Is this holding you back too?

This week I had the pleasure of a speaking engagement for one of our corporate members – Amey. In fact, this is me with the very lovely Julia Maloney who had organised the event for the Women at Amey programme. During our time together, we discussed a number of the things that are holding women leaders back. I see these patterns over and over, irrespective of industry sector and also role within a business.

We had such a terrific discussion and an opening up of some of the very real experiences women face. And it struck me that you too may find it helpful to know that you are not alone. Perhaps, just maybe, these factors maybe holding you back too.

I categorise the factors that hold women back into three general themes:

1) Organisational Policies and Practises.

This is a fundamental requirement for women to be able to develop her career, and increasingly, it’s as important for men too. The need for greater flexibility in ‘presenteeism’, part time work and flexible hours, working from home policies, strong maternity and paternity programmes are critical. Unconscious bias training is becoming ever more popular and important for all aspects of diversity and inclusion and not only gender. What’s critical about this theme is the need to embed the policies and practises into the culture and not becoming a tick box exercise.

Too many women tell me day after day how they are faced with some form of sexism or racism. They are embarrassed and unsure what they need to do. There is a tremendous amount of work we still need to do to embrace both the male and female leadership energies within our cultures today.

2) The Differences in How Men Navigate their Career to Women

What do I mean here? Well, most men have far more confidence and courage than women. They think about their career differently. For example, many are focused “What do I need to do land the next rung of the ladder?” whereas women typically think “How do I deliver a great job today, before wondering about what next?”.

Male leaders are very happy to negotiate their pay and rewards. On Wednesday a leader told me that she offered 3 jobs in the last couple of weeks. The two female candidates accepted their offers with immense gratitude. The male candidate asked for more money.

Men will push themselves to get more visible, volunteering to speak at the board or conferences (often wanting to go first to be remembered).  Women will be more inclined to wait to be asked and then have kittens – what me? And more often than not find a reason to decline.

3) Women Holding Themselves Back

And one of the biggest problems that we face is how women hold themselves back. Women often don’t know how to navigate the choppy waters of organisational politics.  And quite frankly many don’t want to. But what happens is that we focus too much on doing a good job and not about influencing, understanding where others are coming from, how to help others ‘save face’. There’s a lovely model I use with my exec coaching clients which identifies three important factors to balance in leadership: the ego, the relationships and the results. In my experience, women massively underplay the importance of people’s egos. And because of that, they wonder why they are not getting the recognition and the validation that they deserve.


Within the WLA we focus on how to help women find that inner confidence and courage. We look at how to build relationships and to be much more mindful of how others are playing out their stories and their needs. And most importantly we teach members how to become an authentic leader in the process. It’s critical that if we want to have greater impact and respect in the workplace, we have to become clear as to who we are, what our gifts our and to have the courage and the belief we can make it happen. To ‘lean in’ as Sheryl Sandberg described in her book of the same name.

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Perhaps over the coming few days you can reflect on where you feel you are being held back. And, more importantly, decide what you can do to turn that around. Until you get crystal clear on where you are heading, it’s very difficult to know what it is you need to do. But I also know, that if you are not feeling right today, then take a deep dive to find out why. The knowing what you don’t want or what isn’t working, often triggers us to look at perhaps what we do want in our lives and our careers.


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