By Linda Jimenez
Chief Diversity Officer & VP- Diversity & Inclusion, WellPoint, Inc.
Earlier this year, I sat through an incredible acting performance by Meryl Streep in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. While no woman has been president of the United States yet, the movie made me reflect on several thousand years of leadership by other great women— Cleopatra in Egypt, Isabella of Castile, Queen Elizabeth in England, and Catherine the Great of Russia— and the qualities that made them effective leaders. I believe the single greatest quality they all shared was self-confidence. And, of course, Margaret Thatcher herself was the epitome of self-confidence in her role as prime minister of England.
I recently read about an experiment called the “Goldberg paradigm,” in which people were asked to evaluate a particular newspaper article or speech, supposedly written by a man. Others were asked to evaluate the same material, but were told it was written by a woman. Regardless of their country of origin, participants in the study rated the materials they thought were drafted by a man higher. One notable finding from this research was that for men, self-promotion is a successful strategy. However, the study demonstrated that when women promoted their own accomplishments, it was less effective and often perceived as “pushy.”
What is clear is that confident, effective women leaders are willing to stand out from the crowd and take risks to make their mark. They often have strong networks of influencers who help them get things done. Knowing people who have power can be a confidence builder for women leaders. They are able to identify the right gatherings where they can be in the company of the right people with the right contacts to help them meet their goals.
Now, more than ever, we need confident women leaders. According to an Intuit, Inc., study, the way women live and work is expected to change during the next decade. In addition to the powerful worldwide consumer force that women represent today, factors such as urban migration, increased access to education, mobile technologies, “micro-credit” and low market entry costs are expected to create a global “she-conomy” in which more than a billion women will enter the workforce or start business by 2020
In fact, beginning this year, women will officially outnumber men in the workforce. And, women have many strengths and talents that are well-suited to respond to the challenges of today’s economy—but only if they have the confidence to put their ideas into action and inspire others to follow their lead.
I have the honor of being one of the co-chairs of Women of WellPoint (WOW). Frequently I am asked by members to share my thoughts on what makes a great female leader. My answer is this: There shouldn’t be a different standard for men and women leaders. On the contrary, I believe that the definition of a “great leader” is evolving to integrate a balance of traditional masculine and feminine traits—combining what are traditionally considered “female” traits of compassion, inspiration, empathy and collaboration with more typical “male” traits of bottom-line thinking, focus, directness and healthy competition.
While men have created the majority of the leadership systems that are the framework for today’s businesses, looking towards the future, I believe our best bet is to create a new framework that combines both masculine and feminine models and stresses collaboration and innovation. We then need to groom strong, confident female leaders to take the helm. After all, since women will begin to outnumber men in the workplace this year, shouldn’t the leaders of our major corporations mirror their workforce and consumer base?
If we look back at female leaders throughout history, those who were regarded as successful maintained their self-confidence even among men. To be a strong female leader, you must be confident in your abilities. If you don’t have the confidence to make decisions and maintain commitments, then empowerment is just an empty word. l believe that confidence is the foundation of great leadership. Conversely, great leadership means having the confidence to make decisions and not being afraid to step up and rise to a challenge.
Linda Jimenez has spent 20 years specializing in labor and employment law.