Female leaders at Simmons University and Deloitte US offer advice to women who have arrived at the top but are struggling to thrive
Whether the Great Resignation is really a thing or a passing phase, we are undoubtedly living through times of deep uncertainty and economic stress. Lest they are overlooked as pressure builds, the key drivers for retaining women through their careers and their progression to senior leadership—not only flexible working practices, but also diversity and inclusive leadership—should be doubled down on.
Fifty years on from the Women’s Strike for Equality, with 41 women including 2 black women listed as Fortune 500 CEOs in 2021, there has been significant progress—but at less than 10% not enough. In the UK, women account for just 6% of FTSE 100 CEOs—disappointingly unchanged in five years. It’s slightly better in other senior roles (e.g., 17% of Fortune 500 COIs are women), but there are many countries with far worse gender equity than the UK or the US.
In 1970 one might have hoped a book specifically aimed at helping women leaders thrive would not be necessary fifty years on—it clearly still is.
In this climate, Arrive and Thrive: 7 impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership is timely. Taking the premise that women who achieve senior leadership roles often arrive but fail to thrive and are often lucky to survive, the book offers practical advice from three successful leaders: Janet Foutty, Executive Chair, Deloitte US; Lynn Perry Wooten, President of Simmons University; and Susan MacKenty Brady, CEO Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership—drawing on their decades of experience and that of a wide range of contributors from various sectors.
As with diversity and inclusion in the workplace generally, it has been proved that gender balance at senior levels of leadership benefits company performance and helps the bottom line, and yet there are clearly barriers that can prevent female leaders from fulfilling their potential. Some may be systemic—poor working practices, unconscious biases, sclerotic leadership pipelines, etc. However, many come from women leaders themselves—the way they approach work, their mindset, and the way they lead others. Most of these barriers are little understood.
Having arrived in a senior role men and women can both suffer from ‘imposture syndrome’, but for women there is often also the sense that they are forcing themselves to be something they are not, showing up as something they feel they are expected to be—echoing norms set by men—which leaves them feeling less than ‘real’. Avoiding this and embracing authenticity is one of seven leadership practices identified by the three authors as being key to thriving at the top. The book’s seven chapters analyze these seven practices:
Invest in your best self. Knowing yourself and finding the place where you can be in the present, lead with positivity, and have compassion for yourself.
Cultivating courage. To quote Baltasar Gracián, “Without courage wisdom bears no fruit.” Don’t let a fear of failure hold you back and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Fostering Resilience. In the context of a rapidly changing world, resilience is more than just overcoming setbacks to defend the status quo. It is about adapting to change.
Inspiring a bold vision. This needs to come, not from ‘inside’, but from noticing what’s ‘outside’ and listening to and engaging with others to “create a future that does not yet exist.”
Creating a healthy team environment. The key is to personify what you as a leader value and what your organization values—being supportive, collaborative and open.
Leading inclusively. Create a culture of equity and inclusion and be a model for other women.
Embrace authenticity. Bring your ‘real’ self to work.
Aimed at women stepping up to board and senior levels of responsibility, there are many lessons in this inspiring book that can be of concrete value to middle managers and would-be senior leaders—and even, dare I say it, men.
‘Arrive and Thrive: 7 impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership,’ Susan MacKenty Brady, Janet Foutty, and Lynn Perry Wooten. Published by McGraw Hill, ISBN 978-1-264-28635-5