Three daily challenges female leaders face at work – and how to help overcome them

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter to encourage us all to help forge a gender-balanced world.

Most of us are aware of the need for this in the workplace – a quick Google search will hit you with some truth bombs about the gender pay gap and some of the many challenges female leaders face. A Women in the Workplace 2018 study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org found that women are still underrepresented at every level, with women of colour being the most underrepresented group of all.

Women are doing their part – just talk to a female professional who has had to work almost twice as hard to create success in her career. Our founder, Gemma Leigh Roberts has worked with women in the corporate field for years and has seen first-hand how they face everyday challenges that are different to those that men may have experienced.

One particular project saw Gemma coaching a group of 50 diverse women over the course of 12 months at a world-leading financial corporation. All 50 women were already in a senior leadership role or were just about to step into one. These women had already battled the odds and reached a level of power and seniority in the business, yet still spoke about obstacles that crept up again and again.

While workplace challenges are unique for each person and our genders don’t define us at work, it’s important to note these everyday challenges and how to help overcome them. The three most common ones are discussed below.

 “It’s just my job, why would I shout about it?”

This is a phrase the majority of the women in the group would utter in different forms, suggesting that they were uncomfortable at the thought of ‘bragging’ about achievements in their current work environments. For many it was holding them back, as other senior stakeholders didn’t always know about the fires they had been putting out. So when it came to review time, peers who had kept managers in the loop with achievements and challenges fared better in ratings and sometimes even compensation.

It’s critical to find a way to keep managers and senior stakeholders in the loop at work, so that they know what’s been going on if the situation comes up in another forum. Acknowledging achievements is not the same as bragging and we must celebrate each other’s achievements and give credit where credit’s due.

 Networking phobia and the dislike of traditional conferences

The majority of women in the group we worked with didn’t like the the idea of traditional, formal networking events filled with so-called ‘fake conversations’ and forced business card swapping. Yet many of them didn’t realise they were already networking and doing it well – just not in the traditional format. It’s imperative that women continue to focus on building a strong and supportive network, especially if they want to compete with the ‘old boys clubs’ which unfortunately still exists in a number of industries, including the financial sector.

If the big formal networking events fill you with dread, focus on smaller events, where you have a genuine interest in the topics that will be discussed. If you focus on the event first, such as a conference or seminar and you’re there to learn something useful and interesting, the networking becomes secondary and not the main focus. Having this topic focus also gives you a starting point when striking up conversations. Take time to build genuine and strong relationships with people who you genuinely like. Remember, it’s about the quality of your network that’s important, not the quantity.

Challenges can get overwhelming without support from the business.

Not all women are juggling a career and family life, but women do tend to face different challenges to men such as: breaking into a traditionally male network, managing unique work and home life challenges and dealing with dominating stakeholders while feeling like they have to constantly avoid conflict. The culmination of these challenges could at times start to feel overwhelming and these female leaders could feel stuck in their current role and situation and unsure how to break out.

Businesses should offer resilience training, both for women and men to help battle this problem. Not only does enhancing resilience help to change perspectives to turn problems into puzzles that can be fixed, but it also helps people to thrive at work.

Many women are more resilient than they realise, but there is no harm in highlighting it to help them with the everyday challenges they have to deal with.

On a personal level, fine-tuning your perspective is one the most effective ways to enhance resilience. As a starting point, think about big challenges you’ve faced in the past and ask yourself:

How did you find solutions or get through the situation?

What did you learn?

How did this event change the way you look at the world?

How can you apply what you learnt about yourself and your ability to cope to the obstacles you face now?

Finally, we’ll leave you with two resources we’ve found super helpful and hope you will too: an online LinkedIn Learning course with proven success strategies for women at work, and a book recommendation: How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen to help with these challenges and more. Happy International Women’s Day to all and may we truly get closer to #BalanceForBetter tomorrow than we are today.


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