Written by Lu Zhang, the founder and managing partner of Fusion Fund and a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
Upper management has a gender problem. According to 2018 data from Pew Research Center, only 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and less than a quarter of boardroom seats among Fortune 500 companies are occupied by women. The startup world isn’t immune, either: A 2019 report by Silicon Valley Bank found that half of startup leadership teams include no women at all.
To close this gap, many organizations are encouraging risk-taking and mentoring among their female employees. But these strategies simply aren’t enough. Once women do reach top leadership positions, they find themselves wildly outnumbered by their male counterparts. They face deep-rooted stereotypes, particularly among older team members. Many women leaders develop imposter syndrome, an unshakable feeling their success isn’t deserved.
When I became the leader of a team with male colleagues who were older than me, I bumped up against many of these stereotypes. People assumed that I wouldn’t have big ambitions or that I’d be aggressive and hard to work with if I did. They thought I wouldn’t be able to handle older male colleagues. They would automatically assume an older male team member was the leader, rather than me, the young female. The list goes on.