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Women Leaders: Grit Required

An article in today's Wall Street Journal says female executives identify with the scrutiny Hillary Clinton is experiencing as she campaigns to be president. The story touches on Catalyst's recent report on women in the workplace, which I blogged about last week.

While the story delves into familiar struggles women encounter at work, it also raises a more compelling point: Some of the most successful women in business-leadership positions have learned to stop focusing on gender.

According to the story:

If you're a woman leader and you're giving a speech or being interviewed by the media, "you are bound to be asked personal questions, such as how you balance work and family, or where you got your shoes," says Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines, a division of Hearst Corp., and author of "Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)."

"It comes with the territory, and I don't think railing about it gets you anywhere," she adds. Her personal strategy, she says, is to "accept it," answer a few questions, and then say firmly, "OK, that's enough; let's move on."

It's the same in politics, Ms. Black says, where a woman will have to convince voters she's the best candidate, rather than try to seek sympathy if she is attacked. "To run, you need tremendous fortitude, not just for one day but every day for 18 months, and you have to handle the daily battles," says Ms. Black, who hasn't decided whom she will back.

Indeed, some of the most successful women in business say they've learned to stop worrying so much about gender and to focus on leading. "The successful women I know in business, academia and elsewhere think of themselves as leaders who happen to be women" not as female executives, female college presidents or female politicians, says Nancy Koehn, a Harvard Business School professor.

Last week I wrote that women seeking leadership positions need assistance from their companies. Women also can help themselves, as this story shows, by knowing when to stop bemoaning the troubling attitudes of others. By forging ahead and focusing on the business at hand, those successful businesswomen mentioned above are showing grit and determination: two qualities every leader needs.

It's no easy feat, but the more we blaze the trail, the clearer that path will be for our daughters when they seek their turn at leadership.

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