Growing up, I was the class vice-president; the de facto leader of every group project ever assigned; elementary and high school valedictorian; and the captain of my sports teams. I met all the stereotypes of a typical, Type A student. Yet, it never crossed my mind that when I grew up, I could be a CEO.
I’m not alone.
According to Harvard Business Review 5.3 percent of large U.S. companies have CEOs named John compared with 4.1 percent that have CEOs who are women. Firms with CEOs named David, at 4.5 percent, also outnumber women-led businesses. More than half of college graduates are women, yet, less than 8 percent of the fortune 500 CEOs are women. The stats speak for themselves.
Was I a victim of these statistics? Not necessarily. Upon reflection, it’s probably because I was extremely shy and struggled with interpersonal communications. While I may have checked the technical skill boxes, I fell short on the ‘soft’ skills. Skills, say the lady leaders you’re about to hear from, that are critical to leadership success. But as I learned from my peers, leaders are likely not born leaders, they grow into the role. Which means every one of us as parents, teachers, and mentors can help better prepare young girls, both mentally and technically, for leadership roles.
Tricia Han, the CEO of MyFitnessPal, attributes her foray into leadership to a conversation with a friend, who also happened to be a talent recruiter–a woman, and person of color– who encouraged her to apply for a leadership role. Tricia hesitated citing lack of experience, until the friend said, “People like me need to see people like you in those leadership roles so we know it’s possible.”
Tricia remembers thinking, “It’s sometimes easier to be brave when you realize you’re doing it for others.”
Tricia doesn’t know if she would have raised her hand for leadership had she not had that impetus. Born in the United States to immigrant parents, Tricia knew the expectation was for her to be a doctor or a lawyer. She was organized, a strong communicator, and creative. Her parents remained open-minded when she majored in English Literature. Tricia says, “One of the great things about college is that the curriculum allowed me to explore a lot of different areas. While I ended up spending my career in technology product management, English Literature ended up being a great training ground because you’re trying to understand motivation, personalities, and you need to be able to communicate a story as a CEO. Those are absolutely critical skills.”
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