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Empower your female leadership: how to get more women into senior management

Ginger’s approach to diversity and inclusion

Picture, if you will, a squirrel, busy collecting nuts in a park, up and down the trees all day, scurrying in and out of bushes. They’re working hard and doing an important job, but they largely go about their business unnoticed by those around them. Now, transport to the African plains and picture an enormous, statuesque elephant slowly wandering across the earth. You can’t help but stop and stare at the monumental creature, magnificent and proud in front of you.

The workplace is full of squirrels and elephants. Hardworking as they are, no-one follows a squirrel. The elephant, however, is a born leader – unafraid to take up space and be seen, powerful and respected. Elephants don’t stay in the shadows – they have a voice and they are unapologetically visible.

Ginger’s approach to diversity and inclusion is to raise the voices and visibility of any underrepresented groups we typically hear less from. So in any organisation that has less than 50% representation of women in senior roles, we need to ensure we commit to supporting women to be seen, to become proud elephants, in order to benefit from the diverse skills and knowledge of this demographic.

The importance of being seen

American-Korean comedian Margaret Cho gets it. As she takes to the stage to throw shade on social and political injustice, she knows that the visibility she is given on this platform allows her to be noticed, to be heard to and to make the impact that she wants to make in this world. Margaret is an elephant.

Her stage gives her power. With a captive audience, she can use that power to influence as she sees fit. In the office environment, leaders are given a stage regularly at Town Halls, in team meetings, in the boardroom (and many other places) to share their knowledge and to influence.

But how do you get to that stage if you don’t have a voice in the organisation? Diversity and inclusion begins with providing the platform and environment for the under-represented to have their voices heard. The more we hear the stories of the incredible women working in organisations, the more organisations will attract more incredible women into them. Amazing women will attract other amazing women.

“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.”

The ‘gender say gap’

The ‘gender say gap’

At Ginger, we are fortunate to have a helicopter view of the gender debate. As we engage with senior women from all manner of industries, they tell us the reasons that they often feel voiceless.

 

These are some real-life scenarios we hear from senior women:

The ‘gender say gap’
  • My female team members rarely speak up in meetings, in contrast to their male peers, who always seem to have an opinion.
  • At our last company conference, there wasn’t a single female leader.
  • When I go into a leadership team meeting, the atmosphere is so aggressive, that I don’t feel like speaking.
  • Meetings are often so full of B.S. and posturing. That’s not me, I can’t do it.
  • We ask our female leaders to speak, but they turn down opportunities.
  • If you have to boast to get recognised, I’d rather not get recognised, thank you.
  • It feels arrogant to put myself forward as an expert – there must be many other people who are more qualified to speak on that subject. If I’m the expert, someone will ask me to speak.
  • To be a speaker at our company conference, you have to be a showman – and that’s not me.

Claire Mason of Man Bites Dog describes this as the ‘Gender Say Gap.’ This is the gap in visibility and voice between men and women in the workplace. A lot of the reasons given above are a result of pervasive societal experiences that affect both the individual’s confidence and the way they are seen in the workplace. While these are systemic issues that have been centuries in the making and could be talked to in depth, we like to focus on the solutions. In order to address the Gender Say Gap, we have to address the issues that are holding women back from taking their power.

Addressing the ‘Gender say gap’

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The journey towards confident leadership begins in the early stages of a woman’s career, by embedding the tools and confidence needed to build a successful career. We’ve found four approaches to be particularly helpful for combatting the Gender Say Gap in early career stage women (although these are equally relevant to men too):

Build courage in each person’s authentic voice; her opinions and her personal style

Encourage her to tell it as she sees it, without the sugar coating. Listen. For all the talk about diversity, it’s amazing how little confidence women often feel to express their critical thinking publicly, for fear of saying something wrong.

Offer female-friendly feedback

We find that while men respond well to challenging and critical feedback, women thrive on positivity. Offer feedback that affirms her strengths. Not the ‘Sh*t Sandwich’, but a genuine recognition of her unique personal strengths, followed by ‘stretch feedback’ of what ambitions you have for her growth as a future leader. Say it from your heart.

Encourage a culture of ‘speaking before you’re ready’

Those women who have the ‘be a good student’ socialisation, tend to want to ‘submit their work’ only when it’s perfect. Of course, by the time it is ready, someone else has often nabbed the credit. Women often need permission not to be perfect, to feel comfortable speaking up. And this needs to start with being willing to speak before you’re ready to.

Insist on her taking ownership of her strengths

In our experience, from feedback that’s 99% positive, women obsess about the 1% negative, so make sure she clearly gets the message of what she’s doing well – this will build her confidence. Insist that she fully acknowledges the feedback, rather than pushes it away. If this is done well, self-expression comes naturally; if I’m loved, I feel confident. If I feel confident, I will speak.

Ginger’s signature courses are all designed to build courage to take space, by diving deep into the leadership communications’ skills needed to inspire and influence others.

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These aren’t ‘special programmes’ with special content for women, women go through the same Ginger programmes that men do! But if you’re looking to raise the voices of brilliant, capable women in your organisation, you need to be intentionally investing in them to elevate them to their next level of impact.

Our courses are truly transformative experiences that provide the opportunity to challenge yourself, and draw out your story and your personality, allowing you to show up authentically and confidently as the leader you deserve to be. We’re not all born elephants! But Ginger’s courses provide the support and encouragement to grow your trunk and take your rightful place on the stage.

Why executive communications training matters

Five ‘stages’ you can offer to empower females in your organisation

Every voice needs an outlet. Promoting these voices is as much about providing them with the stage where they can be heard as it is in encouraging their confidence. Here are a few places you could start…

Team spirit

1. Inclusive team meetings

Your regular team meetings are an ideal opportunity to provide a safe space to those who might not speak up in wider organisational meetings – because most people will be more comfortable with their team mates. Try to provide equal opportunity to speak up in these meetings, use them to listen as much as to broadcast and be conscious of the way you respond to thoughts and ideas shared.

2. Champion their work in the boardroom

Whether they are ready to step into the boardroom or not, there are many opportunities to celebrate the work of your team at this high level. Where there’s credit to give, or ideas to share from the team, naming the individual gives them credibility and starts to lay their foundations for leadership with the right people.

Inclusive town halls

3. Inclusive town halls

Town hall meetings, where the whole organisation gathers to hear the latest business updates, provide a really powerful opportunity for visibility. Providing your team with the chance to speak in these meetings can give a valuable step up, encourage confidence and provide visibility to an otherwise inaccessible audience.

Speaking at industry events

4. Speaking at industry events

Put public speaking skills into practice by offering capable people the opportunity to speak at industry events. Putting your confidence in them will build confidence within themselves and their capability will shine through reflecting positively on your organisation.

Cross-Departmental Collaboration

5. Cross-Departmental Collaboration

Cross-functional projects or events are a great opportunity for team members to tap into their inner elephant. Cross-departmental collaboration helps break down silos and gives the opportunity to learn new skills and to impress in the wider business.

Ginger give a platform for the incredible women we work with in various ways, not least our Wall of Women, which showcases game changing female leaders who are all on a mission to bring about positive change in their professions and beyond.

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The value of storytelling in senior leadership

Well said Stacey. It doesn’t matter how many platforms you provide, there is no visibility without authenticity – if you’re not being authentic, it’s not truly you that’s being seen. That’s why Ginger support those on our courses to capitalise on their individual spirit and style. Equally as important, is identifying their story worth telling. This is the process of unwrapping what really matters to you, and crafting the narrative that allows you to share this in your own voice.

Humans have an incredible communication tool in storytelling. We are drawn to stories, and they touch us deeply, especially when we can relate to them. This emotional resonance can be extremely persuasive and has a great power to convince. As senior leaders, your storytelling capabilities can set you apart and act as a force for propelling your ideas forward.

Storytelling is an important aspect of leadership, providing a compelling route to raise awareness of strengths, opportunities and even threats to your organisation. We encourage every woman to find their voice and be unafraid to be the elephant in the room.

“Visibility is a tricky thing; is someone visible when you can point her out in a crowd, or when you understand what her life feels like to her?”

You can learn more about how to leverage the power of storytelling in our blog from the fabulous Beverley Glick. 

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Our Amplify Programme turns leaders into strong public speakers, boosting their impact and visibility through a transformational TED-style speaking journey.

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