Sunday, November 16, 2008

Effective Leadership During A Recession: Tips for Women in the Workplace

The current economic downturn is creating an increasingly stressful work environment, as companies nationwide face corporate downsizing, decreased sales and a reduction in compensation, bonuses and other benefits.

“While this is a difficult time for businesspeople across a wide range of industries, women, in particular, face unique challenges in the workplace during recessionary times,” said Laura Lopez, leadership expert and author of the new book, The Connected and Committed Leader.

According to Lopez, women face the following challenges:
  • Women step out of the workforce for an average of 11 years due to family responsibilities, and are trying to catch-up from those non-income-producing years. Given that women often earn less than their male counterparts, the impact of an economic downturn can set them back further.
  • Despite women's advancements in corporate America, gender stereotypes still exist in the workplace, so women may not get the same promotion or advancement opportunities as men. While companies are starting to make changes to accommodate women's unique needs for flexible schedules – such as job sharing, telecommuting and reduced workweeks – these options are still not widespread.
  • Women have been huge contributors to entrepreneurialism over the past five years, and recessionary times could slow down this growth rate simply because it is more difficult to access start-up capital for business ventures during tough financial times.

“Women have the tendency to retreat during recessionary times, but they should use a counter-intuitive approach to recession-proof their careers and businesses. Push forward instead of pulling back,” said Lopez. “Women, who traditionally focus on tending to the needs of others, often put their own development on hold. It is even more critical during recessionary times to invest in your business and career.”

Lopez offers the following tips for becoming a strong and effective leader:

  • Learn when to let go. Women often struggle with this, as they’re so used to juggling and multi-tasking at home and at work that they often believe they can – and should – do it all. However, this mindset can limit their impact as a leader. An effective leader needs to be able to unleash the potential of others and to guide them to accomplish great things.
  • Create your own brand. In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s critical to differentiate yourself from the crowd by promoting your abilities and demonstrating your distinctions. During recessionary times, when companies might be considering downsizing, it’s particularly important to spotlight your brand and emphasize your value to the team.
  • Know when to say no. Many workers, especially women, make a common mistake – saying yes to everything they’re asked to do, thinking this is an effective way to get ahead. Every time we say yes to something where we are, perhaps, sub-optimal, we diminish our true potential and promise. Being willing to try and handle every task can be detrimental to our long-term success.
  • Build strong relationships. It’s essential to form solid relationships with our bosses, customers, clients and colleagues. Many people, primarily women, become focused on their “to do” list, ignoring the equally important, but less urgent, aspects of business, such as relationship-building. While establishing these relationships can be time-consuming, it’s essential to business success.
  • Be flexible. While women can be very service-oriented, they also can be perceived as un-yielding and rigid when meeting the ever-changing demands of their workplace. Many women are great at executing the details, but become so focused on reaching the “end goal” that they become un-flexible during the process, damaging important relationships with their colleagues and customers.
  • Demonstrate effective leadership skills. Remember that demonstrating effective leadership skills will set you apart from others, which is especially important during challenging economic times.

Laura Lopez is a leadership specialist and branding expert with more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience. Most recently, Laura Lopez was a vice president with The Coca-Cola Company. Laura's book, The Connected and Committed Leader, is available via her Web site at, your local bookstore or on As the owner of her own business, Laura helps companies and business associations achieve more sustainable business results through the power of effective leadership and branding. She is available for speeches, workshops and customized programs. Laura can be contacted via her Web site at

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