Creating a corpus of effective women leaders is the holy grail of health care. Everyone wants it, thinks it is a panacea, and reveres it almost as much as motherhood these days. Despite a plethora of strategies, the critical mass of women leaders required to ignite enduring change is elusive. In part, this is due to the established two Rs – reticence and resilience, which favour a reactive stance within aspiring women.
It’s always up to us to energize our future not just euthanise our past.
The first R is reticence. With the increasing emphasis on communication skills in health professional training, the feminine qualities of nurturing and maintaining harmony are emphasised. Adopting these attitudes in the workplace is easier for women, as we are socialised into these roles from birth. When we get to sit below the dirty glass ceiling, we have no problem in maintaining external harmony. Consequently, we avoid the activities known to be associated with male progression, for example, embracing competitive situations at work, displaying ambition and turning negative beliefs into positive ones. We are likely to think our exemplary work will be recognised without us having to promote ourselves, and we think opportunities will come our way without asking. These thoughts are misguided and reticence will merely keep us overworked, underpaid and in dead-end jobs.
The second R is resilience. Derived from the latin root “resiliens”, resilence means “to recoil or rebound”. Like a squash ball always being bashed into a difficult corner, we accept our fate. For example, our natural propensity for resiling from difficult situations has left the door wide open for avoidant leadership. It is no wonder that we accept managers who placate or are equivocal about our genuine concerns about bullying in the workplace, finally seeing these concerns turned on us as our managers fire us for standing up. This retrospective activity is toxic and hardly congruent with some of the key forward-thinking qualities that make leaders effective: challengers and changers, visionaries, motivators, innovators, empowers and creators.
However, there is a third R – robustness. Robustness is an advancing concept that encompasses forward thinking, acting and powerfully asserting. It is the realisation of where we should be heading not where we have been. Motivation is the key element of robustness and it is always up to us to energize our future, not just euthanise our past. Starting with the ways we talk and write about ourselves is a good start. Every woman aspiring to leadership should not be shy about promoting herself and should develop CVs and bios based on evidence that highlights her potential.