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| Dec 16, 2022

Women Who Lead: Leveraging Adversity to Inspire the Next Generation of Female Leaders

Women in leadership possess more power than we are taught to believe — but disrupting the status quo requires daring and resilience.

Being a woman is a task. Being a woman in leadership is an even greater one. Not only must you remain ever-mindful of younger generations who look to you for guidance, but you’re required to navigate a world of work where gender inequality still thrives. 

In 2021, the gender pay gap in the U.S. rested at 16.9% — one of the highest in the Western world. While the gap has been steadily closing over the past two decades, the pandemic revealed women are still more vulnerable than men to market disruptions and socio-economic instability.

We possess more power than we might believe, however. The daring women protesting in Iran demonstrate just that, as do the thousands more who risk their lives to speak against violence. Iran, where women have long been treated as second-class citizens, has recently dismantled its “morality police” in response to the widespread backlash it received for the death of Mahsa Amini. 

This example is extreme, but it illustrates women’s power, even in the most hopeless, abysmal situations. So, what does this mean for women in the workplace who face a different type of adversity?

Why Now?

Being of Middle Eastern descent, these protests drew a little too close to home for me. When I was an infant, my mother, an American woman married to a Jordanian man, was essentially held captive in our home for refusing to adopt his faith. Despite the shredding of her autonomy, constant monitoring, and physical abuse, she took advantage of a dangerous opportunity to escape while he was out one afternoon. With nothing but her purse and me, she fled. We would effectively spend the next three decades in hiding.

My mother gave me life twice. Had she not taken a risk, I likely would have grown up in Saudi Arabia under the same oppression she endured, which millions of other women suffer daily. As she is my greatest role model, I feel acute responsibility to do the same for the women who will come after me. 

While the same levels of oppression may not plague Western women, we have all experienced what it means to be a woman in the modern workplace. Whether that’s being silenced, bypassed for a promotion, or denied the raise we deserve, professional women have a worthy battle to fight. How do we practice this to achieve results that will last?

Disrupt the Status Quo

In the fight to challenge the workplace status quo, there are two camps:

  • Succumb and say nothing;
  • Go to war.

While the former isn’t really an option, the latter rarely works. Disengaging achieves nothing and is often a slippery slope to “quiet quitting.” “Going to war” in the workplace means speaking against injustice and openly challenging inequalities. However, this bold approach can often backfire and qualify women as difficult to work with, emotional, or aggressive. There’s a third approach, though, which can deliver the results we want without the risk of backlash. 

Advocate for Yourself, the Right Way

Women often aren’t afforded the same level of assertiveness in the workplace as men. While refusing to back down can be quite effective for some, it’s usually accompanied by immense resistance, damaging mental health and resulting in bridges burned. Nevertheless, the double standard persists, and so must we. Rather than lamenting this reality, we can advocate for ourselves by:

  • Playing the long game: You may know your value in the company, but don’t assume others do, too. If you spot salary inconsistencies, keep a portfolio of all of your accomplishments rather than being confrontational. Keep a well-documented folder of your wins which you can share during your annual review.
  • Being proactive: When working on a project, make sure the decision-makers know about your contributions. Don’t shy away from speaking about what you’re working on and your wins along the way.
  • Seeking out a mentor: Studies show that 19% of men and only 13% of women have a mentor in the workplace. Sponsors aren’t easy to come by, yet they’re vital for our professional success. Look at all the decision-makers who can vouch for you and ask them to mold you. Don’t stop until you land one.
  • Building bridges: Women are builders. We have a unique capacity to empathize with people and build authentic relationships. Use this to your advantage. Help out your colleagues whenever you can. Demonstrate to your manager and peers that they are heard and understood. Having as many people on your side as possible when judgment day comes is invaluable. 

Practice Resilience

Do not allow the hurdles to stop you from completing the race. Dissatisfaction and injustice can quickly transform into apathy, but experts warn this can result in long-term repercussions for your career. 

Instead:

  • focus on your ultimate goal, not the immediate obstacle; 
  • free up your time by stepping away from soft projects, like planning events or setting up meetings, opting for projects that will more significantly impact your career;
  • take advantage of every learning opportunity to grow your skillset;
  • focus on incremental improvements, not perfection;
  • adjust your expectations — change takes time, so train your mind to modify your expectations and avoid knee-jerk reactions. 

Set the Standard

The steps we take today will pave the way for future generations. Being a visionary, in this sense, doesn’t mean assuming a combative stance or challenging things at face value. On the contrary, visionaries often must take a step back to act strategically in a way that will yield the best long-term results.

It’s incumbent upon today’s professional women to understand the nuances of what drives and undermines our success while taking proactive steps to advance toward our goals. Although assimilating to the status quo of workplace politics is tempting, it’s essential to remember that we set the standard for future female leaders. Leveraging our unique power for success and metamorphosis of the professional landscape is a mandate for my generation of women. 

Amera Ratliff
Amera Ratliff
Executive Author

Executive Editor, Massive Alliance

Amera is an Executive Editor with Massive Alliance. view profile

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