Women earning leadership positions in this country is nearly impossible. If you add the word introvert to it as well, it may seem like your chances of becoming a leader are pretty bleak. However, I’m a woman, and I’m an introvert. Yet, I like to believe that I’m a leader, having been an entrepreneur and in executive positions for six years. If you think about what a leader should be, it’s not so far off from a female introvert. A leader should be thoughtful, strategic and inspire others. A leader should make sound decisions with quick reaction times, and a leader should be accountable and responsible for the team. If you make a list of the actual leadership skills you want to have in your leadership roles, you soon discover that introvert and female really don’t matter.
The issue is the perception. You think of “The Wolf of Wall Street” or some similar version. Our mental bias instantly goes to the extroverted man. I would argue that those folks may, or may not, have the skills you need. If you recognize your own biases when hiring and promoting, it will greatly help you find someone most qualified, and leadership is too important a role not to carefully consider.
If you are an introverted female reading this, who aspires to gain a leadership role, I urge you to grow in your strongest areas and continuously capitalize on your strengths. Make lateral moves across the organization and develop a holistic knowledge of your business. This will give you more informed decision-making capabilities, which is a tough type of value to find from anyone inside of a business. What you cannot do is wait to be noticed.
Introverts, and women, both suffer from this fate. You don’t have to grab the mic and yell to get the attention of the boardroom. Show value, consistently, and to the right people. If the value you bring is worthwhile, that should be your magic formula. And if it isn’t, ask yourself how many other women leaders there are in your organization. If institutional sexism is the problem, it may be time for you to find your path elsewhere.
While I urge women to pursue entrepreneurship as an alternative path to financial freedom, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the struggle for the female entrepreneur is real. In my personal opinion, working for yourself saves you from those workplace statistics you see rampant: women get fewer promotions, less representation in leadership, lower pay, harsher criticisms, etc. Since I can’t harass myself, I feel a sense of safety from the #METOO stuff in my daily work, but that’s about where the safety net ends. The truth is that the entrepreneurial environment has its own unique set of struggles for a female. Researchers recently found that while female founders yield a higher return on investment, investors are far less likely to invest in them.
I am involved with raising capital for our company, Digits, now. I can’t help but wonder how real these statistics are. It certainly feels depressing to know that women may run a better business, but we receive less investment. In my purely female-owned venture, Digital Unicorns, I just pray we don’t ever need to fundraise, given the harsh statistics pointing against us.
Outside of funding, female entrepreneurs tend to be overlooked as having the chops to run a business. There’s the infamous story of Birchbox getting turned down over and over despite being a home run of an idea. Do you want to sell people free samples? Yes, please. Prior to my current portfolio of companies, I’ve had male employees’ wives refuse to let their husbands work with me. I’ve had a boardroom full of men never make eye contact. I have even been accused of sleeping my way into client engagements. I’ve yet to understand the functionality of that assertion, given that procurement offices do not accept sex to my knowledge.
I survive by always keeping a network of male friends who teach me the ropes of being a man in business, and coming up with clever workarounds whenever I get stuck. As women, our only way of succeeding is to find people who we aspire to be, and build the type of relationships where we level each other up. The people who work closely with me definitely do not portray the average male-dominant statistics. If they do, they aren’t around me for long. Nevertheless, be strong and keep your head up. Not so long ago we couldn’t vote. It’s my hope that this idea of women as a minority group in business will be a remnant of the past.
Jessica Higgins, JD MBA BB is a researcher, consultant and marketing communications professional. Her research and books help executives and everyday people better understand the impacts of emerging cultural trends. She holds executive and board positions in companies in technology, consulting and the arts. Her book, The 12 Essential Business Communication Skills, will release in September of 2018.