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Published on March 9th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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Take the Lead as the Female CEO, Quit Apologizing!

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor

Recently, Pantene ran a series of empowerment-themed commercials that called attention to how much an apology is used to downplay female power. Whether we’re late to a meeting (“Sorry, I’m late…”) or raising our hands to ask a question (“Sorry, could I just ask…”), an apology is often the preferred prefix for women in a variety of everyday scenarios.

Why is that?

Many consider the use of “sorry” to be a crutch. Writing for Time magazine, Jessica Bennett calls it “…a space filler, a hedge, a way to politely ask for something without offending, to appear “soft” while making a demand.”

The same is often true in the workplace. Women in positions of power (CEO or business owner) often struggle to be perceived as great leaders and equals to their male counterparts. After all, female CEOs are rarely recognized on any “best CEO” rankings (only two women were featured on this particular list of the highest rated CEOs of 2014). Furthermore, a 2013 Gallup survey found that Americans still prefer a male boss.

Despite these perceptions, women aren’t being held back. Just look at the latest statistics about female entrepreneurship:

Women business owners represent the fastest-growing businesses in America. (Source)
They generate more than $1.4 trillion in revenues per year and employ nearly 8 million people. (Source)
41 percent of new entrepreneurship activity in 2013 involved women. (Source)
So what are women to do? One of the biggest challenges for women is that we expect to be recognized based on our merits – the work we do, the results we get. But oftentimes, that’s not enough. If women are to be perceived as leaders, we need to quit apologizing and start swaggering!

That’s the advice of Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum, Inc. North America, a global PR firm. In an interview with The Detroit News, Rafferty recounts how during a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, everyone wanted to know whose wife she was:

“It was a rude awakening for me… Until then I’d been, ‘Don’t stand out on women’s leadership. Do your job. Be recognized for your work.’ But I came back from that and thought, ‘I need to do more.’ ”

In response, Rafferty launched several initiatives to coach women and help them broaden their skills. Making it in a man’s world is a passion for Rafferty. Her advice? Try to balance authenticity and authority if you want to be seen as leaders by men. Here are her nine tips for doing so:

Be clear about what you stand for
Allow your point of view to shine
Adapt your style to fit your audience
Be open and honest to build trust and foster relationships
Have swagger and stop apologizing
Respond, don’t react
Don’t over-explain
Sell your ideas
Make others the hero
More help

If you’re a female entrepreneur or small business CEO, and these words ring true to you, there is more help at hand. Contact your local Women’s Business Center (WBC). With a network of over 100 educational centers across the country, WBCs are designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses. WBCs seek to “level the playing field” for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the business world.

Alternatively, if you would like the guidance of a mentor, check out SCORE Mentors. They can pair you with other women business owners and executives who’ve walked in your shoes.

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