Why now is the best time to pursue leadership roles

Women are finally poised to achieve real equality in the workplace, says ‘This Is How We Rise’ author Claudia Chan—and that could be great for men, too.

Why now is the best time to pursue leadership roles

You can hardly turn on the TV or check your social feed these days without seeing some protest or call to action in high-profile places.

Like it or not, this is a good thing.

Why? Because it means women believe, if they speak out, they will finally be taken seriously. “The culture is changing. Men—including celebrities and CEOs—are lining up to support women as never before,” says Claudia Chan, CEO and founder of S.H.E. Globl Media and author of This Is How We Rise: Reach Your Highest Potential, Empower Women, Lead Change in the World.

“It’s what I call the fourth wave of feminism,” she says. (The first was 98 years ago, when the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.) “It is going to transform leadership and companies,” partly because “nobody can afford to brush aside issues of gender equality anymore. Corporate America now has to walk the walk, not just check the ‘gender diversity’ box on a list.”

As Chan sees it, that creates new opportunities for both women and men. “Right now is the moment for a new generation of corporate change agents,” says Chan, who calls her book  “a wake-up call to inform you that you are the leader you’ve been waiting for.”

Monster recently spoke with Chan about how to rise as a leader at work—and why you should strive to be one, regardless of whether you’re at the top of your career or just starting out.

Q. How does someone become a “corporate change agent”?

A.  By putting the best interests of the community, or the organization, ahead of oneself. This is the new definition of leadership. Our culture is steeped in what I call a “me over we” mindset, where everyone puts his or her own narrow self-interest ahead of the greater good.

But there’s a growing recognition that having that kind of attitude has caused most of the huge problems we’re dealing with in the world today. Leaders of the future have to be much more focused on “me for we” by finding ways to see beyond one’s own little bit of turf and make positive change.

Q. Let me just play devil’s advocate for a minute and ask, why?

A. If you only pay attention to your own well-being—your family, your health, your career, and so on—your potential is limited. But by using your unique talents and skills to help other people realize their goals, you extend your reach much further and have much more of an impact. You become much more visible, and that makes you more marketable when you’re ready to move to a new job, or even a new career.

This is especially true for women, who can do a lot to erase gender inequality in the workplace by creating opportunities for each other and supporting each other. It’s taken quite a while, but we’ve built up enough momentum now to be able to do that.

Q. Don’t you have to be a boss before you can create more opportunities at work, for women or anyone else?

A. That belief stops a lot of people from trying, but it just isn’t true. You don’t need a fancy title to lead from wherever you are, even if you’re at the bottom of the organizational chart.

The first step is to identify what the company could be doing to make a difference—for example, making more training available for jobs the company is struggling to fill, and then getting the word out about it. Then, find other people who will support your cause. If you look around, you can usually find someone quite high-ranking who will get behind you and your group, and you’re on your way.

Q. Do you have any advice for job seekers who aspire to be leaders?

A. One thing to find out in a job interview is, are change-makers welcome? Are employees encouraged to suggest better ways of doing things? Are there “affinity groups,” such as women’s networks, in the company that you could join? If not, does it seem like a culture where you could start one? 

Also, women and men alike should take the time to read up on the company’s reputation. Look on social media and in the press for reflections of the employer’s values, and think about whether they match yours. It’s smart, too, to check out how many women are at or near the top because so many studies now show that the companies with the most high-ranking women outperform everyone else in their industries.

 

Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?