Ushering in a New Generation of Women Leaders

Jun 8, 2012 | Uncategorized

It’s that time of year when the next generation of business and social leaders march to Pomp and Circumstance and culminate years of education with a toss of their cap. It’s time to enter the real world—one that looks very different from when most of us began our careers as future women leaders. There are more opportunities, but there are also new challenges.

Today, more women are in leadership positions than at any time in this country’s history, and in fact, world history. Women hold 51 percent of all management and professional positions. There are 92 women currently serving in the U.S. Congress. Also, as we know well, women have been starting and growing businesses at a record rate. The Center for Women’s Business Research reports that 20 percent of all businesses over $1 million today are owned and led by women, and many of these are multi-million dollar enterprises.

The leadership landscape has shifted in our favor, yet we continue to underestimate our abilities and worth and aim too low, and are nowhere near an equal presence in high-level leadership positions when compared to men. Women in the C-suite are stuck at just 15-16 percent—nowhere near half—and have not moved in a decade. It’s up to this next generation of women leaders to join us and continue on the journey to closing this gap, but today’s economy is further complicating matters for us all.

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg recently spoke to this next generation as they graduated from Harvard Business School. (Coincidentally, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of letting women into the school). “You are entering a different business world than I entered. Mine was just starting to get connected. Yours is hyper-connected. Mine was competitive. Yours is way more competitive. Mine moved quickly, yours moves even more quickly,” she told the Class of 2012.

Sandberg also said, “As traditional business structures are breaking down, leadership has to evolve as well—from hierarchy to shared responsibility, from command and control to listening and guiding. As you lead in this new world, you will not be able to rely on who you are or the degree you hold. You’ll have to rely on what you know. Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, but from building trust and earning respect. You’re going to need talent, skill, imagination and vision. But more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job.”

A lot has been said over the years about what makes a successful woman leader. The ability to communicate clearly with honesty, integrity and empathy; to solicit good ideas and honest feedback; to work on your business, not in it; to promote innovative thinking and acting; to embrace change as an opportunity; to be fearless of failure and take smart risks; to have good intuition to lead you in the right direction; and more.

What would you tell this next generation of women leaders it takes to lead in today’s environment? What do you think will move women closer to equality? I’d love you to share your thoughts here.

Meanwhile, as NAWBO® National prepares to induct our 2012-2013 board, I’d like to thank current Chair Evelyn Strange for giving her time, talent and passion to lead our board this past year. We’ve accomplished amazing things together and are excited to build on them in the coming year under the leadership of Chair-Elect Laura Yamanaka.

As our chapters change board leadership, too, I’d like to invite all new chapter leaders to connect with NAWBO® National for news and best practices through our Leadership Boot Camp event on June 21st (optional dinner) and 22nd in Atlanta and our ongoing Presidents Assembly calls held the third Thursday of every month (although this month’s will be on June 28th because of Boot Camp). Look for details in this issue of Focus!

—Diane Tomb, NAWBO® president and CEO

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