Why we have too few women leaders: TEDxWomen explores

At TEDWomen in 2010, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg looked at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offered 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite in her talk, "Why we have too few women leaders."

In the talk, she voices her concern over the worldwide lack of women in leadership roles — in corporate, political, and other social settings.

"The question is," she says, "how are we going to fix this? How do we change these numbers at the top? How do we make this different? …What are the messages we need to tell ourselves? What are the messages we tell the women who work with and for us? What are the messages we tell our daughters?"

She addresses fear, self-doubt, work/life balance, and finding work that’s rewarding even after maternity leave. She questions traditional gender roles and perceptions of women leaders. She explains current setbacks and problems:

"Women systematically underestimate their own abilities," she tells the audience. "If you test men and women, and you ask them questions on totally objective criteria like GPAs, men get it wrong slightly high, and women get it wrong slightly low..If you ask men why they did a good job, they’ll say, "I’m awesome. Obviously. Why are you even asking?" If you ask women why they did a good job, what they’ll say is someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard. Why does this matter? Boy, it matters a lot because no one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success, or they don’t even understand their own success.

In response to Sheryl’s pointed challenge, we asked organizers of the upcoming TEDxWomen event — during which over 140 TEDx events will be hosted worldwide around the webcast of this year’s TEDxWomen anchor event in Washington D.C. — what advice they would give to women leaders. Here are some of their answers:

Re-imagine what leadership looks like, and make it your own.
—Nathalie Molina Niño, TEDxBarnardCollegeWomen, New York, NY

Be authentic. Authenticity is always the key to leadership success.
—Dafna Michaelson Jene, TEDxCrestmoorParkWomen, Denver, CO

Own your choices!
—Deb Gerardi Kemper, TEDxShanghaiWomen, Shanghai

Create your own girls’ clubs: investment, leadership, philanthropy, mentoring, specific interests. Link with others regionally. Scale out. Find ways to give away what you know to people who value you in original ways. Listen. Know yourself and be you.
—Kat Haber, TEDxHomerWomen, Homer, AK

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