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Are you a Rapunzel or a Ladder-Kicker?

There’s a great divide emerging between two categories of working women.  Have you noticed it?  No, I’m not talking about the working mums versus the non-parents – though the working mums might like the world to think that.  Or the full-time-career-obsessed woman versus the flexibility-focused-have-a-life ladies who define their success by more than just the floor space of the corner office they occupy.

No, what I’m talking about here goes much deeper than that.  I’m talking about the Rapunzels versus the Ladder-Kickers.

In my work as the SheEO I spend countless hours every week facilitating women’s events and group mentoring sessions, speaking at conferences and meetings and writing for online forums around the world on the issues women face in advancing to leadership.  A big part – and perhaps the most fulfilling aspect for me – is connecting women with role model leaders via the sphinxx group mentoring programs.

Now we all know the stats about how few women are making it to key leadership and decision making roles in the top companies all around the world.  With men holding at least nine out of every ten C-level roles in almost every developed nation across the globe, finding successful female role models for women to aspire to can be tough.  It’s even tougher when the few women in these roles are Ladder Kickers.

You know who I’m talking about.  They’re the ones who, having done the hard yards and battled their way to the top “on their own merits” (which they’re always mindful to point out!), they kick the ladder out from beneath the women who follow in their footsteps.  They reckon if they had to do it tough, so should every other woman.  They reckon it’s about every woman making her own way, and they wear their disdain of affirmative action programs like a badge of honor.

These are the kinds of women who, when approached to be guest mentors in the sphinxx group mentoring programs, either don’t respond to the invitation at all or have their secretaries decline on their behalf, saying their diaries are already too overcrowded to possibly fit in a 1-hour conference call with a group of aspiring women leaders.  Of they question the benefit of the program – after all, no one offered them such an opportunity all those years ago, and they made it didn’t they?

The Rapunzels, on the other hand, sit at the other side of the spectrum.  Rapunzels are the women who, when they make it to the top, throw down their golden locks and help other women to ascend to the top as well.  They recognise that the more women who make it as leaders, the more our collective roar can be heard.  They realise that in the psychology of the minorities, it can be tough to hold true to your integrity, values and beliefs.  So the Rapunzels do what they can to increase the number of women making it to the top, for the collective good of us all.

Rapunzels are the first to volunteer their precious time in my group mentoring programs, or to share their experiences via online forums, or to speak at conferences and forums about their experiences as a woman who’s made it to the top.  And they’re special because they reveal their vulnerabilities and take off their coats of armour to share the untold stories of just how tough it is to make it, and of the need to make careful choices.  Not because they want to scare other women off, or to lessen the competition like the Ladder Kickers do; but because they understand the importance of setting realistic expectations and managing to them.

So why am I writing about this great divide?  Because what we observe, we learn.  So if Ladder Kickers are prevalent in your workplace – be careful you don’t turn out to be one too.  Forward this article to those Ladder Kickers as a not-so-subtle message that you’re over their attitute!  And if you have the choice – choose those workplaces and networking forums where the Rapunzels hang out.

And if you’re a leader, think about the message you’re sending to the women who look up to you.  Would they think of you as a friend or a foe?  What sort of example are you setting and are you doing your part to help other women on their journey?

When all is said and done, I’d much rather be a Rapunzel than a Ladder Kicker.  After all, life’s too short to wear steel capped boots!

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