The Guarantee
April 13

6 Essential Lessons for Women Leaders: Recap and Commentary

In November, Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia, and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Finance Minister of Nigeria and seventh Director-General of the World Trade Organization, released a TED Talk titled, “6 Essential Lessons for Women Leaders.”

The video has already received more than a million views, and the pair have since released a book about women in leadership. Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala are authorities on women’s paths to power, and their lessons are vital for any woman in the workplace.

We’ll recap their six essential lessons for women leaders, and explain what the data says about each point. (You can watch Gillard’s and Okonjo-Iweala’s full TED Talk here.)

Lesson #1: There’s no one right way to be a leader.

If you were to ask 100 people what makes for a successful female leader, you might receive 100 different answers. Expectations for women in leadership widely vary.
They are expected to be strong but not too strong, empathetic but not delicate, and driven but not aggressive. Studies highlight a double standard when it comes to expectations for men and women in leadership. When Harvard Business Review analyzed 200 performance reviews in a company, 76 percent of the references to a leader’s being “too aggressive” were about women.

It’s clear that you are never going to please everyone. So instead, make sure you are pleasing yourself by leading in a way that feels most authentic to you.

Lesson #2: Women in leadership will face sexism and stereotyping, so prepare accordingly.

Gillard explains that when she first became Prime Minister of Australia, she expected some of the sexist reactions to fade with time. “That didn’t happen,” Gillard says. “The longer I governed, the more visible the sexism became.”

A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 6 out of 10 women say gender discrimination is a large obstacle to female leadership. And women of color face an even steeper path to leadership, experiencing both systemic racism and sexism. For Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala, “forewarned is forearmed.” How will you handle those moments? Seek out advice from your trusted friends, family and mentors.

Lesson #3: Challenge gender stereotypes when they arise in conversation.

When you hear friends, family, coworkers, or media organizations spreading gender stereotypes, hold them accountable. Debunk the myths and explain how “these false assumptions can’t survive being held up to the light of day,” Okonjo-Iweala says.

Lesson #4: Start advocating for structural change now.

A vast body of research points to the structural barriers standing in the way of
gender equality in business and political leadership. For example, in addition to
gender discrimination, women face role conflict between their work and home lives. In a survey of the public by Pew Research Center, 41 percent of respondents said women who want to reach leadership positions should wait to have children until they are “well-established,” and 34 percent said they are better off not having
children at all. The pandemic has only exacerbated the struggles of working mothers, highlighting the inadequacy of many parental leave and childcare policies. Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala warn that you can’t wait to support structural change for these issues until you need it yourself. Instead, begin advocating now.

Lesson #5: Don’t be afraid to take up space.

Women and young girls are often taught to be “seen and not heard.” A 2019 Gallup survey found that female college students are less comfortable sharing unpopular opinions in the classroom than their male peers. Studies show that women may face similar struggles in today’s workplace, with one in five women saying they have felt ignored by coworkers during video calls.

You shouldn’t be afraid to take up space in the workplace and the world. Embrace your ambition, and be unapologetic when you are working and networking.

Lesson #6: Go for it.

What drives you? What is your sense of purpose? Aim high, and follow it doggedly. “Every woman who steps forward makes more space for the women who come next,” Okonjo-Iweala says.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.

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