As the workplace continues to undergo a massive transformation, leaders’ mindset toward diversity is shifting with it. Women are now taking a seat at the table and effective leaders are empowering them to do so if they want to win.
However, promoting women to leadership roles is not enough. Anka Wittenberg, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at SAP, explains that women should not have to adapt to a historically male-dominated culture – they should have the ability to unleash the unique strengths they have to offer.
Wittenberg and other high-profile speakers shared their experiences at the recent Women’s Leadership Summit 2015, a half-day event designed to inspire women to adopt authentic leadership skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Authenticity is essential to leadership success
If there was one core piece of advice that speakers shared during the Women’s Leadership Summit, it was the power of authentic leadership.
Jen Morgan, President of SAP North America, described authenticity as “how you behave when no one is watching.” For Niloufar Molavi, Vice Chair and US Energy Leader of PwC, authenticity means being genuine and just being yourself, which she admits can be difficult.
Linda Rottenberg, CEO and Co-Founder of Endeavor and author of Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags, spoke about being authentically vulnerable. According to Linda, when we try to be these superhuman leaders, we get it wrong. We need to ditch perfectionism, and be less super and more human.
Everyone makes mistakes. Allowing your employees to see that you are flawed in some ways makes you more relatable and more authentic, which builds trust in your leadership. Linda Rottenberg says she tries to be “flawsome,” a combination of flawed and awesome. Don’t try to cover up your flaws – expose them and point out where you need help. Jen Morgan says, “A good leader isn’t afraid to ask for help.”
Instead of trying to emulate a leader you find inspiring and trying to conform to his or her model of leadership, understand your own strengths and weaknesses and build your own leadership style.
Giving ourselves permission to fail
There are no successes or failures – only learning moments. Rottenberg urged the audience to share not only success stories, but failure stories as well.
Failure is a part of everyone’s journey, and we must give ourselves permission to fail. The important part is learning from failure and not making the mistake again. Maggie Fox, SVP of Digital Marketing at SAP, says, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Otherwise you’re not learning.”
The biggest hurdle to get over is our own fear
Not taking risks is the riskiest strategy of all. Companies are starting to realize that if they don’t disrupt from within, entrepreneurs will disrupt their business for them and take market share.
For entrepreneurs, Rottenberg explains that “the best ideas don’t die in implementation; they die in the minds of the entrepreneurs who are afraid to move forward.” Her advice is to not focus on the business plan and perfecting your PowerPoint slides so much in the beginning. Instead, go out and test your ideas. This will help you gather proof points. Stop planning and start doing.
And you don’t need to have a hoodie to be an entrepreneur. In fact, the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs is women and people over the age of 55. An entrepreneur is simply another word for a “do-er.” There’s a misconception about the association of risk and entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurs aren’t risk maximizers; they’re risk minimizers.
Rottenberg recalled the questions she asked herself when she began considering starting her own business:
“Do I do what’s safe and expected, or do I do what’s unknown? Do I choose hope or fear? I did what all dreamers do – I chose hope.”
Oftentimes we look to others for approval to move forward with an idea, when we are our biggest critic. Our fear is biggest thing standing in our way. The important thing is to work through your fear of failure and embrace the journey.
Too often women turn down job opportunities, or fail to even apply for a role because they are afraid they they aren’t ready. More than likely, women are ready but they just need the courage to go for it. Your support network of mentors and other leaders will help you along the way. As Molavi put it so perfectly: “The answer is ‘yes.’ Know that other people will help you get there.”
Crazy is a compliment
Rottenberg shared the story of how she relished the name “La Chica Loca,” which she picked up in Latin America. Yes, she took being called “loco” (“crazy”) as a compliment. Why? She explains, “If you’re not being called crazy when you’re starting something new, then you probably aren’t thinking big enough.”
Stability favors the status quo, and disruption drives change. You need to let go of your fear, take risks, be comfortable with failure, and be a little crazy to create the change you want to see.
Jen Morgan explained that being fearless is a quality that attracts followers and builds loyalty. She suggests being “responsibly fearless” and using your grit to get past fear and guilt.
How we can move the needle
So how do we make the top of the career ladder less lonely for women? First, women have a responsibility to lean in, take risks, and take a seat at the table. Next, we need to support each other. As Madeleine Albright famously said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
But we also need to bring men into the conversation. Diversity is not about being color-blind and gender-neutral – it’s about embracing the differences.
Erica Dhawan, CEO and Founder of Cotential, made this point: “We can’t change gender roles at work if we don’t change the gender roles at home.” Educating children on diversity and authenticity will help shape the future.
For more exclusive content from the sessions, watch the Women’s Leadership Summit 2015 session replays and the Women in Leadership podcast series. You can also take a look at the top tweets from #SAPPHIREWLS with the event highlights storify.
This story also appeared on SAPVoice on Forbes.