Being a woman in a leadership role

I am not aware of the impact of my gender in the workplace on a day to day basis, but being asked to write this article made me think about where gender comes into play in business and the importance of diversity in all shapes and forms (gender, age race, thinking) in leadership writes Eimear Caslin, General Manager, GSK Ireland.

Eimear Caslin
Eimear Caslin

I have never subscribed to gender stereotypes, but there are innate strengths that tend to be more common in women and are really valuable in leadership … and some myths that need to be busted e.g the notion that a strong and decisive woman is an ‘alpha female’, or that showing emotion is a weakness – emotional intelligence and empathy are really important traits in leadership.

No one else knows what’s going on in your head in terms of what you want, so if you can’t articulate it, no one can help you achieve it.

Five things I have learnt:

  1. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness

I have had a fantastic career in GSK, I’m doing a job I love and am really passionate about the company’s mission to help people to do more, feel better and live longer.

Advertisement
Advertise here

During my career, when I became brave enough to put my hand up to say ‘I want to do that’, I found there were people who were very supportive of me within the business and they helped me along that path. Sometimes you get knocked back – that’s part of life – and you have to learn from rejection and failure, but it makes you stronger. You rarely get things handed to you on a plate. I’ve learnt that no one is a mind reader. No one else knows what’s going on in your head in terms of what you want, so if you can’t articulate it, no one can help you achieve it.

  1. Don’t fall foul of your own self-limiting beliefs

Set goals, but don’t be limited by them. Life is never a straight path, personally or professional, so while it is really important to set goals and have a career path, be open to different experiences and new opportunities as you may find personal strengths you didn’t know you had.

Be courageous and aim high. You may not fully appreciate what you are capable yet so if you aim for the moon and fall short, at least you are reaching the stars.

Seek to continuously develop yourself. We are never the finished article and can learn so much from others around us, from new experiences, from the successes and failures we have and from challenging ourselves.

  1. Having a family isn’t career limiting

Women often feel that maternity leave can do detrimental damage to their careers too, but in the long term, I don’t feel it does. I’ve had three maternity leaves over the space of 23 years in my GSK career – just two years in total and, when you look back, it is a blip in time. I was promoted to our leadership team when I was five months pregnant and we had a very proactive GM who had come from the UK where they are much more used to seeing women promoted while on maternity leave. Women need to start looking at their maternity leave as part of their career journey rather than a step ‘off’ the career ladder.

  1. Have honest conversations

Setting a clear goal and aligning everyone behind that goal is critical when managing teams and individuals. I’m a big believer in setting clear expectations so everyone is aware of what is required and can deliver against those expectations. To get the best of out of individuals, empowerment is really important – giving people accountability to perform and empowering them to do their job without looking over their shoulder. It is also important to have real conversations with your team, about their capabilities and their development and ensuring that they prioritise their development to bring their best self to work. I’m very proud to lead a high performing team.

I was promoted to our leadership team when I was five months pregnant and we had a very proactive GM who had come from the UK where they are much more used to seeing women promoted while on maternity leave.

  1. Build your network

I think networking plays an important part of any career these days. Meeting new people is always beneficial regardless of what role you’re in. In the past, I have neglected networking and put other internal priorities first but I have come to realise that meeting new people external to your organisation can generate new ideas and be sources of inspiration and new contacts.

Do: Women in business need to be bolder and speak up. I hear women often say they feel that it can be hard to get their voices heard in meetings. What can happen is women ‘over-think’ their contribution – ‘Oh that’s really stupid’ or ‘I have to think of something more important to say.’ Women need to get used to making their point and moving on. As women contribute more to meetings, the easier it becomes and it sets the tone within an organisation.

Don’t: Don’t assume you have nothing to offer when networking – everyone can add something into the mix.