How to Succeed as a Female Leader Anywhere In the World
Going to work for a Japanese company taught this female executive that the challenges women face in business are universal.
The role of women as leaders in companies all over the world is growing by leaps and bounds. Corporations and countries, it seems, are beginning to recognize the value that women in leadership positions can have.
The Economist has even proposed that increasing the number of women in the workforce can boost a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by as much as 25 percent. Today, there is a greater understanding of the value women can play in driving creative, thought-proving solutions that can yield success for all organizations.
Women pioneers are pushing through cultural boundaries to pave the way for future generations. Individuals like Sheryl Sanberg, Angie Hicks, and Arianna Huffington have become personal inspirations for myself, my daughters, and other women.
Despite growing cracks in the glass ceiling, women still face challenges related to cultural norms and values in the workplace. Look no further than Uber’s recent turmoil, which showed the persistent and systemic issues that plague companies.
These challenges are not bound to the United States. Across the globe, women face discrimination in various forms. Whether it be harassment in the workplace or fighting for equal pay and maternity leave rights, the struggle is constant.
Working for a Japanese international enterprise, I have seen how both corporate and regional cultures can impact the ability for a woman to gain equal recognition for equal contribution when compared to male colleagues.
Overcoming these barriers has fueled my determination to share my experience and improve the involvement of female leaders everywhere. In the 15 years I’ve spent leading start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, I have identified numerous tips that can be universally applied when defining a leadership role in any organization.
1. Be versatile.
The ability to offer extensive knowledge and cadre of sought-after skills is essential in establishing yourself as an asset to the team. I strive to share my knowledge across the organization in the areas that I am uniquely poised to provide.
To continuously provide valuable information, I continually seek ways to improve my technical knowledge, awareness of trends and technological development, as well as ongoing issues and challenges faced by various industries.
Each day, I spend at least two hours reading newsletters, articles, business news, and listening to first-hand accounts of the changing industry landscapes. Knowledge prioritization encourages regular requests for advice and recommendations for the organization.
Knowledge, coupled with a willingness to adapt within the organization, will lead to a defined role as a trusted team player.
2. Deliver on the details.
Many organizations claim to be data-driven, but many individuals do not have time to dive into the details. My experience, in an Asian organization, has taught me the importance of having the details available and accessible.
I rely on my expert team to provide insights and then incorporate those facts back into the organization. These details add up to vital data that help inform crucial business decisions. The awareness of the details can be a real game-changer.
Knowing the details means being methodical, going through every situation, environment, and set of data available to speak or know every detail that others may have missed. This drives the pursuance of your worth to the company.
3. Apply an innovative approach.
Continually advocating for innovation in the workplace is vital. When it comes to problem solving, creativity and logic — two alternative approaches — go hand-in-hand in an environment where women thrive.
Related: 6 Innovative Women to Watch in 2015
I expect my team to be inventive and open-minded when pursuing clear, logical ideas. Design Thinking, a staple here in Silicon Valley, has proven extremely valuable in promoting a new approach to innovation. Its process has helped my team be successful and made me a valuable leader.
4. Have hard proof of the benefits of your recommendations.
A fundamental approach in Japanese business organization is a focus on illustrating proven benefits before executing a decision. Before moving forward with a deal, investment, new line of business, or strategy, it is essential to be ready to address concerns with tangible proof.
Related: 10 Rules for Success as a Woman
This level of diligence differs from other companies at which I have previously worked. The Eastern business culture is not the same as the Western business culture. It is vital to over prepare when recommending a change. To be taken seriously, with the context of the decision-making process having a full understanding of the benefits of the change, is important.
To gain respect and provide sustained value, it is essential to have logical justification, compelling success metrics, and examples from comparable case studies. While Western business culture requires similar diligence, many companies also take big risks by using available data to make faster decisions.
5. Develop confidence and assertiveness.
Being the only woman in a meeting or on the floor, though daunting, built my confidence. Today, I face challenges but I’m able to give direction that drives growth within our company. I can't back down or waver.
I know my details based on an innovative approach and established research-backed proof points. Furthermore, I understand the values and perspectives of those at the table, and I can present in such a way that each is compelled to pursue my recommendation.
Believing in yourself is key to success. When I’m the only female executive in the room, I remind myself that I’m there because I’ve earned my spot. To drive phenomenal outcomes, you have to confidently present your unique skills, perspectives and ideas.
Be the inspiration -- for yourself, your company and female leaders everywhere.
Ekta Sahasi is the Vice President of the North American Business Innovation Center (BIC) and Managing Director, Research for Konica Minolta. She is an active investor and advises for startups looking to expand into the Asian markets and is bridging the gap between Asian and North American companies. Ekta is based in Silicon Valley and enjoys traveling to connect with entrepreneurs and new partners.