According to the September issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Women Rising: the Unseen Barriers”, people become leaders by internalizing a leadership identity and developing a sense of purpose.
Unfortunately when leadership is equated with behaviors more commonly associated with men, it aggravates a tendency to think women are simply not cut out to be leaders. This misperception gets reinforced when powerful men sponsor and advocate for other men when leadership opportunities arise.
The article calls the subtle, powerful barriers that arise from cultural assumptions and organizational structure, practices, and patterns of interaction that inadvertently benefit men while putting women at a disadvantage, “second generation bias”.
How do we overcome these tendencies? The article suggests three actions:
- Educate women and men about second-generation gender bias.
- Create safe “identity workspaces” to support transitions to bigger roles.
- Anchor women’s development efforts in a sense of leadership purpose rather than in how women are perceived.
Identity workspaces are critical leadership development ‘safe’ spaces for learning, experimentation, and community. They include options like: a coaching relationship, a women’s leadership program, and a peer support group.
Anchoring women’s development efforts in purpose vs. gender stereotypes or style/image is also critical because it makes it easier for women to focus on shared goals, who they need to be and what they need to learn. It also makes it easier for them to carry through on critical activities like networking, which can sometimes feel inauthentic, if it isn’t a means to a larger purpose.
If we become aware of the subtleties of second-generation gender bias, and consciously create opportunities for both men and women to bypass and overcome those limitations, we can bridge the leadership gap and generate a more equal society.
And may you pursue your own leadership with passion, purpose, power and peace!