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Women in Leadership: Be Less Super, More Human

May 20, 2015 by Emily Scorer 27

What do you think of quotas for women at work? Why do women often think they’re not ready for a promotion? How do you get rid of feelings of guilt when you’re not committing all your time to your family?

All these questions and many more were raised by attendees at the SAP Women’s Leadership Summit in Orlando on May 4, which was co-sponsored by PwC and took place prior to SAPPHIRE NOW.

Authentic entrepreneurial leadership was the theme and a whole host of female professionals and leaders discussed the topic, drawing on personal experiences and expertise. They covered a broad number of related topics, which had relevance for everyone in business, regardless of gender, such as accountability, creating a culture at work, and Connectional Intelligence.

“Superhuman is not a compliment”

The most prevalent topic raised was the notion of “being yourself” and authentic leadership, described by Jennifer Morgan, President of North America as “who you are when no one is watching.”

Niloufar Molavi, Vice Chair, US Energy Leader at PwC, explained that not only are you shortchanging yourself when you try to be someone you’re not, but ultimately you are shortchanging the person who picked you for your uniqueness. It will not only affect your performance, but also relationships with colleagues.

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“Superhuman is not a compliment,” explained Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor, “because what it actually means is that you’re unrelatable.” And this is exactly the problem. When you try to hide who you really are because you don’t want to be perceived as “too feminine” or “too different,” what you actually do is distance yourself from people, which ultimately has a negative effect on your career.

“The riskiest strategy is not taking risks”

Entrepreneurialism was of course also a key topic, and especially addressed by the keynote speakers. What did they see as the biggest hurdle for entrepreneurs? Simple, it’s fear. Linda Rottenberg described what she sees as a huge misconception about being an entrepreneur and taking risks. For her, the riskiest strategy is not taking risks, because if you don’t put yourself out there, how will you grow? Her advice was simple: stop psyching yourself out through extensive planning and over thinking and instead test your ideas out. “You don’t need a hoodie to be an entrepreneur,” said Linda Rottenberg. What does she mean by this? It means you don’t need to be Mark Zuckerberg or live in Silicon Valley to start a company. A prime example given was the Granny cloud, which shows anyone with a new idea succeed, you just need to give yourself permission to go for it and manage your fear.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready”

WLSBill.jpgHolding yourself back due to fear and doubts is all too commonplace at work. All the speakers and panelists agreed that too often they hear women say “I don’t know if I’m ready” or “I just need one more year” when offered a promotion or the next step in their career. The important thing to ask here is “Why?” explained Niloufar Molavi. Often, people are overcome with self-doubt or feel they lack the experience to fulfill the role, she noted. “If you sit down and discuss this, you can show them examples of when they’ve demonstrated the necessary skills and these feelings of uncertainty will slip away.”

And what about quotas for how many women should be in a workplace – do these help or hinder? Ultimately, the panel agreed that they don’t change mindsets or cultures and are not a long-term solution. However, as Anka Wittenberg pointed out, they do help to raise awareness and have successfully opened up conversations that needed to be had about gender diversity, focusing on issues such as equal pay, women in leadership positions, and female promotions.

The event drew to a close with a few words from SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who explained that that diversity is top of the agenda at SAP for the simple reason: “We want to win and to do this, we have to have the most competitive and diverse talent possible.”

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

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