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Several issues have been discussed over the years about the role of leadership and its correlation to gender. Often, women feel they have been put on the sidelines when it comes to opportunities at the boardroom table. According to a research study conducted by leadership consultancy firm Zenger Folkman, women represent over 50% of the workforce but only 3-4% of them make it to the CEO level. What happens along the way?

Let’s take a look at some strategies women should employ to climb to the highest rung on the corporate ladder.

Work Smart

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In their research, Zenger Folkman asked women what the greatest challenge was for them while progressing through their organization. A synonymous concern among the female respondents was that they had to work twice as hard as male counterparts to get equal recognition.

Sometimes, the solution is not to work hard, but to work smart. Nothing new. However, most women assume that working hard means putting in long hours at the office alone with nothing but the coffee maker by their side.

This is not working in your favor. Working smart is the game changer.

It is a mindset that positions you for success, enabling you to:

  • Manage your time effectively
  • Look at opportunities available for your growth
  • Leverage relationships and networking
  • Give back to the community
  • Build on your strengths

These are the attributes people look for in a leader – being holistic. Think of it this way: working hard is like spending 8 hours daily at the gym nonstop, while working smart is exercising for an hour, eating your greens and drinking water. In the long run, the smart approach pays much higher dividends with significantly less stress on your body and your mind.

Own the Building

We have all heard it: Good girls don’t get the corner office.

The objective is not to own the corner office; the objective is to own the building.  

Some women walk with an invisible cloak hoping nobody notices them because they are too afraid to be judged. Well, as a leader, you will be judged anyway. The question is, what do you want to be judged for?

One of the traits global female leaders have in common is that they think big. Having the corner office is worth striving for, but picturing yourself in the 28th-floor corner office is thinking even bigger. Work toward what it takes to have that dream job or business in incremental steps. With time you will notice that the ‘noise’ people make becomes quieter.

Know Your Stuff

There’s nothing more humbling than a leader who knows when to roll up her sleeves to clean the floor and at the same time dine at the penthouse with her peers. Learning is an essential part to growing within the ranks.

Be in the habit of mastering the role you currently have because one day you will be teaching it to a successor. You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know your thing. Everyone respects a leader who knows their craft and can back it up with results; it’s called personal branding.

Learn to Listen

This is probably the most important of them all. Do not be blinded by the phrase ‘women are to be seen and not heard’. Active listening takes a learning approach. Through listening we learn what our strengths are as a team, who and when to ask the right questions, which issues in our communities we need to address, etc.

Growing in leadership is about people, and the more information you can learn about and from them, the better your chances are of discovering creative solutions and being a meaningful leader. Knowledge is power.

Challenge Yourself

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Scientists argue that the brain’s primary function is to prevent you from doing anything that will ‘hurt.’ Challenging yourself is one of those things that, in the moment, might hurt. But it’s critical to your professional and personal growth.

Challenging yourself is uncomfortable and that is why not everyone gets to that next promotion. Although more and more women have taken up challenging career paths over the last few decades (women engineers, firefighters, space travelers and analysts are greater in number than ever before), many women still shy away from pursuing a path seldom followed.

Believe in yourself and stand up to the challenge. Take up new roles or responsibilities, enroll in courses to keep your skills up to date or perhaps even take up a new language. These personal achievements will set you apart from the rest -- and will be the determinant when opportunities for promotions come knocking.


 The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Thunderbird School of Global Management or Arizona State University as a whole.

About the author: Annie Wambita '18 is a Masters of Global Management student at Thunderbird from Kenya and passionate about brand/product management, entrepreneurship, data insights and community investments. When she's not travelling and connecting with people around the globe, you can find her by the park where she enjoys doing her creative writing.