Five Keys to Supporting Growth of Women Leaders

By Alan Cherry

Women comprise the vast majority of the workforce in the dental industry, yet they are disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions at all levels. This needs to change. A recent webinar hosted by The DEO explored the obstacles to progress as well as ways that each of us can turn the dial on this issue and be an agent for change.

Women are highly intelligent, driven, and capable individuals and they want to show up and perform in an authentic way. 

How can organizations give them the platform to be their best selves, be confident, show their strengths, and deliver results?

Here are a few actionable things that both individuals and organizations can do to acknowledge and raise up the women who work for and with them.  

1. Organizations and leadership should be intentional about hiring and promoting women into leadership roles.

“[We need to create] an environment where women aren’t just going from level one to level two, but where they can actually emerge as leaders, where other women can look at those women leading, growing, and want to be like them, and think that this is possible,” says Dr. Aman Kaur, a DSO Strategy Developer and Growth Accelerator. “I don’t think it’s intentional that people don’t want to promote women, but it will take some intention and action to follow that intention to promote women to those leadership levels.”

2. Create a culture that supports women from the bottom up. 

“It’s really important for the leaders of organizations to bring their women up, not just in title, but also in the social respect and letting them speak up and bringing in ideas,” says Eva Sadej, founder and CEO of Floss Bar. “But it’s also creating a culture where the bottom of the organization supports women. Because what could happen with a woman [who is] put into a VP or other senior role and growing to a CEO, is that she actually faces a lot of questioning from below. A lot of, some people use the word, ‘insubordination,’ others use the word ‘disrespect’ and ‘lamenting.’ I see a lot when [women are put into leadership positions], it’s a shaky position – not because your glass ceiling is the guy above you, but because in your constant day-to-day you’re not being treated with the same level of respect that perhaps another male VP is being treated with.” 

3. Women leaders should look for opportunities to support and mentor other women in the industry. And organizations should be intentional about creating those opportunities. 

“One of the tangible things, [when I have promoted] women in my organization, is given them opportunity to mentor and partner with women from other DSOs,” says Dr. Aman Kaur: Dr. Kaur also talks about how important it is for leaders – both men and women – to actively seek out opportunities at conferences or other industry events to introduce the female leaders in your organization. She notes that a simple introduction goes a long way. 

“[For example, saying], ‘Meet Alyssa. She is the anchor of our team and she does all these things amazingly well.’ – suddenly that person exudes that confidence, talks differently, and now the other organization’s leaders are partnering with them. That’s what we need to do. We can say ‘It’s a equal world, go grab it, and then run with it,’ but no, there has been years of suppressing women. So we need to give them a pick-me-up, and then once we level the playing field, then I know they will run and they will win.”

4. When there’s no role model to look up to, look sideways.

“For me, in the dental space and in healthcare, I didn’t have anyone specifically to look up to. So I [instead looked around to see] who’s next to me that can help buttress me to rise to the top,” says Eva Sadej. 

“I used that concept a lot when I was there early. As a complete outsider, I faced a lot of weird looks and discrediting, and so what did I do? I borrowed credibility. I’d go to something, I’d grab the smart dude, tell him to say nice things about me in the intro and then I’d keep going,” she says. “Just grab your resources. When I’m in trouble, or there’s some weird situation, or investors are mad at me or something, I bring my phalanx of dudes with me, and we go handle it.”

5. Remember the power of a job title. 

Too often, titles are descriptive of a person’s job responsibilities but don’t signal anything about their place in the organizational hierarchy. Titles, for better or worse, automatically generate credibility and authority, both within an organization and to the outside world.

“Even though we think that titles are not as important, what I’ve seen is titles are not as important internally in the organization, but titles are for the external world,” says Dr. Kaur. “Titles are meaningful when we want the women in our organizations to be seen with a higher respect level from another organization. So I think there is some merit to giving [women leaders] the right title … which will give them confidence. And then they can exude that confidence when they go outside and talk with other people.” 

It is crucial, Dr. Kaur says, for men and male leaders to talk about how your organization’s women VPs or directors are making your organizations run better.

“Believe me – give them those tiny little wings and they will fly.”