How to actively fill out the role as a (female) leader

In out last article, we presented some scientific evidence that women are disadvantaged in academic science environments. Other than implementing often controversially discussed quota policies, surprisingly little is done to counteract this gender imbalance, particularly found among leaders.

In our Female Leaders in Science (FLIS) course, which was initiated and organised by EMBO earlier this year, we chose a bottom up approach and directly helped the female course participants to actively improve their leadership skills. A news article in Science from last week about our course nicely sums up some practical tips:

 Leadership skills don’t depend much on whether you’re female or male; leadership style and effectiveness are linked much more strongly to personality.

 Everyone needs to develop their own leadership style. It’s OK for women to be tough; you just need to be comfortable in that role.

 Knowing what you’re good at can help you build confidence and become a better leader. Think of your strengths as helpful friends that you can depend on.

• Having strategies to address your weaknesses can help you feel empowered.

 Practice talking about your strengths and avoid apologizing too much.

 Learn to act confident and real confidence will follow.

• Employ positive language and an authoritative voice.

 Even if it doesn’t come naturally, you can learn to be an effective leader.

The aspect of self confidence gets particularity highlighted in the Science article. EMBO deputy director Gerlind Wallon points out that women on average display less self confidence than men and research by social psychologist Amy Cuddy on body language shows that people displaying lower self confidence are ultimately less successful, for example in job interviews (see here for her excellent TED talk).

Cuddy proclaims a simple recipe to appear and ultimately become more confident: fake it till you make it. I personally think, Gerlind Wallon from EMBO uses much better words in the Science interview. Leading can be learned and a leadership role can be actively adopted, because “You have the role already, so you’d better fill it out, and you can fill it out.

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