Feel like the 'token woman' in a leadership team? Some ideas on what you can do – Womens Agenda

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Picture this: you land your first senior leadership position. Your hard work, commitment, and the impact you make has gotten you there. Despite the barriers and the inequity, you’ve made it.
But, you’re the only woman in this leadership team.
And (perhaps with poorly thought out but good intentions), you’re asked to speak at internal company events and be the face of company campaigns. A lot.
What would that feel like?
After a decade in the HR field, I’ve supported many women through a range of crappy situations. This being one of them. Where a woman can feel like the ‘token female’ wheeled out for display.
Tokenism: “the practice of making a symbolic effort to give the appearance of equality within a workforce” – Oxford Dictionary
Regardless of whether it’s true in this type of situation, feeling like a ‘token’ sucks. It can be draining. It can undermine your sense of self-worth, impact your confidence and, left unaddressed it can ultimately affect your performance, playing into the narrative of tokenism.
The data
The latest data issued by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (from the 2020-2021 reporting period) has found:
This data reinforces that the scenario above is far from unlikely.
I’m not here to tell you that under-represented group is bad for business. That more inclusive gender representation in these senior leadership roles makes complete strategic business sense. That companies with more women in their senior leadership teams have 30% higher profit margins than those with less gender diversity.
Because you already know that.
We need pragmatic action. So, what can we do to support the women who are already in leadership roles?
Individual conversations and support of your one female leadership team member are only going to get you so far. To avoid a reputation as a tokenistic employer, curiosity and intention backed by inspired action is key here.
Women in Leadership
Often the person, or team asking you to do the things that are making you feel uncomfortable are mortified when they learn that their good intentions are falling short. They don’t get it, often because they haven’t lived it. To bridge the gap between intention and execution, a great starting point is to educate.
Whilst the concept of ‘tokenism’ has a bad wrap, there is an opportunity here to create lasting change. On an individual level, embracing key opportunities presented to you will help progress your career, build your leadership brand across the business, and strengthen your influence, credibility and authority.
Every situation is nuanced. There is so much grey that will influence an appropriate course of action. Please note that I share these high-level thoughts, not as a blanket solution but to inspire reflection and action.
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