September 28 2021

She believed she could so she did

By Knight Transaction Services

She believed she could, so she did – embracing our own style of leadership – Intelligent CXO

Even in today’s society, women are still significantly under-represented in management positions, but why? Hayley Brightmore, Director and Co-Founder, Knight Transaction Services, believes there are several factors holding women back. She tells Intelligent CXO what these are and how women can overcome them to become leaders in their chosen field.

Things are changing in the boardroom. I’ve seen huge progress in my industry – the financial services sector – over the past few years. More women are reaching leadership positions now than when I first started my career. But we’re not there yet and all is not equal when it comes to senior management roles.

There are deep-rooted reasons for this, of course, and change has been too slow. But some of the barriers are within our control and we have an opportunity to make things better, both for ourselves and those who follow us. Here are a few things we can do – to lead by example and inspire the next generation of female leaders.

Banish imposter syndrome

There aren’t many women out there who will say they’ve never suffered from imposter syndrome. I’ve felt it ever since I was promoted to a managerial position. I remember going into meetings and sensing that people thought I must be more junior than the man I was attending with, even when I wasn’t. I felt I had to work harder to gain recognition for what I was contributing – and I still love seeing a flicker of embarrassment when people realise they have underestimated me.

As women, we feel this need for approval even when we know it’s irrational. I was always confident that I could get to the top, but there was still that niggling voice that made me doubt myself.

In general, men are better at quashing any self-doubt that might hold them back – while women think everyone else in the world is holding it together except them. I’m over-simplifying, of course, but the point is that it’s often about tweaking our mindset. Fake it till you make it is a cliché, but it’s only the same as saying ‘visualise where you want to be and act like you’re there’ – the latter just sounds better.

Substance over style

There is no right or wrong leadership style. Again, this is a common misconception that can hold women back. We should be focusing on substance rather than style. Respect is earned, not allocated by means of a title. Stay true to yourself and never expect anything from your team that you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself. Those are real leadership qualities.

Female managers can also lead by example when it comes to flexibility. We have a huge opportunity to drive change here. COVID-19 may have altered the way we work forever and there’s a growing realisation that being chained to a desk all day, every day, may not be the only way after all.

In financial services, working long hours can be the norm. And, of course, there are deadlines that need to be met and those deadlines aren’t always sociable. But leaders need to trust their teams to manage their own time, as long as the work gets done to a high standard. That raises the ceiling for people managing different circumstances outside of the workplace – single parents for example – and gives them the opportunity to work at the highest level.

This will be a big deal for female career paths. Historically, women have often been the ones forced to make difficult career decisions when starting a family. As leaders, we can empower the next generation of women by giving them both responsibility and flexibility. Presenteeism can shut the door on its way out as far as I’m concerned.

The more firms can provide flexible options, the more women will believe they can succeed alongside taking time out to have a family. The more women are succeeding in their careers, the more likely they are to consider going it alone and setting up their own businesses.

Balancing risk and reward

I haven’t met many women who have a ‘risk it all’ attitude. It’s generally the men I meet in my sector that are willing to take more risks. A cautious attitude to risk can be healthy, but sometimes we need to silence that niggling voice and take the plunge.

Our fear of risk taking can arise from our need for approval. Again, I’m speaking generally, but I think women worry about being liked more than men. Being liked is not a negative. It can also be great for more mature businesses – it’s proven to lower staff churn and create better working environments, for example. But it doesn’t always translate to driving growth in the early years of a business. That’s when the difficult make or break decisions need to be made.

This lower risk profile can hold us back from starting our own businesses and can make it harder to secure start-up funding. That’s why we need to lead by example and role models are crucial here. We all want to see people like us doing something that we aspire to. Every time a woman launches a new business, other women feel empowered to do so. That makes it even more of a risk worth taking.

Diversity in the boardroom

It’s vital that we achieve more diversity in boardrooms. This is broader than just a gender issue, of course, but women are still under-represented in numerous industries. This is ludicrous. The products and services being offered by many of these companies are directed at society as a whole – but society isn’t solely represented by middle-aged, heterosexual, white men. Why ask a room full of dogs what a cat wants?

A mix of personalities within the boardroom is simply better for business. Character traits such as humility, communication, empathy, empowerment and motivation are also proven to improve the bottom line. Guess what? That’s where we excel as women!

Rather than emulating our male counterparts, we should be embracing our differences and the benefits they bring. Let’s ask ourselves, what’s the best that could happen – not the opposite. It’s on us to silence that niggling voice of self-doubt by accepting and celebrating the value of what we bring to the table.