The path of any business leader is challenging enough as it is. But the course that female leaders must take is much more complex and demanding. A woman's professional success in her respective field is intertwined with particular social demands and often viewed in a generalizing framework. By that, I mean that when a woman succeeds, she is commonly treated as 'remarkable,' but if she fails, it is often a sign of inability born by all women.
The social phenomenon of the ‘glass cliff’ describes the high probability of females advancing to leadership positions over men at times of crisis in the corporation. Such circumstances, in a way, set them up for higher chances of failure. This phenomenon is an excellent example of the habit of the business landscape: giving women a chance only where other men had already failed. Often, this chance can be seen as a 'double jeopardy' – a successful woman is made into a symbolic icon, while a woman who failed to rise to the challenge will be met with scrutiny.
Thankfully, as we continue down 2022, we can discuss these disparities in the past tense. Of course, the challenges facing women leaders have not disappeared entirely, but as more and more women show up to claim their seats at the table, we see the decrease in the generalizing voices in the workplace. We are seeing prominent strong females in leadership roles–Sheryl Sandberg of Meta, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Anne Sweeney of Disney-ABC– and are thus understanding that strong, capable women can rise to success.
Yet, just because more and more women are slowly starting to make their way into the playing fields doesn't mean we should not be complacent; our job as women is far from done. The current duty of female leaders, aside from their regular appointed roles in the workplace, is to support, mentor, and inspire other females to enter the ring. To do so, here are two significant aspects we must keep in mind.
First, as more young women enter our industry, they look for other females to be their role models. So, we need to make sure that we are the role models they can turn to; we need to lead by example and inspire them in their leadership.
Secondly, we must improve the working conditions in our industry to be more accommodating for both men and women.
I learned these two important lessons from my female mentor and role model, Madeleine Albright. Albright is known for her breakthrough service as the first female secretary of state in U.S. history. Years ago, I was privileged to observe her, at a business lunch in the early 2000s and she was genuinely inspiring. I found her to be a bright and insightful woman willing to advise and encourage others while keeping an unapologetic attitude and high demands of herself and those around her. Her willingness to encourage women and her commitment to building them up were truly remarkable. She taught me the importance of female leadership.
Albright, a feminist icon by any standard, has been quoted stating that “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." An approach that shocked some in the past but today is adopted and portrayed by most female leaders, especially those in business. Therefore, every year on International Women’s Day, I am reminded of her and her legacy. A ritual I recommend to all women is to practice what she preached, especially on this day. Take a moment to reflect upon the woman that was your role model or mentor. Remember her character, stature, and the moral requisites she demanded of herself and other women leaders. Let yourself be swept by that feeling of admiration and respect you felt when seeing her in action.
Then take a few more moments to think about your company or organization, your position in it, and the other women working there– especially the young ones. Think about how simple it can be to inspire them and have a positive effect on their careers, leadership skills, and lives– to invite them to have a seat by you at the table. It is literally just an email or a text message away. Make someone’s International Women’s Day, be the moment their role model story begins.
Written by Yodfat Harel Buchris Managing Director AT Blumberg Capital