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Women in Leadership at Traditionally Male Companies

By Michael Overell - Jan. 29, 2018
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Natalie Hoffman – President of HK Payroll Services, Inc. (HKP). Her opinions are her own. 

In the professional services industry, males have typically held the majority of positions for many decades. Today, women make up half of the graduating rate at colleges, they see the value and opportunity in these programs, and recognize their talent for understanding and excelling in these fields.

Firms are taking note as well and diversifying their workforce. This workplace dynamic has opened a lot of doors for women to step into leadership roles at these companies where previously they may have been underrepresented. Today, firms and their clients value the variety of perspectives a diverse workforce provides in finding solutions and improving processes and operations.

As more and more women started going to college and graduating with degrees in traditionally male-dominated fields, employers took notice. They needed to grow their workforce for various reasons and whether the applicant was male or female didn’t matter as long as the education was there. As companies saw success with this approach, other companies and industries took notice and worked to grow and diversify their workforces.

Finding the best person to do a job is ultimately the most important factor no matter what industry you’re in, and employers are recognizing that value. The transition of more women into leadership roles is a natural result of this change.

A different perspective

When it comes to how they approach leadership, women often bring a unique perspective to the table. Every employee has had their own experiences and therefore has their own perspective, which offers companies the opportunity to draw from a wide range of ideas and find better solutions to their common issues.

One way women tend to differ from their counterparts is their greater tendency to consider how every person will be affected by a change or a decision, rather than only the people in the room making the decision. Overall, regardless of gender, employees should feel emboldened by their leaders to share their perspectives as it helps a company grow and learn.

Common qualities of a great leader

While there are some differences in the ways women and men approach leadership, a lot of common characteristics exist regardless of gender in good leaders. One of the keys to great leadership is authenticity. Your peers and employees will respect you more if you are true to yourself and do not waver.

The younger members of today’s workforce tend to value this attribute higher than their predecessors. Being authentic and sharing your unique perspective is more valuable than trying to imitate or trying to be someone you are not. The best leaders are in their position because the people around them trusted in their authenticity and knew that the individual would talk the talk and walk the walk.

When your employees see your authenticity, they are more likely to be their true selves. This allows them to feel more comfortable and engaged in their roles.

Another key to being a great leader comes from accountability. To arrive at a leadership position, many professionals have had failures and challenges along the way. A great leader owns up to their mistakes, failures, and shortcomings and then works to improve themselves, and those incidents become learning experiences. When a leader is accountable, their peers and employees take notice, have more respect, and tend to hold themselves accountable as well. This lifts everyone up and improves the company, as a whole.

Accountability is key in an era where the workforce is more skeptical than ever of employers. When a leader and a company hold themselves accountable, employees feel comfortable working for them and are likely to return a better performance.

Great leaders also seek out opportunities for self-development, learning and growth. If you desire to grow to a leadership position, conduct research and find ways to add value and depth to your skills and experiences. If a certification program exists appropriate for your line of work, invest your time and energy into achieving that certification. If you lack an understanding of a new process, rule, regulation or similar, invest time in learning and asking questions until you feel comfortable moving forward. If technology has been a struggle for you, taking additional courses may be necessary for you to keep pace with your workload today and into the future.

If a particularly challenging project arises at work, offer to be part of the team developing the solution. Regardless of where you work, investing in your education and embracing new experiences pays off dividends, and great leaders are always looking for the opportunity to learn more and be their best.

Leaders recognize enough room exists for success for everyone and avoid treating their organization like a competitive event. Leaders see the value in differing opinions and perspectives, and rather than dismissing someone who thinks differently, they try to learn and draw from that perspective, thus improving their own understanding.

What makes professional service firms successful is the ability to draw from different experiences and collaborate to find the right solution for any unique situation. Leaders recognize this need and encourage everyone to be themselves and share their perspectives as it strengthens the group as whole.

Future of women in leadership

For young women considering a career in accounting, finance or other professional services, a lot of opportunity exists to succeed and excel. One of the keys to success and advancement in these industries is being your personal best and taking great care of your clients.

Ultimately, success in your career whether you are male or female, is determined by your work ethic, grit and accountability. Opportunities for certifications, additional education, or an ability to contribute to a larger-than-you project, take advantage. Room for success is available for everyone, and good leaders recognize that when you take care of your people and help them grow, everyone succeeds.

More and more women are stepping into top leadership roles at traditionally male-dominated companies, which is adding value to every industry embracing this trend. However, regardless of gender, certain characteristics of great leaders transcend our outward differences.

Authenticity, accountability, desire to learn and grow, and the ability to help guide everyone on your team to success are qualities found in today’s top leaders. As the workforce continues to change with generations exiting and entering, these values will likely stay the same. The way we do our work may change as technology advances, but true leadership is found in the way we interact with one another and our ability to motivate others to follow our call.


Michael Overell

Michael Overell is a seasoned entrepreneur and business leader with a proven track record in building companies, products, and teams in both startup and hyper-growth environments. Currently, he serves as a key executive at ClassDojo, where he is responsible for driving revenue growth and helping children around the world access quality education. Michael is also actively involved in investing and providing support to promising foreign founders looking to break into the US market through his work with Antipodes. Prior to his work at ClassDojo, Michael played a pivotal role in scaling Lyft's product organization as the company experienced rapid growth, expanding from 3,000 to 6,000 employees and successfully going public. His expertise in hiring and recruiting was further honed during his time as the co-founder and CEO of RecruitLoop, a company he launched in Sydney before relocating to San Francisco. Under his leadership, RecruitLoop raised funding, developed a globally distributed team, and achieved profitability. The company had a modest exit in 2019 and ultimately closed its operating business. Michael began his career at McKinsey, where he focused on strategy in the tech and telecommunications sectors, with a particular emphasis on next-generation fiber broadband networks. His insights and thought leadership have been featured in prominent publications such as TechCrunch.

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