Businesswoman Addressing Professionals At Conference

#LeadLikeAGirl: Power Moves to Unleash the Potential of Women

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We’ve been overlooking the potential of half the population. It’s time to get more women in leadership, and start reaping the benefits for everyone.

2018 is going to be the year of women!

Or at least, that’s what CNN, Huffington Post, and Inc. all claimed. It’s an energizing way to start the new year, but the message becomes a little disheartening when you realize the same headlines with the same claims were written about 2017. And 2016. And 1992. And 1984. And time and again before that.

Will it ever be the year of women? It seems that we are perpetually standing at the brink of a breakthrough, yet the numbers barely budge. Women comprise less than 20 percent of the U.S. Congress. They make up less than 10 percent of U.N. representatives. And they are only 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. It’s progress for sure, but it continues to be painfully slow.

I’ve always been a strong proponent of women in leadership, and as I stepped into the role of CEO of my own company, DDI, in 2015, it was clearer to me than ever how few women there are at the top. In that same year, I was inspired by the #LikeAGirl Super Bowl ad campaign from feminine product company Always. The ad brilliantly took the age-old insult that to do anything “like a girl” signals weakness and inferiority, and transformed it into a message of strength and power. If you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to watch it.

So, I made it my mission to not only support the positive message behind #LikeAGirl, but to use that message to inspire more women to pursue leadership. Thus, I launched my own campaign: #LeadLikeAGirl.

My goals for the campaign are two-fold. The first is to help women develop the confidence to pursue leadership. As prominent broadcasters Claire Shipman and Kitty Kay say in their book The Confidence Gap, “Men think they can and women think they can’t.” DDI’s own research echoes this theme, with women tending to evaluate themselves as less effective leaders than their male peers.

The evidence, however, doesn’t support the idea that women are less effective leaders. Often, I’ve heard the gender gap explained by the idea that men are better at the “harder” side of business, while women shine in the “softer” side. However, data from DDI’s recently released High Resolution Leadership, examining 10 years of day-in-the-life assessment data and 15,000 leaders, tells a different story. Our research shows that it is not a difference in skills that is holding women back. There are no statistically significant differences in gender scores on “harder” or “softer” skills.

My second goal is to make sure that we include men in the solution to fix the gender gap. Because it isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a business issue. Organizations that ignore women’s potential to lead are undermining their own efforts to achieve their business goals.

There’s a lot of undisputed data that shows having diversity and female leaders in your organization pays off. Recently, DDI worked with the Conference Board and EY to publish the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, which showed that organizations that have above-average gender diversity (meaning they had at least 30 percent women overall, and at least 20 percent of senior leaders were women) are 1.4 times as likely to have sustained, profitable growth.

Furthermore, we saw the reasons why organizations with more women leaders perform better. Leaders in organizations that have more gender diversity are:

  • 1.5 times more likely to work across organizational boundaries and create synergies in their efforts.
  • Twice as likely to collaborate to create new solutions, and say that multiple perspectives determine success.
  • 1.7 times more likely to have leadership strength across their organizations.
  • More likely to experiment and embrace failure in pursuit of innovation.

Organizations that have more women leaders don’t just try to stick more women in leadership; they develop a culture that enables men and women alike to achieve their potential, which unleashes the holistic power of collective genius. In other words, these cultures achieve a whole that is much greater than the sum of their parts.

On May 7, I’ll be giving my presentation, “Amplify: #LeadLikeAGirl and Ignite the Impact of Women Leaders” at 3 p.m. at the ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO. I invite both women and men to attend, and learn how to not only ignite their own impact, but also become better mentors, leaders, co-workers, and fathers to this generation of women and the next.

As Warren Buffett said, “We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50 percent of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100 percent can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

See you at ATD 2018!

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About the Author

Tacy M. Byham, PhD, is CEO of Development Dimensions International (DDI). She is co-author of the book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others.

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Tacy, fantastic article! I'm with you on this and sending your article to my daughters. Looking forward to meeting you on May 7. Your research shows that male and female skills are no different but I'm wondering if your research looks at differences in values. I've found women are generally more effective leaders for the long term because they are just as strong in delivering task excellence and stronger in developing relationship excellence (and both are necessary for long-term success).
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I like the positive message of this article.
Thank you Tacy.
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