We asked a senior female leader, Jackie – an External Relations Director – for her advice on how to see yourself as a leader.
“It’s a slightly unhelpful answer but actually, it does come down to time and experience. I think it is harder to see yourself as a leader when you’re first in a job – regardless of gender – because there is something about your positioning in an organisation that gives you some credibility, and that tends to come with time.
“However, it’s also about being confident and knowing that you’re rightfully at the table whatever level you’re at. I think it’s something a lot of women struggle with – imposter syndrome – but actually to be confident about what you know and the skills that you bring, and that you have expertise that you have to offer is very important. Sometimes it’s just recognising that everybody’s faking it… as they say. I’m thinking of a comedian I saw where he said, ‘Do you ever wake up and think, this is the day somebody is going to find me out as a fraud?’ Whatever your job is, whoever you are – a brain surgeon or an astronaut or whatever it might be – everyone thinks, ‘So how did I get to do this? How do I get to be here?’
“But knowing that everybody’s in that position, and however knowledgeable somebody else sounds around the table, they’ve also come through the same route where they didn’t. They’ve learned stuff along the way and they’ve picked up tips from other people and actually inside might not feel as confident and secure as they sound to realise. So everybody’s kind of in it together.
“There aren’t magical people who are leaders and people who aren’t. To be confident in your knowledge and your expertise – and particularly for me working in external relations within an organisation, to know that I’m coming in with the expertise that other people don’t hold – is key.
“When you realise you’re the most senior person and organisation with particular expertise (which can happen at any time, particularly in smaller organisations!) – just think, actually, ‘yeah this is me!’ and be sure in what you’re saying.
“When I look back from probably when I was a first manager, a media manager, I was the most senior person in the organisation with experience in media relations, even though I had a boss (who had a boss, who possibly had a boss who was the CEO). And so how do you then have the competence going to the board of trustees, to go to the CEO and senior leadership team and own that space? It’s because you think, ‘Well, this is on me. Actually, this is me. I do know the most about this.’
“It doesn’t have to be a whole remit. It could be specific area – for example you’ve led on a project or you’re even chairing a meeting. So some of seeing yourself as a leader is about accepting that responsibility and knowing that you’re there by right. You haven’t snuck in the back door!”