In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg recounts the story of a board meeting where all the men attending (plus Sheryl) sat down around the conference table, while the couple of women attending chose chairs that were around the edge of the room. Rather than taking their rightful seats (literally) at the table, they diminutively sat apart.
This hit home with me: I had done the same several years before at a board meeting. After that meeting our (male) VP, Sales & Marketing at the time told me I should have sat at the table with the rest of our colleagues, who were all male. He was right, of course.
Last week I talked about the gender divide that exists in HR leadership, yet concluded that HR — with its relatively high percent of women in senior leadership positions — has the ability to pave the way for women to take on a greater and more equitable role in corporate leadership.
Women and Leadership: What Gets in the Way
There is a common thread that runs through many of these quotes: leadership is about taking initiative and delivering an informed point of view.
But often a lack of confidence gets in the way. As journalists-turned-authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain in The Confidence Code, although women have proven they are competent and hardworking, lack of self-confidence can limit their potential. Without confidence, women are less likely to act, meaning opportunities are missed. The good news from their research is that confidence can be practiced and honed.
Gabrielle Toledano (Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Electronic Arts and member of Visier’s Board of Directors), who was featured in a Lean In story, shared part of her approach in Five Traits of Highly Respect HR Leaders:
“If you have data to back up your arguments, you can more confidently step up and deliver a point of view that could make a real difference in your business.”
There is an opportunity for HR professionals — male and female — to lead by delivering an informed point of view with confidence. Using data and facts as evidence to back up your strategies and ideas is a win-win — building not just your confidence, but also increasing your credibility and — perhaps even better — your business impact.
The best leaders are genuine in their thoughts and actions. Play to your strengths, but also be open to new ideas, information, and challenges. HR is the expert on the workforce. Become an expert on the business too so you can make better workforce decisions that have a greater impact on the entire business.