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Why Women Executives Should Just Be Themselves

Many people think that to get ahead in the business world, women need to emulate men. But there's plenty to suggest that the real secret to leadership success is authenticity.

Traditional British baked beans
U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Robin Braun talks with retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jan Adams, right
Stephanie Oueda Cruz


SANTIAGO Putting on one face at home and another at work is passé. Increasingly, firms are looking for leaders including womenwho aren't afraid of being authentic,who can take off their masks and just be themselves. But for women, in particular, that may be easier said than done. For many of us, that involves getting over the idea that we need a "man costume," that we need to act like men, in other words, to be successful.

The reality is that women remain under-represented today in senior, corporate positions. They account for just 5% of the managing directors of Wall Street S&P 500 companies, according to figures recently compiled by the research firm Catalyst. And while 32 women headed Fortune 500 firms in 2017 a record figure the number fell to 24 (a drop of 25%) barely a year later. These are disconcerting figures. Furthermore, findings of the U.S.-based Network of Executive Women reveal that women in senior positions are four times more likely to leave their jobs than men.

People who are still wary of female leadership often cite the "Queen bee syndrome," which contends that women in senior management actively discriminate against other women in promotions. A study by the bank Crédit Suisse found otherwise, revealing a tendency among female CEOs to surround themselves with women in positions of responsibility. In fact, women are 50% more likely than men to appoint a woman as a chief financial officer.

The authentic leader accepts that they don't know everything and that they're not perfect.

Another misconception is that women have to behave like men to become effective leaders. Author Bill George, a professor at the Harvard Business School, popularized the concept of "authentic leadership." There is a lot of debate obviously about what exactly makes a good leader, but people tend to agree on things like honesty, responsibility, humility and courage.

What defines a leader, whether male or female? Honest leaders don't hide, not even when it comes to doubts or weakness. They aren't ashamed of having vulnerabilities or being frank about how and why a decision was made. Responsible leaders admit the mistakes they make and are upfront about mistakes made by colleagues — so that the whole team can learn and improve.


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, speaks at the World Economic Forum annual meeting — Photo: World Economic Form

Authentic leaders are humble, accepting that they don't know everything and that they're not perfect. These are people more receptive to other views and willing to learn, and who know when to delegate or ask for advice without feeling guilty. And then there's courage — perhaps the most important attribute of all for authentic leaders, who aren't afraid to question the status quo and defend their team if necessary.

And then there's courage — perhaps the most important attribute of all.

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says it won't do any more to present leadership as a list of qualities. We ought to see it, rather, as being rooted in honest, maybe even flawed individuality. Being honest, she believes, is more important than achieving perfection. Another leadership icon is Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who has long advocated being OK with yourself, both physically and mentally. Take breaks, she says, to avoid a constant state of crisis.

Authenticity is valued all the more in this age of Internet, social networking and selfies. Younger generations want to know more about their leaders. If our leaders, both men and women, are honest, responsible, humble and brave, they will be better examples for progressing in the right direction.

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The Colonial Spirit And "Soft Racism" Of White Savior Syndrome

Tracing back to Christian colonialism, which was supposed to somehow "civilize" and save the souls of native people, White Savior Syndrome lives on in modern times: from Mother Teresa to Princess Diana and the current First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

photo of a child patient holding hand of an adult

Good intentions are part of the formula

Ton Koene / Vwpics/ZUMA
Sher Herrera


CARTAGENA — The White Savior Syndrome is a social practice that exploits or economically, politically, symbolically takes advantage of individuals or communities they've racialized, perceiving them as in need of being saved and thus forever indebted and grateful to the white savior.

Although this racist phenomenon has gained more visibility and sparked public debate with the rise of social media, it is actually as old as European colonization itself. It's important to remember that one of Europe's main justifications for subjugating, pillaging and enslaving African and American territories was to bring "civilization and save their souls" through "missions."

Even today, many white supremacists hold onto these ideas. In other words, they believe that we still owe them something.

This white savior phenomenon is a legacy of Christian colonialism, and among its notable figures, we can highlight Saint Peter Claver, known as "the slave of the slaves," Bartolomé de Las Casas, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Princess Diana herself, and even the First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

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