As a creator of Control Suite to propel the affiliate space, Stephanie Harris is a 16-year industry veteran and PartnerCentric’s owner/CEO.
The 2019 Women in the Workplace report by the Lean In organization and McKinsey & Company includes good and bad news. The good news is that over the last five years, the number of women in senior leadership positions in corporate America has grown. The bad news is that women are still underrepresented at every level.
Many of us have solved the glass ceiling problem by starting our own businesses. We’ve used the knowledge and experience gained in corporate America to build our own enterprises. But all too often, we encounter some of the same problems we did when working in a larger hierarchy.
Many of the barriers for working women have to do with cultural biases that have been ingrained in us throughout our lives. Female leaders can be reluctant to seem bossy, too opinionated, too strong or too emotional. So we adopt a more restrained and consensus-oriented style of management, trying to make everyone on our team feel like they have a role in any decision.
The problem with that approach is that sometimes a manager needs to take charge, be bold and not be afraid to take the bull by the horns and make some noise. It’s important to not only be seen and heard but also to state the case for action clearly and decisively.
I’ve found that getting to that point involves a combination of experience and education. But it also involves some thoughtful contemplation on the path you’re taking. As a female CEO and owner of a certified woman-owned performance marketing agency with over 50 employees, I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of having a voice in my business, and in my industry. It is important to the success of my business, and I think it’s an inspiration for other women to develop their voices and become leaders. As a mother of four, I understand the challenges of balance, especially now during the pandemic. Here’s my advice on developing your voice and being heard in a time when it’s needed most.
Create A Presence
It is important for all female business owners to create a presence within their industry and company. Visibility often equals opportunity. Seizing a platform and putting your opinion out there helps formulate your business’s future. Where do you fit within your industry and what goals do you want to reach?
Having a clear strategy is more crucial now for women, who are often seen as the default primary caregivers for aging parents and children who are being homeschooled. That leaves many women carrying a lot of extra burdens in addition to their careers.
Thus, developing your voice, stating your vision and providing direction to others in your company who may be experiencing similar disruption has never been more important. This also holds true for outside vendors and channel partners. It is important to create a kinship with them because that helps with building a strategy.
When you have conversations, you build rapport and thus create the opportunity to discuss projects that can aid you both — perhaps co-hosting a webinar, co-writing a blog post or putting a panel together for a virtual conference. This can help drive your voice forward when the traditional paths have been disrupted.
Learn To Be Definite
Your inner voice is another place where voice and vision can be important, and not only for your industry. It takes gumption, a certain confidence and perhaps a sense of being called to the opportunity to want to start a business. You are betting on yourself and a belief that you have what it takes to get to the next level. If you have that, and you can find mentors and examples of women already in the roles you wish to fulfill, then it’s easier to formulate the plan and the path for yourself.
More than anything, I think many women need to learn to be definite. When you are in middle management, it’s often easy for people to deal with you, since the final decision rests with a level above. The women are heard, but the tendency toward building consensus often emerges. As a CEO, a lot of your job is about coaching, team building and getting people to come up with solutions for you to consider. But especially in times of crisis, you have to direct people. In challenging times, people typically need less consensus building and more direction, less brainstorming and more definitive instruction, and no wavering. You need to be comfortable enough with what you know and what you don’t know to make a clear, confident path forward. Your team needs to know where you’re trying to go and how you’ll get there together.
Find Your Balance
In a sense, you are navigating a new world of responsibility right now. If you have children, they also have expectations. You also have a responsibility to the people you manage or employ who count on you. When I make a decision for my business, I know that 50 lives, multiplied by the number of families dependent on those people, are potentially affected. There are times when I have to balance the decisions I make for my business with those I make for my family.
Now more than ever, you may be pulled in several directions, but there are also lots of opportunities out there to get your voice heard with greater efficiency. Consider what tasks you can outsource, and never feel guilty about leveraging resources to fill in the gaps. Take advantage of the opportunities that are available now. Many conferences are now being held virtually, so you can eliminate travel time and still be an active speaker for your industry. From what I’ve seen, there are also a lot more people listening to industry podcasts, looking for answers. This is another way to get your voice out there.
It’s not an easy path, but for women who can step outside the lines created by social custom, it can be the most rewarding experience of your career. Establishing your voice and being heard can benefit your business and other upcoming female leaders for years to come.