Women Leadership Series

Accepting a promotion to first time Manager is a bold career move, exciting and scary at the same time. Being taken seriously is about being seen as capable and earning respect in our respective fields and scope of work. Also, being supported, and receiving meaningful feedback and recognition.

Yet many women struggle with this very important transition to Manager when they face a lot of resistance that triggers insecurities and makes them feel like imposters.

The Reykjavík Index for Leadership measures perceptions of equality for men and women in leadership. The latest report confirmed the pervasive idea in society that women are less suitable to lead than men.

HBR Podcast Women at Work “How to Manage Being Taken Seriously” episode, shares many examples of women who faced overt and covert resistance and sabotage from direct reports and peers that questioned their credibility and undermined their authority. For example:

–       Doubting a woman’s suitability for a leadership role.  

–       Being disrespected by peers, direct reports, and senior leaders.

–       Not being heard or having their ideas questioned.

–       Having a team not responding to their directives unless the big boss gets involved.

Mary Ann Sieghart studied beliefs about leadership in her book “The Authority Gap,” which she defines as a measure of how much more seriously we take men than women.” She says that because women are underestimated, they tend to be more interrupted and talked over than men. 

McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2022 report surveyed more than 40,000 employees from 333 participant organizations to get an intersectional look at biases and barriers women face, including women of color. The report reveals that women leaders are as ambitious as men but are stepping away from their companies due to constant micro aggressions, such as questioning their judgment, especially when they are women of color. For instance, if English is not their first language, they will be questioned in their ability to master the English language, or they will be asked about where they are really from.

I offer four steps that women and organizations can implement to mitigate daily headwinds for women leaders: 


For Women –

Know that you earned your seat, and the organization has put you there for a reason. Focusing on your strengths will allow you to use your existing skills and feel natural and authentic. Also, be open to learning because you need additional skills and a more expansive mindset to succeed.

For Organizations –

Women leaders recently promoted need to hear the reasons why they were selected for their roles. When things get tough, they need validation, so they can lean into these reasons to remind themselves they have earned the seat in the table, and they deserve to be there.


For Women –

Society seems to be telling us that women shouldn’t be in charge. At least initially, be willing to stay with the discomfort and make peace with having power. Take agency to develop your points of view, learn the rules of engagement to drive the agenda, and deploy your skills with integrity. Also, own your space and stop apologizing. 

For Organizations –

Provide women leaders with the organizational support and resources to take stands, make relevant decisions, and lead the way. Senior leaders can provide support by sharing their power and standing by their recently promoted women.


For Women –

There is a likeability vs. competence tension for women. Frequently, the more competent you are, the less liked you are. Instead of wanting to be liked, focus on doing the right thing, and do not undermine your accomplishments for fear of rejection. Also, strive for balance in your communication approach seeking for moderation. There are times to be assertive and there are times when a using interpersonal sensitivity will be a more effective approach.

For Organizations –

Women who do assert themselves may be viewed as too aggressive or unlikeable, creating a “double bind” that can make it challenging to navigate workplace dynamics. Organizations must prioritize DE&I by promoting inclusive practices that welcome the way women lead without being constantly compared to male leadership.


For Women –

It is difficult to do it alone. To succeed, you need a support system at home, good friends, mentors, and allies, especially male supporters in leadership roles willing to intentionally support you in removing workplace barriers. You deserve to get this support.

For Organizations –

Empower managers to be effective leaders. Train male leaders to become allies for women leaders by creating psychological safety for women who need to be legitimize in the role they have been promoted to. Help women leaders to have access to senior leaders who can become mentors and sponsors.

We all want to work in places that are equitable, supportive, and inclusive of our leadership. While there are many factors outside of our control that make it more difficult for us to lead, we must do our part by believing more in ourselves, learn the ropes and step into our roles. It is necessary to ask for help and build a support system to mitigate the struggle.  

Women have high ambitions, and they want to be in a place where they can thrive while feel respected and embraced. Organizations need to do their part by removing barriers for women leaders to earn the respect and credibility they deserve.

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