Your Path to Leadership: How Young Women Can Overcome Bias and Grow Their Careers

By Sophie Letts, Meditation Help

Women earn 59 percent of all graduate degrees in the U.S., yet are consistently underrepresented in leadership positions. While the gender wage gap has narrowed and an increasing number of women hold prominent positions in the corporate and political spheres, young women who aspire to be leaders still face an uphill climb. A shocking 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are men, along with 93 percent of Fortune 100 executives, 90 percent of S&P 1500 managers, and 80 percent of tech industry leaders.

Why is achieving leadership positions so challenging for women?

It’s not for a lack of skill or effort: Countless women have recounted their experiences pursuing leadership roles only to be met with gender bias and negative stereotyping. Women are viewed as less committed to their careers than men and less likely to possess traits like assertiveness and risk-taking that are associated with leadership. When women do exhibit strong professional drive, they’re written off as “bossy” or unlikeable for exhibiting the same traits male peers are praised for.

Those problems carry over to the world of entrepreneurship, where women business owners struggle to access the capital they need to start and scale a business and are forced to leverage personal assets instead.

Despite the barriers that still exist, young women today have more opportunities than ever to become leaders in their fields. Companies are increasingly realizing the value of new perspectives in the c-suite and instituting gender inclusivity policies in response. Women are also becoming entrepreneurs in greater numbers than ever, and women-owned businesses now make up 42% of all businesses.

So, Now What?

The first thing any aspiring leader needs to know is this: Don’t give up. Setbacks and glass ceilings are inevitable, but as the number of women in leadership grows, so do the number of businesses that understand the value of the female voice. If young women persist beyond biased bosses and refuse to internalize false stereotypes, they can find their place in the professional world. You can get started by outlining your goals and following the SMART plan, which is defined as specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-limited.

Set goals that you can achieve, and then set to work.

For example, you could start by taking the bull by the horns. One brilliant way for young women to build a path to leadership and to set the tone for their career is by launching their own venture (see business statistics above!). Whether you have an idea that has been on the back burner or you just want to be your own boss, take things to the next level through entrepreneurship. But endeavor to embrace professionalism from the start.

True professionalism begins with a proper roadmap.

Come up with a clever name and register your business with your state, then firm up your idea through market research. A few surveys can help you determine if you’ve defined your niche well enough, then start building your brand.

Play to your strengths.

Next, young women who aren’t inclined to start their own business should pursue work that plays to their strengths.

As psychologist Alice Eagly, Ph.D. explains, a woman “can be using the perfect leadership style but unless they are willing to go along with [her], [she’s] not as effective.” People are more likely to accord a woman authority if her leadership style matches industry culture, so young women starting their careers should pursue industries where their strengths are valued.

Women with strong emotional intelligence and social skills thrive in helping professions, such as education, public health, criminal justice, and social work. These skills even come into play in fairly technical fields like speech pathology, which requires a graduate degree that can be completed online along with clinical hours. With high EQ, women can excel at both improving patients’ communication skills and improving patient satisfaction across the industry.

Emotional intelligence is commonly associated with women, but women leaders can thrive in traditionally masculine fields too. Women who enjoy tapping into their competitive, risk-taking side become executives at leading businesses in the tech, financial, and retail sectors.

You Deserve the Credit

Young women also need to take credit where credit is due. Women are less likely to receive acknowledgment for their good ideas, which holds them back from leadership positions. By amplifying the contributions of other women in the workplace and finding allies who do the same for them, young women can draw attention to unconscious bias and claim recognition for their accomplishments.

Finally, Don’t Underestimate the Power of Networking

People are biased toward the familiar, and when it comes to leadership in the workplace, familiarity means men. By connecting with leaders in their field and developing a network of other professional women, young women can change what people think of when they imagine a leader.

The modern workplace has a long way to go before gender parity is achieved, but young women shouldn’t let the status quo hold them back from pursuing leadership positions or embracing their startup dream. Despite the stereotypes, studies consistently show that women leaders are strong leaders. With a new generation of female leaders, women can keep pushing the envelope until seeing a woman in the c-suite is the norm.

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