Women are systematically discriminated against in the business environment. This is a fact that is hard to dispute, and the numbers speak for themselves: Less than 2% of all venture capital investments go to female founders; in companies that make up the S&P 500 stock index, only 8.2% of executive positions are held by women, while 40.5% of women have middle management positions. So, the higher the position, the less likely it is to be held by a woman.
This statistic seems unfair, especially since women, according to their immediate superiors, colleagues, and subordinates, are much better at managing tasks than men. And yet sometimes, the “glass ceiling” prevents even talented women from moving up, even though the very companies where women are CFOs and CEOs achieve higher stock prices: within 24 months after the appointment of women CEOs, the stock price of a company tends to increase by an average of 20%.
Women have a more challenging time with entrepreneurship due to prejudices, gender socialization, and societal expectations. From childhood, girls are encouraged to be non-confrontational and rule-following – character traits that do not enhance competitiveness. Society is suspicious of women who display “masculine” qualities and prioritize career advancement. But all of this is no reason to back down. History knows many examples proving that women can achieve great success in entrepreneurship: From 2014 to 2023, the CEO of YouTube was Susan Wojcicki, a famous American entrepreneur; Daphne Koller is one of the co-founders of the world-famous online education platform Coursera, while Doris Fisher founded the Gap clothing brand with her husband. What do these women have in common? What skills and qualities helped them succeed in business?
Professionals are usually taught only professional skills, i.e., hard skills. But after talking to successful entrepreneurs and managers, I realized that they are distinguished from most of their colleagues by their developed soft skills – that’s why I decided to create an app that helps to improve career performance by pumping these skills up. In this article, I will share the five essential skills that can enable women to achieve professional heights.
In any managerial position, you must communicate with people, present and defend your ideas, give feedback, and criticize correctly. All this is the skill of effective communication. It helps to organize the team’s work, prevent many mistakes, and strengthen your authority.
How to develop your communication skills.
First, practice active listening. During a dialog, ask clarifying questions, and repeat key points to ensure you understand the interlocutor correctly. Active listening increases mutual understanding and trust in you.
Second, look for opportunities for public speaking. Start small, such as speaking in front of family and friends. In the beginning, you’ll have to spend time preparing, but over time you’ll stop being nervous or afraid and will learn to improvise. Public speaking is a great way to practice your speech and develop confidence.
Third, ask for feedback and reflect on your mistakes. Celebrate your successes after a severe talk or an important presentation: what went well, and what could be tweaked next time? Peer feedback is a great tool as it can help you spot less obvious mistakes and get rid of them quickly.
Adaptability is the ability to adjust to new demands and conditions in the world around you. Entrepreneurs always deal with a lot of risks and unpredictable situations. Adaptability helps them not to panic when facing unforeseen circumstances, to find a common language with people, and to learn new things.
How to develop adaptability.
First, introduce variety into your daily life. For example, try taking a different route to work, having lunch at a new café, or taking a pottery class. This way, you’ll get used to the fact that change is safe and fun, and shouldn’t be feared.
Second, learn from others. There are likely people around you who respond quickly to change and know how to adjust to any circumstance. Ask yourself: “How do I react to unexpected situations?”, “What can I learn from the person I look up to?”
Third, try challenging yourself. If you’ve always avoided public speaking, it’s time to try it. If you’ve been shy about attending that dance – now is the time. You can move forward once you understand that a departure from your usual lifestyle is not a disaster.
3. Emotional intelligence (Emotional Quotient)
More often than not, professional success is not related to intelligence quotient (IQ) but to emotional intelligence (EQ). What is it, and why is it so crucial for career advancement?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and express your feelings, to relate empathically to others, to build relationships with them, to inspire loved ones, and to influence supporters. With developed emotional intelligence, it’s easier to work well with people. The good news is that women are much better at tasks that rely on emotional intelligence. Therefore, you can safely bet on this skill.
How to develop emotional intelligence.
First of all, practice reflection. Keep a diary of emotions, and analyze in it your experiences and feelings: try to understand what precisely in you causes certain emotions and how they affect your behavior. The more you know about them, the easier it will be to manage them.
Second, learn to work with your emotions: master relaxation and meditation techniques. Learn breathing practices that help you deal with stress, aggression, or anxiety.
Third, develop empathy. I’ve already mentioned active listening – empathy is needed too. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand how they feel and what motivates them. Express support and sympathy as often as possible. It is essential to remain open to other people and be interested in their points of view.
4. Personal Effectiveness
Personal effectiveness is the ability to manage your time, plan tasks, make decisions, and maintain high motivation and self-discipline. Personal effectiveness is critical for a leader because, without it, they will not be able to support the entire team’s performance.
How to improve personal effectiveness.
First, master goal setting. Every endeavor should lead to a goal, and a measurable one at that. Having a goal allows you to allocate resources wisely and rejoice in success. Start small: determine what you need to achieve your short-term and long-term professional goals.
Second, learn how to manage your time effectively. If you already have specific goals, identify the steps you need to accomplish them. Then plan a list of tasks for each day, week, and month. An essential condition: each task must have a realistic deadline; you must understand when it can realistically be completed.
Third, keep your motivation high. To do this, pay attention to your successes, even if they seem insignificant. Remember to rest: good, practical work requires equally adequate rest.
5. Team management
Team management is about more than assigning tasks to employees. A good leader should coordinate all the work, establish communication within the team, maintain a friendly atmosphere, and motivate colleagues to accomplish the team goals.
With competent leadership, even top specialists will be able to show good results, because team success is more than the sum of the abilities of each employee.
How to learn how to manage a team?
First, set clear goals. Each employee should understand what is required of them and what result the whole team should achieve. This increases its effectiveness. You can use different strategies for setting goals, such as the SMART technique.
Second, involve the team in the decision-making process. Involvement will help create a cohesive and responsible team with a sense of ownership. Employees should always be able to express their ideas, suggestions and wishes without fear of being judged.
Third, maintain a friendly atmosphere in the team. Companies with happy employees are much more profitable. Thank your colleagues, emphasize their achievements, and give only constructive criticism. A leader should maintain contact with team members and let them directly address requests and problems.
- Learn to listen to other people;
- Don’t be afraid of new things;
- Listen to your emotions;
- Work on your personal effectiveness;
- Maintain a welcoming atmosphere in the team.
Instead of a conclusion
In business, women face discrimination and stereotypes, although it is seen less often these days, as more and more people are paying attention to injustice and starting to fight it. In addition, a growing number of programs are aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs and professionals: clubs, communities, investment funds, grants, and acceleration programs.
I am confident that every woman who wants to do so can succeed on the entrepreneurial path. We must remember that leaders and entrepreneurs are more than high-class professionals: An effective leader is defined by soft skills – personal qualities that help them to reach the next level of work.