What Holds Women Back from Leadership

Last week in the San Francisco Airport, the September cover of the Harvard Business Review caught my eye. The image is a silhouette of a woman with a hair-do, circa 1950. Bright words across the black profile shout, “Emotional Bossy Too Nice – The biases that still hold female leaders back, and how to overcome them.”

Wow. Those words really hit home. So much so that I bought the $17 magazine and read the article on the way back to Dallas.

The discussion of second generation gender bias rang true and made me think. Actually, reading it was kind of a relief – I’m not the only one who feels this way! It is difficult to strike the right cord as a professional woman. If you’re tough, you hear the B word. If you’re nice, you get skipped over for the promotion. The good news is opportunities are increasingly there for the taking. Unfortunately, many young women don’t feel confident enough to throw their hat in the ring. And I can see why.

  • Many women aren’t supported or acknowledged when they take an initial leadership action
  • Current leaders tend to promote and support younger leaders with similar backgrounds and interests
  • Young women are often less assertive than young men

The article has some great insights into how we can help overcome this bias against leadership. It’s common sense really – the key is developing professional young women. Hire them. Mentor them. Allow them to stretch. Listen to their ideas. Assign them to lead an initiative. Push them to take on additional responsibility. Provide support, education and opportunities. Small projects lead to larger projects, and so on.

It will make us all better.