According to the survey of among more than 3,000 professional and college women, 6 in 10 women said they aspire to be a senior leader of a company or organization and more than half aspire to serve on a board. But 6 in 10 women also said that they find it hard to see themselves as a leader when sharing how they perceive themselves and 56 percent of working women said they were more cautious, as women, about taking steps toward leadership roles.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that women can develop leadership skills and increase their confidence. Cost, complexity and time commitment vary- but the key is to find the right fit for you. Consider asking your employer to invest in your professional development. Many companies and organizations will pay for classes and trainings. Your boss might also be willing to give you a project that enhances your leadership skills. Sometimes, just asking is all it takes.
1. Attend industry specific seminars. Almost every industry from law to accounting to public policy has associations that put on seminars and conferences. Universities and companies also host industry and issue specific events that are a great way for women to hear from seasoned executives in their profession, learn tips for advancement and find out about new trends and developments in their field. Becoming more immersed in your field and further developing your expertise is one of the best ways to move up the career ladder.
2. Seek out online training.There are number of free, helpful online resources that can guide your leadership development. For example, the website Mind Tools has a large index of articles offering advice on topics such as how to delegate effectively, how to build a positive team and how to be an authentic and ethical leader.
3. Enroll in a certification program. A number of schools, including the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, have certificate programs that are short day or week-long programs that train for a specific discipline. These programs are designed for working professionals and provide the opportunity to meet other like-minded people in the same field. The benefit of getting a formal certification is that in addition to learning valuable information you have a formal credential to add to your resume.
4. Get an MBA. Going back to school and getting an MBA or a MS degree in management and leadership is one of the best ways to develop your leader identity. Higher education helps many students, especially women, develop the confidence, credibility and expertise they need to advance in their career. Not only do you master technical skills such as finance, accounting and marketing you learn critical human skills such as how to manage group dynamics and effectively lead a team.
5. Talk to a mentor or leader at your company. Sometimes the best leadership training comes from someone who can tell you about the mistakes they made along the way or give you advice on how to further your growth. Having someone who can give you honest feedback and encouragement is critical for women at every stage in their career.
Leadership development comes in all shapes and sizes — it can be formal, higher education programs or more informal conversations that push you to think differently or expand your horizons. Remember, your leadership is needed, you don’t have to be perfect to be a leader, you just have to be passionate and authentic. The key is to seek out the resources you need, permit yourself to pursue a leadership position and empower yourself to seize it.
Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. Dr. Ledbetter was recently awarded a grant from Pepperdine University to start the Center for Women in Leadership.