This Tuesday men and women from around Buffalo came together to learn how to close the leadership gender gap. We learned that though women actually comprise the majority of the United States’ population, they hold only 17% of the nation’s legislative seats and 3% of executive positions in Fortune 500 companies.
One of the panelists who helped shed insight on this topic shared that though she has always wanted to run for Congress, she knows the struggles she is up against as a woman. In the film Miss Representation and in Tuesday’s discussion after the screening, we discussed the double standards women in leadership face.
We expect leaders to be stoic and calm. When women act thus, they are accused of being cold and calculating – the kind of scrutiny Hilary Clinton has faced. Yet when women show more emotion, they are seen as unstable and even manipulative – scrutiny Clinton also bore during a rare show of emotion in her 2008 presidential campaign.
We expect leaders to act according to certain unspoken rules. We criticize our women leaders for following these expectations, and criticize them for deviating.
Yet what leaders want most, male or female, is to lead based on their own strengths and personality. Tuesday’s panel of local leaders shared how they have faced and risen above the double standard in their own lives.
Awareness then Action
“It’s a matter of accepting that fact but not going along with it at the same time,” encouraged Tracie Lopardi, partner at Harris Beach Attorneys at Law. Tracie explained, “You can still maintain the face that you are a female and maintain those leadership roles.” She says for women, successful leadership is a matter of knowing who is around you, understand how they might perceive you, and using that information to navigate difficult situations to be the best leader you can be.
People Make the Difference
For Heather Filipowicz, Executive Director and President of the WNY Women’s Foundation, solidarity is essential to overcoming the leadership double standard. “I always think about it in terms of helping the sisterhood,” she said, explaining mentorship and support in terms of “reaching back” and “reaching forward”.
In her own life, Heather can see the ways women believed in her, helped her develop and helped her step up into leadership. At the same, she says, it’s important that women reach forward, connecting with others for advice, support and guidance.
“Many women tear each other down,” she shared, “and you have to work really hard not to do that.”
Be True to Yourself
Cindy Odom, CEO of the Girl Scouts of WNY, shared from her own experiences where she has been underestimated or misjudged. “You know what you want to do and you realize there are obstacles, but to thine ownself be true,” she said.
Cindy advised new leaders to determine their goal and assess the obstacles, knowing there will always be someone who underestimates your capabilities. With your goal and potential obstacles in mind, Cindy explained that you have the power to choose what you will and won’t do. “The great thing about it is that you decide,” she said, “and when you do that, nobody can stop you.”