to actually doing it.

2. Challenge Your Biases

I have seen women to be judged more harshly during the interview process than their male counterparts. I have heard comments ranging from their makeup, choice of clothing to choice of shoes and style.

We all have biases. But limiting beliefs aren’t meant to be accepted; they’re meant to be challenged. Be honest about what has held you back in the past from hiring or recognizing female leaders. Part of combatting gender bias is making the unconscious conscious and dealing with it.

3. Set Goals

I’ve heard it all, my favorite is, “there are just not enough women applicants.” And yet, who is taking action to increase the number of women applicants? Do we know how to do that? Are there truly not enough applicants? If true, why?

Set concrete, measurable goals around hiring and promoting women within your organization. It’s not enough to talk about it at a board meeting once a year. You need to build your talent pipeline so you can quickly identify women who are able to fill leadership roles. Your talent pool should reflect the demographics of our world.

4. Highlight Strengths

“Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities,” states The Atlantic in their article “The Confidence Gap.” Studies routinely show women underestimate their strengths. Companies can empower women by providing positive feedback to uncover and celebrate their strengths.

5. Be an Ally

More diversity is not just good; it’s also good business. Make sure senior leadership understands the benefits. Advocate for current female employees by making sure they’re heard in meetings, recognized for their authority, spoken to respectfully, and recommended for promotions. If there’s still a struggle to make these basics happen, it may be time for bias training.

How Women Can Empower Themselves in Business

“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger: women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” — G.D. Anderson

Here are some ideas to step into your power in the business world:

1. Master the Art of Self-Promotion

Part of “The Confidence Gap” mentioned earlier is how women under-sell their accomplishments and are less likely to seek promotions when they don’t have 100% of the requirements. Let’s bolster our confidence and boldly seek out opportunities for growth. Be a shameless advocate for yourself by mastering the art of self-promotion.

2. Take Risks

Don’t be afraid to take risks! Is there a position you’ve been wanting to apply to but keep second-guessing yourself? If you have every qualification except for a few, it’s time to apply. Don’t let opportunities for growth pass you by because you’re stuck in your head. You have many qualities and qualifications not on the list to share and what you don’t have, you can learn.

3. Embrace Your Womanhood

Have you ever been told to act or think like a man? Sorry, but no…just no. Nothing against men, but there’s also nothing wrong with acting like yourself.

Act and think like you.

Leverage your intuition. You don’t have to behave like a man to succeed. Embrace your unique attributes. I love this quote by Anne Sweeney, “Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” Your uniqueness is your strength so don’t be afraid to live authentically in it.

4. Own Your Power

Mohadesa Najumi wrote, “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet. The more women tune in to their own validation, the more they can change the world.” You may not be able to convince every employee or company to see your worth. But you can still own your power. Don’t seek external validation. Instead, tap into the inherent value within.

5. Don’t Be a Martyr

This one is the hardest for me. Self-sacrifice is ingrained into who I am. But with regular practice, I improve. As a woman, mother, and child of immigrant Vietnamese parents, I know how easy it is to fall into martyrdom, self-sacrificing until we’re burnt out. Establish healthy boundaries in business. Don’t sacrifice at the expense of your well-being. There are no prizes for overworking yourself or putting up with discriminatory behavior. If someone says something condescending or inappropriate, challenge it immediately. A good way to do this is asking them to clarify or elaborate. This often leaves them backpedaling as they process their mistake.

Sadly, the boy’s club atmosphere is still pervasive in many companies. And unfortunately, the mortgage industry hasn’t caught up with the times yet (though long overdue). As a woman in leadership, I know we can’t always wait around for companies’ slow-moving bureaucracy to make actionable changes. As we support high-level diversity shifts, we have to step up and seize our moment before it slips away. 

I hope this article helped inspire you to take real steps to empower women in business, whether you’re coming at it from a company position, as an ally or as a woman facing challenges in the business world yourself. Do you have ideas of other ways we can support women in business?

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