Are female only leadership programs still needed?

As small yet significant strides are being made towards gender-balanced leadership in organisations, the question of the need for female only leadership programs is a fair one.

My team and I have now run 14 Women in Leadership Programs in Asia. While most of the 150 participants have supported the need for a female only program, there have been a few participants who challenged the idea whether women really need this ‘safe space’. I enjoy in-depth conversations about this whenever the opportunity presents itself. The main reason why participants believed there was no need for a female only program was that they felt welcomed and encouraged in their workplaces. This is truly encouraging to hear!

So why the need for separate Women Leadership programs?

Along the way somewhere women lost, or perhaps never had, the rights to be equal in terms of speaking up, taking up certain (or any) jobs, the rights to vote, and the list goes on. This has naturally led women to question ourselves. Can we really do this, are we worthy of a leadership position? I meet a lot of women who need extra reassurance to believe they have the right to have ambitions and strive for whatever they would like to achieve.

After all, what do we want? We want inclusive female and male leaders and organisations with inclusive cultures. On one hand, we should work on equality together by understanding how subconscious biases influence our decisions and how we can all be more inclusive leaders. On the other, we know from research that any minority representative needs additional members from that group in order to have a voice. As women represent the most typical minority group in leadership, Women Leadership programs help women gain and strengthen their voice.


There is a long way to go despite the fact that things are moving in the right direction. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 it will take another 99.5 years until the overall global gender gap will close. The report examines four areas. Although the numbers vary across geographies, significant progress has been made on the Educational Attainment and the Health and Survival gaps where 96.1% and 95.7% of the gaps have been closed respectively. We are doing less well on Economic Participation and Opportunity where 57.8% of the gap has been closed, and we are doing even worse in terms of Political Empowerment where this number is only 24.7%.

The report also points out that it seems to be difficult to make bigger strides in addressing the gender pay gap. If we look at the global average of a woman’s income (in purchasing power parity), it is about $11,000 whereas it is $21,000 for a man.


It is difficult to explain how this all happened and why we ended up with inequality in leadership positions and pay. There could be simple biological reasons, e.g. men on average being stronger and strength was more needed in the earlier days of mankind. Women at times being limited physically while being pregnant and with small babies could be an additional reason. Maybe men have more of a ‘fight or flight’ reflex, while women ‘tend and befriend’, and this makes men more assertive in asking for what they want. However this inequality began and prevailed, our current world is slowly getting ready for the change.

The ‘MeToo’ movement was a fantastic, brave and very much needed outcry. However, I believe we need to be careful. We shouldn’t try to correct inequality without sufficiently including men, and it won’t help our case if we offend men by blaming and shaming all of them. Men need to be a part of the way forward. This is why we include male panellists and presenters even in our women only leadership programs.

For now, our female programs remain, but we have also started running Inclusive Leadership programs. Here, both women and men can learn and practice inclusive behaviour and skills together, embracing not only gender differences, but also cultural and generational differences and ultimately the diversity of thoughts.

5 Types of Imposter Syndrome

Deep down you know you are good at your job, but does one small mistake or mishap have you feeling like a complete failure? If so, there is a very good chance you are suffering from imposter syndrome. The psychological phenomenon known as imposter syndrome is the belief that you’re wholly inadequate and incompetent, despite hard evidence proving otherwise.

The line between self-awareness and self-loathing is a narrow one. With pressure to succeed and frequent comparison with others, it’s not surprising that many of us feel undeserving or unworthy of recognition.

Imposter syndrome is more common that you might think. Research from 2011 suggests approximately 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lives. Some of the world’s most successful and highly regarded individuals have confessed to feeling like frauds in light of their own achievements.


“There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”

-Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO & Author of Lean In

“I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. … And I was driven to get through life very quickly… feeling so utterly inadequate. I thought the work was the only thing of value.”

-David Bowie, English singer-songwriter

“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

-Maya Angelou, American Author


Individuals suffering from imposter syndrome generally fall into one of five categories.  Do you recognize yourself in any of these categories? Or perhaps you’ve seen some of these traits in your co-workers. The good news is there are ways address these traits and give yourself and your colleagues the support you all deserve. Awareness and empathy for self and others will go a long way in combatting imposter syndrome.


1. The Perfectionist

Perfectionists set ridiculously high standards for themselves and feel like failures when they don’t reach them. Setting excessively high standards is a no-win situation. If they’re not achieved, it confirms their fears of not being good enough. If they are, they believe they didn’t set the bar high enough.

Is this me?

  • Have you ever been accused of being a micro-manager or control freak?
  • Do you have difficulty delegating? Even when you’re able to do so, do you feel frustrated and disappointed in the results?
  • When you miss the mark, do you accuse yourself of not being cut out for your job and stew on it for days?
  • If you receive praise and recognition for something you’ve achieved, do you tend to discount it?

What can I do about it?

  • We can all strive to be better, but it is essential to remember that if all you do is chase perfection, you miss out on other important things in life.
  • Push yourself to act before you’re ready
  • Learn to accept mistakes/setbacks as a natural part of the process. Learn from them.
  • Force yourself to own and celebrate achievements. Keep a praise journal. Write down any positive feedback you’ve received from colleagues or clients, awards/recommendations. Read it regularly.
  • Remember: a done something is better than a perfect nothing.


2. The Superhero

Superheroes feel like they have not truly earned their title so work harder and longer than those around them to prove their worth. They are workaholics, addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself.  They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.

Is this me?

  • Do you stay later at the office than the rest of your team, even after you have completed that day’s necessary work?
  • Are you stressed when you’re not working?
  • Have you given up hobbies and outside interests?
  • Do you feel like you haven’t truly earned your title, so you feel pressed to work harder and longer than those around you?

What can I do about it?

  • Learn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally.
  • Train yourself to veer away from external praise and validation and let your own sense of pride shine through.
  • Document those accomplishments that you feel particularly proud of and identify what it was about that accomplishment that made YOU most proud. Set that as your own bar for success and achievement.
  • Know your limits and draw your boundaries. Work on finding yourself and building your confidence.


3. The Natural Genius

Similar to Perfectionists, Natural Geniuses have impossibly high standards. However, they also expect to get everything right on the first try. They are typically able to master a new skill easily, feeling ashamed when they cannot. They judge success based on their abilities, not their efforts. If they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it.

Is this me?

  • Are you used to excelling without much effort?
  • Do you have a track record of getting top marks in everything you do?
  • Were you told frequently as a child that you were the “smart one” in your family? Or that you were “gifted” at school or in the sports arena?
  • Do you dislike the idea of having a mentor? Prefer to handle things on your own?

What can I do about it?

  • Accept that you’re human. And your colleagues are human too. They’re not great at everything either. Most things cannot be accomplished without hard work and effort.
  • Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviours that you can improve over time.Askyourself, what did I learn from this experience? Is this knowledge or a skill I can develop for the future or an area where I can collaborate with others who do?


4. The Individualist

Individualists feel the need to accomplish things on their own and refuse help from others so they can prove their worth.

Is this me?

  • Do you prefer working alone?
  • “I don’t need anyone’s help.”
  • Do you frame requests in terms of the requirements of the project, rather than your needs as a person?
  • If you do receive help, do you see this as a sign of failure or weakness?
  • Is constructive feedback particularly hard to accept?

What can I do about it?

  • It’s OK to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse help to the detriment of the team or project.
  • Build a support network. The worst thing that people with imposter syndrome can do is to isolate themselves. Remember that not everything can be accomplished alone. Ask a senior colleague for guidance and mentoring on navigating intimidating environments.
  • Learn to accept that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you know your limits and have room for growth.


5. The Expert

Experts fear being exposed as inexperienced and unknowledgeable. They will not feel satisfied when finishing a task until they feel that they know everything about the subject. They continuously hunt for new information, which prevents them from completing tasks and projects.

Is this me?

  • Are you hesitant to speak up in meetings because you’re afraid of looking stupid if you don’t already know the answer?
  • Do you avoid volunteering for anything outside of your role because you view it as a distraction that could compromise the quality of your other tasks?
  • Do you shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet 100% of the hiring criteria?
  • Despite being in the same role for years, do you still feel that you don’t know enough?

What can I do about it?

  • Push yourself to take on stretch assignments. As the name suggests, these are designed to challenge you and take your experience and knowledge to new places. You’re not expected to know all the answers.
  • Mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering can be a great way to discover your inner expert. You will be surprised by how much you actually do know, which will go some way in overcoming your self-doubt.
  • Deliberately put yourself in uncomfortable situations that help you grow.


The Imposter Cycle

To stop feeling like an imposter, stop thinking like an imposter!  Chronic self-doubt can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s part of something researchers call the “imposter cycle”. Feeling like a fraud at work makes you behave like one, which makes you feel even more like a fraud.

The impact of unchecked imposter syndrome can be far-reaching in the workplace. Recent research by Ghent University discovered that employees with strong imposter syndrome tendencies are more dissatisfied with their jobs, report less organisational citizenship behaviour (defined as volunteering for tasks outside your remit), and express a stronger intention to stay at their job only because the social and psychological cost of leaving is perceived as too high.

Whatever type of imposter syndrome you suffer from, the good news is that you have already done something about it!

The first step for people with symptoms is to educate themselves about the syndrome. Identifying with a type will help when working to manage symptoms.

And why stop there? Pay it forward and share your newfound knowledge with others; at home and at work.

Children taught that they are superior in intelligence, appearance, or talent can develop imposter syndrome when they inevitably struggle to achieve something. To counteract the mistake of praising traits, (“You’re so smart!”), praise effort instead, (“You worked so hard on that”).

It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.


References & further information:
The importance of cross-cultural relocation training

In multinational organizations international assignees – both short and long term – play very important and somewhat unique roles. They may be sent abroad for setting up a new operation, for development purposes, sharing best practices and corporate culture, problem solving, filling skill gaps or running projects. Well prepared assignees have a much better chance of success.

Practice and research show significant losses, between $250,000 and $1 million for each individual, when assignees fail. This includes direct costs, such as salary and benefits, relocation expenses, and training and development. There are also the indirect costs to consider such as inefficiency and low morale of the local staff, damaged relationships with key clients in the region, future difficulty in recruiting for the location and the negative impact on the expat involved as well as on her/his family.

Technical competence is a must and in the international environment combined with cross-cultural sensitivity. Cross-cultural relocation training is therefore an important part of setting up assignees and their families for success.

Best practices for expatriate cross-cultural relocation programs

An effective program should have the following components:

  • The training session should have a focus on every-day business situations so that the expatriate is able to use the learnings immediately in her/his work
  • A blended approach of training and coaching over a 4-6 week time period so the expat and spouse/partner can practice what they have learned while receiving support
  • Allowing the expatriate and spouse to assess their own cultural biases, in addition to learning about the other culture/cultures
  • Providing recommendations for how the expatriate can adjust her/his behavior in order to be most effective
  • Addressing the assignee’s specific concerns and issues
  • Inviting the participation of the spouse since the lack of the spouse’s or the family’s adjustment are the most often quoted reasons for expatriate premature return
Benefits of a Cross-Cultural Relocation Program

Expatriates often quote the following two points as the most important benefits of cross-cultural programs: 1) Becoming aware of how their own cultural perceptions and biases impact the interactions with their colleagues, customers, partners, etc., and 2) The understanding of how cultures influence peoples’ behaviors (e.g. having a different approach to time, using a direct or indirect communication style, respecting or almost ignoring hierarchy).

Other benefits include:
  • Accelerated readiness for effective work performance
  • Realistic expectations and overall better preparation for work and life adjustments required in the new location
  • Effective communication with international colleagues and the local office
  • More fulfilling experience during the assignment

A quality relocation training program gives expatriates a heightened chance for success in their intercultural interactions and a good foundation on which they can further develop their cross-cultural competence. And when the assignee succeeds, so does the organization.

Basic cross-cultural survival tips for new Western APAC leaders

Basic cross-cultural survival tips for new Western APAC leaders

Doing businesscan be risky and challenging for newcomers to Asia where many of the behaviours that made you respected and successful at home can be misunderstood and looked upon as arrogant or rude. While generalizing is always dangerous and there is no one “Asian culture”, just as there is no one “Western culture”, there are some cultural similarities among the countries in Asia. Knowing the basics can keep you from starting your business relationships on the wrong foot during those first visits.

1. If you are a man greeting a woman, say hello with a slight nod of your head, unless she extends her hand.

For religious and cultural reasons, many women in Asia do not shake hands with men. It could be embarrassing if you extend your hand to a woman. Also, when you do shake hands, with men or women, leave the bone-crushing handshake at home. Handshakes in Asia tend to be much less vigorous and forceful, and this is perfectly normal for both genders.

2. Give your business card with two hands and the text facing the recipient. Receive a business card the same way. Take a few seconds to study the card and don’t put it in your back pocket or write on it.

Have a good supply of business cards made when you arrive in Asia because you will go through many. In many Asian cultures, business cards are seen as an extension of the person and should be treated with respect.

Lining up the business cards on the meeting table is appropriate and a great way to remember people’s titles and names. You may also want to put the cards in seniority order so you know to whom you should address most of your remarks and questions.

3. In a meeting or at a business meal, wait for your host to start talking business first. Expect a lot more “small talk” than you are probably used to.

In the US there is a saying, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” The opposite is true in Asia – business is considered very personal and successful business is built upon relationships.

4. Keep your emotions in check.

Harmony is an important value in Asia. Self-control is a virtue, and losing your temper will not help you gain respect.

5. During a group meeting, address your questions and comments to the most senior person in the room, but don’t openly challenge them.

Hierarchy is widely observed in Asia. Don’t be surprised if an employee who might be quite vocal when speaking to you one-on-one doesn’t say much or is vague when his manager is present.

Challenging people in front of others is a sure way for both parties to lose ‘face’ and can quickly sever a relationship.

6. Try to understand all the messages sent to you during your meetings. Look out for hesitation and non-verbal cues. There are many ways to say “no” in Asia without using the actual word “no”.

While you may value being direct and saying what you mean, especially in business, this is not a value that is typically shared in Asia. You may need to read between the lines and observe facial expressions and body language to get the real message behind the words.

7. When asking a question or waiting for a comment, you may need to wait longer than you are accustomed to. Don’t always fill the silence.

Asians typically have a longer gap in their communication between sentences than most Western cultures. The silence might make you feel uncomfortable and that’s okay. This gap is natural for Asian speakers because that is the way they use language, both native and foreign.

8. Invest in developing your cross-cultural competence, it will make your work more effective and your foreign experience more enjoyable.

Learning how to correctly pass a business card is easy and important, but understanding how to motivate your Asian team or how to successfully conclude a business deal is not as simple.

You may have heard the analogy that culture is like an iceberg. The 10% of the iceberg that is above the water represents people’s behaviours you can observe with your senses. The above tips are just a few of the behaviours you may encounter when first visiting Asia. The 90% that is below the water are the values, beliefs and often subconscious assumptions that inform those behaviours. Understanding those values, beliefs and assumptions are the key to being a successful leader in Asia.

Find out more about cultural training click here.


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