For ambitious women leaders the path to success is individual: Change, navigate and leverage the context (2020)

Paul Vanderbroeck

Don’t wait for the world to change. Find your own individual way


Don’t wait for the world to change or for some quota to propel you to the top. Find your own individual way. I am reminded of this maxim, after reading a recent publication in HBR. The study concludes from researching a consulting firm that male and female’s attitudes to work-life balance are pretty hard wired. Consequently, “what holds women back at work is not some unique challenge of balancing the demands of work and family but rather a general problem of overwork that prevails in contemporary corporate culture.”Obviously, the authors suggest that the problem gets solved once the firm agrees to reasonable work hours.


But what does that mean? Reducing work hours for everybody and reducing salaries proportionately and hiring more staff to do the work? Or reducing work hours without reducing salaries? In the one case the firm may suffer from being less competitive on the talent market. In the latter the firm will suffer from being less competitive in the business market. What is more, many companies are operating in a global market, competing against others from a different social-economic culture with different attitudes toward work-life balance.


Rather, the company as a whole should go full steam. While at the same time offering career flexibility that permits talent to decelerate and accelerate their careers according to their individual desires and needs. It’s important to remind ourselves that such practices already exist in different industries, e.g. Procter & Gamble and AvivaFlexwork does provide both risks and opportunities and should not be dismissed up front. Also rewarding managers for using the entire talent pool – as applied by Unilever - brings positive results for gender balance in management.  


Therefore, finding your own individual way to the top first of all means changing the context. If your organisation does not offer a structure and culture that is conducive to your potential and – very importantly – to combining work and career in the way that suits you best, find a better one.


If you cannot or do not want to change the context, learn to navigate the context: by knowing how to negotiate your salaryby adapting your communication to your (male) audienceby managing your performance appraisal, and by taking charge of your work-life balance


Other than that, leverage the context by taking charge of your own leadership development. Learn how to be authentic and use leadership development tools, e.g. the Global Executive Leadership Mirror to your advantage.

KDVI Writer's Colony, 2020

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Article Comments


Mar 9, 7:24 PM

Thanks for your energizing blog, Paul. It motivates to reflect and take control of our own destiny!

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