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INSEAD Women’s Leadership Conference: “Women and the Transition to Senior Management”

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This post is by SmartBrief’s Liz Perman, reporting from  INSEAD Women’s Leadership Conference in Fontainebleau, France, last week.

There are more than 62,000 books on the topic of leadership available on, 1,800 of which are focused on women in leadership. Despite a great deal of energy spent on trying to balance the gender make up of senior management teams — including countless well-intentioned mentoring programs for high-potential professional women — men still receive more promotions than women.

Herminia Ibarra, faculty director of the INSEAD Leadership Initiative and founder of the Gender Diversity Initiative, used her keynote presentation on “Women and the Transition to Senior Management” to share advice on on how women in the workforce can overcome these odds. Among her recommendations:

  • Anticipate transitions. At a certain point in your career, you will be expected to move beyond managing and will need to demonstrate leadership capability to move into the senior ranks. Instead of simply ensuring efficiency, planning and organizing staff, you will need to create a vision for change and then inspire your team to bring it to fruition. These role shifts can be difficult to see. Watch out for them.
  • Development isn’t just about your skills. You won’t succeed in senior management if you rely solely on what got you this far. Two common hurdles for high-potential women include adopting a strategic perspective and managing stakeholders. Big-picture thinking and learning how to create influence through coalitions and networks are key to leadership success. Get on assignments that are key to the success of your company, as well as cross-functional projects that bring together diverse stakeholders from across the company.
  • Watch out for identity traps. Another common trap for women during the transition to senior management is that they fall victim to their natural leadership style. You’ll need to knock off the micromanaging, learn how to delegate and cultivate the ability to influence without authority.
  • Authenticity is also about your future self. It takes 15 seconds for a person to form an opinion about you. Think about how you want to be perceived and manage your image accordingly. Keep in mind that it is particularly difficult for women to be perceived as both competent and warm. Networking can also be a challenge for women, but growing your strategic network is essential. Cultivating mentors is also key to future success in senior management.

Does this advice ring true to you?

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