International Women’s Day is an ideal time to pause and reflect on the status of women in the workforce—both how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go to achieve true gender equality. In this blog, Alyssa Hodder interviews Hall of Fame leadership keynote speaker and author Michelle Ray on women and leadership.

    Your focus as a speaker is on leadership and building culture within an organization. Do you find female leaders face different challenges than men? If so, what can they do to address those challenges?
    Michelle Ray

    Unfortunately, they do. We [women] have to make choices. We have to make choices about how we communicate, how we lead ourselves. Ultimately, if an organization isn’t serving us, we may have to make the decision not to stay.

    Our actions speak louder than words. And it starts with demonstrating the incredible value that we bring to our organizations through the work we do and continuing to champion that work.

    Be aware of who your advocates are. You want to have people who are supportive of what you do. Showcase the value and champion the contribution you’re making to your organization so the right people notice.

    One organization, McKinsey, has been championing this for more than 30 years. One of the most extensive global studies they did on the importance of advancing women’s equality describes a scenario in which eradicating gender discrimination would add $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

    Another survey, by OmniPulse, found 80% of women would switch employers if they thought another company had greater gender equality. So, what does that say? Organizations need to be mindful that we are aware, and we are not afraid of making a change.

    We hear from female leaders that they can be perceived as too aggressive when they assert themselves, or too passive when they don’t. What are some strategies to address these perceptions in the workplace?

    There’s the old argument that someone else’s perception is their truth—but that doesn’t mean it’s your truth. We each have our own truth, and how you counter that perception is very important.

    In those situations, you can ask about their perception. You can say, “I’d like to learn more about how you see certain behaviours as being aggressive; tell me more about what that means to you.” It’s a non-threatening question. And it’s more effective than saying, “It’s just amazing how people see me or see women in general; you’ve got it all wrong.”

    The solution is to stay in your power and not buy into the paradigm. I think we can be very effective in staying in our power with the way we ask those questions.

    What one piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to build her career and her own personal brand?

    The most attractive thing right now is authenticity. Authentically expressing yourself. Knowing what your passions are. Knowing what your values are, and staying true to those values, and being yourself is probably the best suggestion I can make.

    I’ll just put it in one word: ownership. Especially for young women coming into their first career or job, staying true to themselves and understanding that is a really good place to be.

    Are you familiar with Tall Poppy Syndrome? Have you seen it play out in organizations, and is there anything the women involved can do to manage the impact?

    I have indeed seen it play out. What does it mean? People try to cut you down to size. People don’t want you to be successful. There are people out there who are envious of your success, so they’ll try to make you look small to make themselves feel better or bigger.

    You can hear those voices, but you don’t have to buy into them because that’s somebody else’s perception. If you allow yourself to be affected by them, then it’s going to affect your career and how you feel about yourself.

    In a nutshell, it’s about having self-awareness. Catching yourself; catching that moment of what’s actually transpiring—that this is one of the realities of business. When you have that self-awareness, you’ll be better equipped to manage the situation—and it’s easier to communicate what you need and what you’re all about.

    Get more insights from Michelle Ray at our CONNECT Global Employee Benefits and Workforce Strategies Summit, presented in partnership with WorldatWork, July 22-24, 2024 in Chicago. Learn more at

    Alyssa Hodder

    Director, Education and Outreach – Canada Favorite Foundation Product: Conferences and blogs on what’s new and interesting in the industry Benefits Related Topics That Interest Her Most: Benefits communications and how to engage plan participants Personal Insight: The proud mother of two lovely and challenging girls, Alyssa enjoys travelling and experiencing different cultures. In her spare time, she loves to read and write, but her most unusual hobby is participating in a competitive axe-throwing league (nothing more rewarding than hitting that bullseye!)

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