Women In Leadership: To Find or Be Found?

Women are oftentimes the talent we’re looking for hiding in plain sight.

SHE Leads

Written by: Tove Engebø-Skas

15.09.2022

Del på TwitterDel på FacebookDel på TwitterDel på Twitter
Photo of SHE Leads participants by SHE.

Hiding in plain sight

Photo provided by Tove Engebø-Skas

When trying to find something in a cupboard, my husband will usually leave the room and come back a minute later, empty handed and disappointed. I will go to the same place and spend five to ten seconds to identify the missing item. The reason is usually because he will open the cupboard doors look at what is immediately in front of him and if it’s not what he is looking for, the item is invisible. Me, I will lift and move things around in order to find the item in question – and usually do.

So, how does this have anything to do with women in leadership positions you might wonder? I will get to that.

Numbers speak louder than words

At the SHE Conference held in Oslo in 2022, I learned that, despite all the focus on raising women into leadership positions, in the UK there are still more CEOs named John, than female CEOs. I also learned that the curve for female participants in boards in Norway did raise to 40 % after the legislation came into effect, just to stay flat on the legally bare minimum.

This despite research presented in Harvard Business Review in 2019 that shows women score higher than men in most leadership skills (HBR). In fact, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from poor ones. Many of these capabilities are the same as those essential for leading companies through transformations.

As Charles Darwin put it, “It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”

You see what you want to see

We are in an era characterized by relentless change, and in order to survive and thrive companies need to be able to reposition themselves to stay relevant. Who is then better to lead the companies through those changes than the group of people who score the highest on the capabilities needed to drive the transformations, and why don’t they?

There are more explanations for this, but one is related to network. Men lead companies and are board members. When men look to recruit new leaders or board members to their companies they tap into their network. Which usually consists of more men. So just as my husband, who only opens the cupboard door to look at the surface to find what he is looking for, men recruiting for leadership positions are also just looking for what they immediately can see.

This in turn means that when looking at the limited selection in plain sight they might find the best candidate for the job in their network, but they don’t find the best candidate. Simply, because they are doing a bad job searching.

Hidden talent

However, this is a two way street. Another reason for why this happens is due to women not making themselves visible. The same 2019 research shows that women accessing their own leadership skills are not as generous towards themselves as their peers. And if you don’t believe you can do the job, you are not likely to put yourself out there.

Thus, when I encourage men to broaden their area of search, I also encourage the highly qualified women out there to believe in yourself and make yourself visible. If you want to be found, you must make an effort to make yourself available to those who are looking. Don’t hide underneath the sheets in the cupboard.

If you are one of those women who might want to make yourself more visible and you don’t know where to start, SHE Leads, is a very good place. I must admit that I hadn’t heard about the program until an email unexpectedly appeared in my inbox last fall. I was intrigued, but dismissed it, before I decided to put in an application. That was one of the best decisions of 2021 to be sure.

SHE Leads

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what a journey it has been. The management program is not just about the highly valuable professional content. What I really love about it is the possibility I have to build that network. Not only with the other participants aspiring to become top leaders, but with existing CEOs who contribute as our mentors.

Imagine having access to a room full of insightful, fun and inspiring women who are all supporting one another, with whom you can discuss challenges, get inspiration and learn from. This is what it feels like every time I meet with the whole group.

In addition, I have been so lucky to have a wonderful mastermind group, a safe space with five people who I meet regularly to share ideas, discuss challenges, get support and have fun with. The beauty of this group is that, despite it being five women it is very diverse, both in terms of age, background, positions and industry, which makes our discussions all the more better.

Be easy to find

Furthermore, having access to a mentor who takes time out of her busy calendar to meet, listen and share her insights with me, makes me feel really humble and lucky.

No doubt, there is a need for more women in top management. A McKinsey study shows that companies with more than 30 % women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10-30 %, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all. A substantial differential likelihood of outperformance (48 %) separates the most from the least gender diverse companies.

The competition is fierce, so you need the best leaders to take you into the future. If you want the best you need to make sure that you are really looking at all relevant candidates, and if you want to be considered, you need to make yourself available for those looking.