12 answers

For female professionals: Have you even encountered any obstacles obtaining leadership positions because of your gender, and if so, how did you handle those challenges?

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I've always had slight concerns about being a woman pursuing a historically male-dominated field (in my case, psychology research/professorship), and I was curious what have been the experiences of women in leadership positions. Was it difficult getting where you are because of your gender? Are there certain fields where sexism is still a common practice? If you have had any of these experiences, what advice do you have for young women who may be navigating this environment? #leadership #women-in-stem #women #women-in-tech #women-in-engineering #sexism #women-in-leadership #women-in-higher-ed

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12 answers

Meg’s Answer

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These challenges still exist, although not as much as twenty years ago - and with the connections of the Internet, it is much easier to find support these days which can absolutely help you navigate challenges like this. If the environment is healthy and aware, there's two things I would recommend you focus on - 1) Exposure - make sure that you are exposed to opportunities that can help you. This includes building a gender-neutral support network that can open opportunities for you. 2) Visibility - make sure that you are visible within your field to the best of your ability. That includes visibility up the chain as well as downstream. In order for us to continue to make progress, those coming up in the field need to have someone to watch .


I once heard someone say "Make sure YOU know what you know, and then make sure others KNOW you know what you know" and I think that's excellent advice.

I'm definitely setting these goals! Thank you so much! Alexandra C.
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Ayanna’s Answer

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Hi Alexandra, I went and got an answer from a good friend of mine who is currently a female professor in psychology at a major university. Hope her answer gives you some insight:


Being a woman in the professoriate, specifically in the field of Psychology, can present some barriers depending upon the department. Some Psychology departments are still very male-dominated and as a result, still expect women professors to handle the “grunt work”. Mainly, male professors will sometimes expect women professors to handle all of the academic advising because they feel that women are nurturers and will do a better job with this. There are also instances of flirting, of which you need to be aware, and being called “Sweetie” or other pet names. However, sexism is not the only “ism” you have to worry about, there is also racism and ageism. If you are perceived as a “young” woman professor, your ideas and opinions may be viewed in a different way. “Oh she’s young, she needs mentoring, she doesn’t know exactly how we do things here, etc.”


As far as leadership positions are concerned, you want to be the best of the best and do not get caught up in the politics of your department. My advice in Psychology specifically is to make sure you are published. Make sure your research is solid no matter what type of institution you want to work for in the future (i.e. Research institution vs Teaching institution). When your research is solid and you have a line of publications, you are taken more seriously.


I hope this helps. Let me know if I can be of any further assistance.


Best,
Rashunda L. Stitt, PhD

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Ashok’s Answer

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Yes, those challenges still exists but not as much as it did a few years back. Even though those challenges exists, you have to have the right mindset. You should ignore those challenges and do as you believe is right. Don't build walls against your development. The world is hard enough but you have to believe in yourself. If you have the right mindset and believe in yourself, those challenges will be much easier to tackle. Best Wishes.

Very inspiring. Thank you! Alexandra C.
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Jordan’s Answer

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Hello-


I have to agree with the overwhelming majority above, that this is still a possibility. I believe we have seen great progress over time and there are many people working to continue to make changes on gender equality.


With that being said, approaching any position with this in your mind will only inhibit you. I have found it is best to approach each opportunity as it is rightfully mine. What work have we put in to be presented with the opportunity? What key pieces do we contribute to be the best candidate for the position? How have we set ourselves apart from the competition?


If we keep our focus the items we can control, as opposed to the outside factors that may or may not play a part in these decisions, we are far more likely to be successful. Be confident and trust that the right thing will come along!

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Monica’s Answer

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These type of challenges are still prevalent, and especially across industries which were predominantly lead by males 20-30 years ago. So most scientific fields, i.e medical, engineering, biology, populated mostly with males 20-30 year's ago, are currently lead by those same people. It is rare to see a leader who is female, but they are there and you can find them! And when you see them, they are likely to be eager to mentor or support the rookie females that are in the bottom ranks.


What I recommend is to reach out and let them know you are there, you are serious about your career and plan to pursue it for a while, and that you would like to be a mentee. This sounds ambitious, but it is welcomed by those leaders who went through what you are about to experience. And most of the time, the female leader will prop you up and give you her time and advice. Not only that, but its always good to be known to those who are up above and can advocate for you if you choose to lead as well.

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Roberta’s Answer

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Hello-


I'm sure they do exist in certain places and probably at certain levels but my experience in the companies I've been fortunate enough to work, this is very rare.


For example, someone was promoted here when she was 3 months pregnant. We simply started her rotational back up, another woman, at the same time so that when she took her leave someone was skilled to fill in for her and the was hers when she returned.


As Ashok says, ignore the challenges that you perceive and don't leave anything stand in your way of doing what you believe is right. If you want to try something, try it. If you want a position, got for it. Let people see what you can do. Let them know what you can do. Meg makes a good point, Make sure you know what you know and do what you can to make sure others know that you do.

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Elena’s Answer

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I was a 20 year old Computer Programmer and I couldn't get a job if my life depended on it. I dropped 200 resumes and got one call back. What does a girl from Greece (born and raised to be a housewife) that immigrated to Canada with no Canadian work experience, know about programming? My competition was a "guy who could walk on water"; needless to say I didn't get the job. 20 years on, I ignored everyone's advise to go find more suitable professions and I had a very successful and fruitful career, all of it in technology. Instead of focusing on the fact that I am a "girl" and the "limitations" that come with that, I focused on learning, growing, thriving and proving I can do the job. Today I am a subject matter expert in my field, I work for a company and a team that values my contributions and have a career that I love.

Focus on your goals and dreams, visualize how you will get there and get it done!!!
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Elena’s Answer

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I was a 20 year old Computer Programmer and I couldn't get a job if my life depended on it. I dropped 200 resumes and got one call back. What does a girl from Greece (born and raised to be a housewife) that immigrated to Canada with no Canadian work experience, know about programming? My competition was a "guy who could walk on water"; needless to say I didn't get the job. 20 years on, I ignored everyone's advise to go find more suitable professions and I had a very successful and fruitful career, all of it in technology. Instead of focusing on the fact that I am a "girl" and the "limitations" that come with that, I focused on learning, growing, thriving and proving I can do the job. Today I am a subject matter expert in my field, I work for a company and a team that values my contributions and have a career that I love.

Focus on your goals and dreams, visualize how you will get there and get it done!!!
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Apryl’s Answer

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I've worked for 2 major corporations over the course of 20+ years and have held a few different leadership roles. As a young woman in a leadership role, I would say my challenge was more around my age as opposed to my gender. With that being said, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. It's challenging, yet rewarding. Best of luck to you!

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Gina’s Answer

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Hi Alexandra, Sadly, inequities still exist in our world -- especially for women in the workplace. As a woman, who is a woman of color, and in a company that does not have an abundance of senior leaders who look like or act like me, I have found it difficult at times. However, I have not let it deter me from reaching my goals. So, to help off-set some of these challenges, I looked for female and male leaders who believed in and saw potential in ME -- in the skin Im in and with the mind and personality I possess -- and sought their counsel and advice for tools on how to manage and overcome some of these challenges. Many people would call this looking for a mentor, but I think that what most women needs is not a mentor -- its an ADVOCATE. No one gets to where they are alone, and most people are able to achieve their goals and navigate tough workplace situations by having someone who not only advises them, but also speaks on their behalf and promotes them even when they are not at the table. Advocates are not as easy to find as mentors, as they are often earned over time and mean that the person who is the advocate sees you as being worthy of investing in. So, show up and do good work, have informational interviews with leaders you admire, be consistent and intentional with your actions, and when you have developed a solid relationship with a leader take the BIG leap of asking them to help advocate for you and/or on your behalf. But, remember, before you can have someone else guide you and advocate for you, you MUST do it for yourself and do things that are worth advocating for. So, raise your hand for the stretch project no one wants to take on, look at it as a challenge, master it, and you will have a calling card or two or three that enable others to see your GREATNESS and speak on it even when you are not around. Pretty soon, you will be dubbed a leader on the rise, and then be a LEADER in your own right. And, lastly, when you do achieve that leadership position, turn back and pay it forward to another female leader on the rise because we WOMEN need to remember that we are our sisters keepers and can move mountains when we join our forces for good. Hope this helps... :-)

Gina recommends the following next steps:

  • Find a leader in your work that you admire, and invite them to coffee to learn more about them and how they were able to rise in the ranks at your company.
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Esther’s Answer

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Hi Alexandra. =) That is a good question. It's no secret that currently, women tend to make less money than men. I asked my company's VP about this during a special event and he shared an interesting fact: when there is a job opening, a man will apply for the job even if he doesn't meet all the qualifications but a woman would not apply unless she met all the requirements. I couldn't believe what he said because he was describing me! That's when I realized that I was the one who was holding myself back.

My company has an organization called Women of Wireless that helps women employees understand how to "promote ourselves" and gain the contacts and the experience to move into leadership positions. A lot of the training deals with being able to talk about our accomplishments (because as women we tend to downplay all the good things we've done and focus on the negatives instead), getting a mentor at the company who can help with your development and building a brand for ourselves (through our work, coworkers and social media). Learned a lot of things to help me grow and develop as a professional woman in the workplace and you can too.

Good news is you don't have to wait to be in the workplace to try out some of these things. You can start while you are in school ! It just takes some effort and the ability to stretch beyond your comfort zone. And I know you can do it too! Check out Sophia Amuruso's #girlboss book when you can. It is an amazing story of how she built her brand/business with lots of leadership tips along the way. You'll love it.

Esther recommends the following next steps:

  • https://www.npr.org/2019/10/25/773158390/how-to-find-a-mentor-and-make-it-work
  • https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/294093
  • https://www.algonquincollege.com/coop/2017/04/18/students-complete-guide-branding/
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/01/29/7-ways-to-talk-about-your-accomplishments-without-sounding-like-a-braggart/#7a39fbc16fcc
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Kirsten’s Answer

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I haven't personally encountered that in my career, and have been in many leadership positions. The best way to poise yourself for a leadership role is to first, be really really good at what you do. Become a deep subject matter expert and take your performance seriously. This means really understanding what the expectations are, and doing whatever it takes to exceed them. Remember that every day is an interview, so it's important to carry yourself as a leader at work. After you become the best at what you do, look to help others through mentoring and sharing best practices. Then, look for any ways you can help take tasks off of your manager's plate. Continually look for ways you can lead others, and practice your influencing skills. The #1 thing in your way will be you - so be confident and persistent!
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