5 challenges women in leadership face at work and how to overcome them

I hear the same things cropping up when it comes to the challenges women in leadership face at work. And I think that we assume that when it comes to leadership challenges it's things like: How do I manage people effectively? How do I make sure I'm strategic enough? How do I return to work after a career break? 


5 challenges women in leadership face at work

In reality, the leadership challenges we face are less to do with training/skills but more to do with our beliefs and assumptions. Here are 5 of the most common challenges I hear from women in leadership roles. 


Shining your light

Now in the UK, we are notoriously modest but this is often taken to extremes. In fact, often I think we actively talk ourselves down. We believe that if we shine our light then people might not like us, thinking us arrogant or we believe that we might be found out as an imposter. So instead we hide our light. We don't share our ideas. We never stand up for what we think or we talk in a small voice. 

Whatever the reason it can hold us back. The outcome of all these actions means that people never get to really know what we're capable of and we start believing that we're not capable of more. 

To overcome this challenge we must recognise that acknowledging achievements is not the same as bragging and we must celebrate our own, and each other’s achievements, giving credit where credit’s due.


Asking for help

No matter where we are in our career, sometimes we need help but we're scared of asking for it (in case people think we don't know what we're doing) and that's why our network is our biggest asset. But when I ask my clients how they network they mumble something about how networking feels uncomfortable but in reality, we network every day. Because networking is just talking. We do this over coffee, at the water cooler,  over lunch, at the school gates. We network with other people all the time and in doing so in these natural, informal methods it feels normal. It feels like we're truly making a connection and building rapport - two of the key components of leadership. 

If you don't like networking in a formal manner that's OK. Actually, 80% of people hate networking too but I believe that what people really hate is forced inauthentic conversations. 

Instead, what we can do is find a way of talking to people in an authentic way that feels right for you that fits with your values and your ideas.  That could be meeting your friend for lunch or it could be sending a message to somebody we trust to ask for help/advice/guidance. Or if you notice somebody else having a hard time, offering to help them instead. Sharing our wisdom, experiences and stories are at the heart of our network, because that is where the power lies. 

If you hate asking for help and/or networking then take time to build strong relationships with people who you genuinely like. Remember it's about the quality of your network that's important not the quantity


Feeling lost in your career

Not all women are juggling a career and family life but women do tend to face different challenges to men such as breaking into a traditionally male network, balancing unique work and home life challenges whilst also trying to avoid those pesky feelings of guilt. The combination of these is at times can feel overwhelming and you might feel stuck in your role and situation.

The truth is that we are more resilient than we realise and there is no harm in highlighting this to help you with your everyday challenges.  

One thing that you could do is fine-tune your own perspective. You could do this with a coach or by yourself but here are four questions that you could ask yourself. Thinking about a particularly big challenge that you've been through: 

  • How did you find solutions/get through the situation? 
  • What did you learn?
  • How did this event change the way you look at the world?
  • How can you apply what you learnt about yourself and your ability to cope with the obstacles you face now? 


Being confident

One of the biggest challenges I see when I speak with my clients is their confidence. There's no quick fix for confidence. Sometimes it's remembering most people are rooting for you and if they're not, it's often their issue, not yours. 

Confidence, in my experience, comes with experience! However, in the meantime, a plan also helps you get clear on your purpose and what you're trying to achieve so that you'll be successful in getting what you want. This in turn builds confidence as you reflect on what worked and what didn't and of course, celebrate the successes along the way. 


Perfectionist tendencies

I've spoken about this before but many of the women leaders I coach feel paralysed by perfectionist tendencies. They feel like that email has to be perfect before they press send or they need to meet 100% of the criteria to apply for a job. Neither of these things (or the many other perfectionist thoughts) is true. 


I often recommend reflection exercises for clients when they get really stuck. It might be a short pause such as a few deep breaths or a short meditation. It could be a longer activity like a walk or a journaling exercise, reading a favourite book (I'd recommend Brené Brown) or watching an inspiring TED talk. All of these approaches have worked well to help manage beliefs around perfectionism. Additionally, I sometimes ask my clients to reflect on the question: what if you lowered your standards/expectations by 10%? 


As we understand the challenges that women in leadership face in our roles so we ourselves can be change leaders when we learn to empower ourselves to overcome these challenges.


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