Embracing Your Achievements as a Female CEO.

When a friend first suggested this topic to me, my initial thought was that as a woman I don`t want to be another “feminist lady” contributing to the world’s belief that we need to publicise the topic of female leadership, prove anything to anyone and convince the world of our professional competence as leaderesses. I believe that the competence as a leader should in no way be tied to gender.

It is a bit of a medieval approach, in my opinion. My wish is that this belief could become  as obvious and common as the male leadership attributes. Certainly, there are gender differences in leadership, but these should not relate to levels of competence, but to management styles and profiles only. Nevertheless, there is no point in conjuring up reality and pretending that this is the case. It would be wishful thinking unsupported by real life.

My second thought was, which is a personal confession and something I have to admit first and foremost to myself, that I am a vivid example of undervaluing my own achievements. What exactly does this mean? The company I have been running for the past four years has achieved measurable successes. On many levels, we not only achieve but actually exceed our targets. This is mainly the result of the two issues: the long-term strategy that the company has implemented and its execution. The first is the result of the vision and work of the Board, and the second is the result of the outstanding collaborative effort of the entire Team.
Whenever someone recognises  my achievements as a CEO, I always find myself downplaying my role, attributing them to teamwork solely. No teamwork, no great outcome. While a cliche, it is very true. Nowadays, to build goal oriented Team that will cooperate across departments smoothly is not a no-brainer at all.

Let me showcase one example from my own life. A few weeks ago as I was returning from the Headquarters and by a complete coincidence met one of company’s Owners at the airport. We were actually booked on the same flight to Berlin. By the way – the world is really small at the end, isn’t it? When we got off the plane he congratulated me on our results. I thanked him for this recognition and almost automatically deflected praise to the team neglecting my own effort. He admitted that the success is the tangible outcome of the Team, however there is always a leader at the helm. “These congratulations are for you!”, he added.
This made me reflect that it was neither necessary nor rightful to pass the recognition onto somebody else. It is a leaderess’s attribute to be able to accept praise without false modesty, after all.
It has  been more than 100 years since women obtained  the same career prospects as men. Despite this, no country in the world has closed its gender gap so far. Have you ever wondered why we still cannot manage this?

Beyond obvious cultural differences, woman role model legacy, the need to balance motherhood with career and some stigmatization by men (it is a fact, unfortunately, as well) there seems to be a deeper issue at play.

Zenger and Folkman surveyed the leadership skills of 4 779 women and 3 876 men between 2016 and 2019. What they found is that women outscored men in 17 out of the 19 (!) categories that differentiate an excellent leader from an average one. The question is,  why female leaders underestimate their successes? The findings regarding confidence apply to the whole of a  professional life of an individual. This does not refer to performing leadership skills only but is starts from applying for a job.

Women might only apply for a job or promotion when they are a perfect fit for the requirements while men exhibit overconfidence about their skills. They are eager to take risks and apply even if they don’t meet the criteria in more than 50%. The shortage of female confidence is increasingly well quantified and well documented. Evidence shows that women are far less self-assured than men. To succeed though, self-confidence matters as much as competence. Do men doubt themselves sometimes? Surely! But they do not allow  their doubts to stop them from taking action. Whereas women tend to resign before they even start.
This means that despite a patriarchal business environment driven and managed by men, the current status quo is partly women’s responsibility, too. This means that it is us who have the power to challenge the status quo.

Statistics show that women excel at various areas, including STEM, are more people-oriented, better team players, more emphatic,  better multi-taskers and focus on both the destination and the journey itself. Emotional intelligence, which definitely is a female feature, becomes a distinctive organizational signature that may provide the company with a distinct advantage over competitors.  While having all necessary attributes, we need to be more decisive, confident and courageous in taking control of our lives and careers.
It will be ages before the professional world treats us as equals. What we, women,  can do is start speaking out, being transparent and honest (to ourselves as well) and calling a spade a spade when it comes to our achievements and successes. This is what healthy self-esteem is all about, after all. Isn’t it?

This explains why I did not follow my initial thought of not wishing to be a part of the dispute over the gender gap. After a second thought, I decided to take a voice and tackle this topic because it matters!
I urge all women to celebrate our achievements and recognise our value as leaderesses. And I am the first person that needs to apply this …., I guess.

Let’s embrace our accomplishments and inspire others to follow us.

I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.

Ginni Rometty; Executive Chairman, IBM