Elevate Women in Leadership


Dr. Melissa Furman, MS, DBA

Approximately 50% of the workforce is comprised of women and more women are serving in leadership roles than in the past. Although there is much work to be done and progress to be made, progress is occurring. Chambers and organizations can do much to elevate women in leadership by providing needed opportunities.

Chamber of Commerce organizations are positioned to assist women with elevating their career success through programming designed specifically for women. Regardless of the generation or career stage, women face unique challenges in the workplace and can benefit from programs addressing topics such as:

Personal branding and self-promotion

Personal branding and self-promotion are critical for career advancement and unfortunately, historical culture norms within the United States do not encourage this behavior among girls and women. Many women define themselves as “hardworking,” “loyal,” and “dependable,” but many are also very humble and shy about promoting their accomplishments.

Women should reflect upon the following questions:

  • How do others view you?
  • What do people say about you when you leave the room?
  • Do you have a positive first impression?
  • What messages are you sending by the way you behave? Dress? Communicate?
  • Do you promote your skills, abilities, and accomplishments on a regular basis?
  • What skills, abilities, and experience are valued within your organization or industry? Are you actively promoting them?
  • What is your strategy to be recognized by key decision makers?

Negotiation skills

Negotiation skills are a powerful business tool that can be used daily, and women need to develop their negotiation skills. Additionally, they need to feel comfortable and confident utilizing their negotiation skills to maximize their success.

Overcoming unconscious bias and gender barriers

All humans have unconscious biases due to the lens that is created through past experiences and exposures. Unfortunately, unconscious biases, by both men and women, are hurting the success of women, and women need to learn how to navigate the challenges and barriers created by such biases.

Developing professional relationships

Most professionals have learned the importance of developing mentoring relationships; however, women can benefit from additional relationships such as sponsors, role models, and endorsers to name a few.

Communicating with power and influence

Societal and cultural norms have established expectations for “acceptable” communication styles from men and women, and unfortunately, women are faced with double standards. As a result, women may need to adjust their communication style slightly to be able to communicate with power and influence without being perceived negatively.

Many women believe that gender-specific, specialized programming for women can be counterproductive to the many efforts to achieve gender equality and equity. However, until equity and equality are achieved, women will continue to face unique challenges within the workplace that was historically designed by men.

As more women are serving in leadership roles and are changing the landscape of the workplace, the need for gender-specific, specialized programming for women will decrease, but until then, the programing can be very beneficial to helping women maximize their success. 

Dr. Furman is a professor and “practicing academic” at the James M. Hull College of Business at Augusta University. She is also the founder and owner of Career Potential, LLC, and provides consulting, coaching, and training. She utilizes her research and subject-matter expertise related to generational diversity, unconscious bias, career and leadership development, and emotional intelligence to have a positive, practical impact on organizations and individuals alike. She may be reached at: her email or website.

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