GUEST BLOG: "Women must be thought leaders. Or else!"

When it comes to standing up and being noticed, it's a well known fact that women face a greater challenge than men. Recent reports have suggested that it may take up to 60 years for women to have equal presence in top positions. Even though there are some excellent female thought leaders out there, it seems that there is still not as many compared to the number of men. So there is no time to lose for more women to be bold, opinionated thought leaders, just like their male counterparts.

Thought leaders, or people who are known amongst others for their innovative ways of thinking and their individual ways of promoting those thoughts, are more important today than ever, but it is usually a role taken up by men. In this day and age, where women are open to equal opportunities to men, I am becoming increasingly aware that there is a gender balance happening, which is evident in the growing number of women coming into politics. But there is still some way to go.

Consider Richard Branson, Theo Paphitis, Anita Roddick, James Caan, Simon Woodruffe, James Dyson… All of these people are serious business leaders who are undisputed experts or thought leaders in their fields and have written books of the subject. But, if they are not vocal and opinionated, regularly interviewed or quoted in the press, even those people are at risk of being forgotten in this unforgiving and competitive market.

But even on this list, there are still not many women. We still live in a very male dominated society even though there are plenty of women with real skills and determination to make it to the top.

Something which further shocked me was the news last year that one of the UK's top institutions, the very highly esteemed Oxford University, made an announcement that 2010 marked the 90 year anniversary since they first allowed women to study there. 90 years is a long time, and young women make up a good percentage of the current student population, as they do at most UK universities. So, why the gap between women being given equal opportunities and real life examples of women leading the way?

It has a lot to do with cultural factors.  Women are brought up not to boast about themselves and to play down their strengths. This does not serve them well when competing in a business environment, especially with outspoken men who, at times, play up their strengths.

When you write and publish your own articles, books and blogs, you put a stake in the ground, showing your market where you stand on important issues.  This can seem very scary, but what you are actually doing is helping them put a face to the name of your company and its services, and as we all know, people buy people. Most importantly, you show your customers that you have thought through key topics and can articulate your leadership on these topics in a way that can influence and guide people to a better level of understanding.

Without this communication, people don't know what value you provide, and they only hear from bolder people who are willing to shout about their ideas.  When women write and publish good books and articles, they show that they are the real thought leaders in this space - and not the other guy - or woman.

I would in fact go as far to say that as long as women continue to write their ideas down they will start to be remembered more frequently. By writing about their ideas and expressing their thought leadership values, people are more likely to remember the message.

Men will begin to face fiercer competition, as women begin to fight their way to the top. Women still have their work cut out though, as they've got a lot of ground to cover to get up to the same representation as men and they'll have to work twice as hard to prove they are up to the jobs. But it certainly won't be easy for those men currently holding the top positions!

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