“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” Maya Angelou


Last week I had an awesome time at the Canterbury Tech Summit, caught up with old friends, met new ones and enjoyed a diverse agenda of inspirational speakers. One of those friends is the fabulous Helen (pictured here) who reminded me of just how important it is for women to stand up and be seen which got me thinking – am I doing enough to encourage and support other women on their journey towards leadership?

We can all conceive of the notion that people can aspire to what we see as achievable – our sense of belief comes from the visible success of others whether this is in sport, business or life. Modelling our behaviour to become the best versions of ourselves is completely normal too. When it comes to women in leadership, women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and women in business the number of visible role models still falls short. Women make up ~50% of the population so living in an evolved society should mean women make up ~50% of business owners, leaders and STEM sector workers right?

Barriers to being seen

A while ago I wrote about my FOMO when it comes to Impostor Syndrome. Strangely enough it turns out I do suffer from Impostor Syndrome after all. Since my industry peers recognised me as IT Professional of the year I have really struggled to “own” the award, my lifetime of conditioning hasn’t prepared me to accept the congratulations people so readily offer and I find my initial response – completely involuntarily – is to say I was 100% positive Michael was going to win, he is awesome. This statement is true, Michael Trengove is awesome and I was 100% positive he was going to win the award.

What I should say is “Thank you! I am thrilled to have been recognised…. and Michael is awesome”. Instead I struggle, I fumble at saying thank you and make a poor case at explaining I was on holiday when nominated and didn’t think I warranted inclusion…… Every time my brain is screaming – you idiot just be cool about it! say thank you and change the subject. Instead my mouth says something like “I really struggle with accepting such positive feedback” potentially undermining the value a women winning this amazing award created in a flash.

Equally I have friends who won’t put themselves forward for awards, or promotions, or to speak at conferences. Many of these women live in fear of tall poppy syndrome. They have seen other women step up and those same women be treated poorly, be criticised both in public and private and many of those women folding and giving up – or changing their personalities to wall themselves off from the criticism. So why put themselves through all of that?

What can we all do?

Maya Angelou was no doubt referring to more complex challenges women face. Her quote however is valid in this scenario, we (women) need to stand up and be seen. Whether presenting at a conference, being nominated for an award, putting ourselves forward for leadership positions, writing inspirational blog posts, mentoring other women, speaking to school groups encouraging girls into STEM and leadership roles – we need to be brave and be seen for ourselves and for future generations.

Everyone reading this can take these 5 simple steps to encourage and support women in their lives no matter who they are – your wife, mother, sister, daughter, colleague, team member, team leader, manager, next door neighbour, best friend, girlfriend of best friend, dog walker:

  1. Mentor someone – whether you are a man or a woman you can mentor women in your line of business, in an adjacent business, coach them and provide support so they can stand up and be seen! here is some insight into mentoring.
  2. Nominate a women – there are so many awards and so many great women who should be nominated for those awards, imagine the self esteem boost of knowing you back them enough to nominate them for an award!
  3. Encourage a woman to speak – we all attend conferences, meetups and other events. Be the cheerleader in a woman’s life and encourage her to speak, then sit in the audience – at a preagreed spot – and be attentive, nod vigorously, clap first and loudest and kick off the Q&A.
  4. Encourage a woman to step up in her career – as women we read a job advertisement and if we don’t think we have 100% of the skills or capability we don’t apply (I wrote more about that in this article). Find roles you think a fabulous woman would be perfect for and help her see she can apply, encourage her to look past the prescriptive advert and to the essence of her own capability.
  5. Check your own biases at the door – Madeline Albright said it all really “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” this applies to men too. Notice your own language, don’t make jokes that marginalise women, be open to where your own bias gets in the way of you mentoring, nominating, encouraging women.
What will success look like?

It’s simple really, whether my generation or my daughters, or her daughters (no I am not a grandmother yet but you get the gist) – there will be a day when women in leadership, STEM, business (and many other industries with unbalanced gender representation) will become balanced and be representative of the population we live in. Women will have equality of working conditions, equity of pay and of opportunities. To get there we need to show what is possible, stand up and be seen! If I can help let please please let me know. Happy sharing. Vic.

Victoria MacLennan is a busy business owner, investor and director. She is passionate about diversity, women in both leadership and technology, organisational governance and focuses much of her time on strengthening the New Zealand economy through Digital and Technology. You can read more about Victoria here.