Last month, I had a fireside chat with Lindsay Pattison, WPP’s Chief Client Officer, when she was visiting India and was presenting to an audience of over 50 senior women from WPP. A pioneering force for women’s advancement at WPP, Pattison has created multiple diversity and inclusion programmes including Walk the Talk, an awardwinning equality movement that’s positively impacted the lives of over 1,600 women. Pattison laid out two elements that are critical for women to succeed.
1. Data matters: Proving the case for progress
When it comes to helping women reach the top of their companies, talk isn’t enough. Using data as a catalyst for change and as a baseline for measurement is imperative. Companies with high percentages of female board members outperformed their rivals by 53% in return on equity (Fortune). Companies with the most diverse executive boards are 21% more likely to achieve above-average profits (McKinsey). Clearly helping women get to the top—and stay there— makes a massive difference not just culturally, but financially.
2. Barriers to success can be both internal and external: Taking action for our own futures
There’s much focus on external barriers to women’s success such as unequal pay and gender bias in the workplace. While these things certainly hinder the ability of many women to succeed, the key to unlocking opportunity for women is to simultaneously overcome four internal barriers that are holding us back.
For generations, societal conditioning has dictated how men and women should act. Young girls are repeatedly told that they are not strong enough or smart enough, and that they are not as important as boys. Their personas are cultivated to be respectful and helpful to others. As a result, when many women enter the workplace, they bring with them an inner voice that continually doubts their own competence and worth. This results in a lack of faith in what they can accomplish, even though they may have the brightest mind or highest potential in their peer group. Silencing the inner critic is critical for a woman’s career progression and vital for her to thrive in senior positions.
Lack of confidence:
Imposter Syndrome is a feeling familiar to many women. An academic study found that this syndrome affects close to 70% of people at some point, but most prominently women. Imposter syndrome means that while we may be accomplished, we still don’t rate ourselves as highly as our male counterparts. A study from Cornell University found that men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both. In reality, women’s actual performance does not differ in quality or quantity from men’s on an average. And yet the gender confidence difference is real. Innovative training programmes that bring women together and help them build selfconfidence can go a long way in shaping the women leaders of tomorrow.
Staying in the comfort zone:
Perhaps one of the most limiting career moves women fall prey to is staying in our comfort zones. As we get older and more comfortable with our jobs, it is can seem easier to go with the flow rather than doing something to shake up the status quo. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, and fear of judgement often hold us back. But it is this very leap that women need to make in order to grow and progress. We must keep picking up new skills. We must be the first to raise our hands when opportunities come along. Once we trust ourselves to do this, the confidence gained from stepping out of our comfort zone directly impacts our self-esteem and outlook on life.
Tapping into others:
Another critical aspect that Pattison has considered deeply in her career is mentorship. She was very strategic about her mentors because she understood the power that others can have on your career. She believes that women should look at their own industry—and even outside it—to make a list of the top people who can really help them achieve their ambitions. It’s then up to each one of us to make these connections. Outside of merely building our own networks, Pattison also encourages women to be mentors to others: by opening up our networks and sharing contacts and resources generously, we deliberately treat others as we hope we’ll be treated in return.
Reaching the finish line:
While there are still many external barriers that we may not have direct control over, internal barriers to success are elements that we can work to overcome. To succeed, women will have to spend time focusing on themselves, pushing themselves to step outside their comfort zones and take on new challenges with confidence. Coupled with a supportive and encouraging work environment, we can take ourselves—and the women around us—further than we ever dreamed possible.