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Workforce expert Joan Kuhl: How women at the top can thrive, not just survive

The workforce expert and author of "Dig Your Heels In" explains the struggles that women at the top of their careers face on a daily basis, and give strategies about how they can go from merely surviving the job to thriving in it.
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."Travis W Keyes Photography

The number of women in C-suite positions is rising. According to a study conducted by consulting firm Korn Ferry, an average of 25 percent of the top leaders are women, up from 23 percent the year before.

Indeed, the women at the top of their game make it look so easy, yet this is far from the truth. Female leadership positions come with a deep sense of accomplishment but also a long journey of hard work, significant challenges and responsibilities ahead.

Know Your Value’s Mika Brzezinski and Joan Kuhl, author of “Dig Your Heels In,” recently discussed how women at the top can thrive. Hint: It takes a village, and young professionals also play a big part in helping their female mentors rise in power.

With a woman’s rise in rank comes a responsibility to be a leader, a top performer and also a mentor for younger women who aspire to be in their position someday. “They’re barely surviving, let along thriving,” Kuhl said.

Surprisingly, there isn’t much difference between the women at the top and those trying to get there, Brzezinski added. They have the same types of challenges, such as knowing their value and finding the voice to communicate it effectively.

Women tend to assume women in positions of power are perfect and live a glamorous life, but it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t the case. “They didn’t have some secret medicine that they took that made them winners,” Brzezinski said.

Furthermore, the power is in their supportive networks of colleagues. Successful women “still need our support so they can thrive,” Kuhl added. The day-to-day experiences of women in the C-suite should be happy, healthy and productive.

Throughout the process, it’s important not to be judgmental of female leaders and to push them up when possible. Everyone makes personal choices, and people have different levels of endurance. Younger women tend to judge others depending on the sacrifices they made, such as not having children.

“At the end of the day, it’s the human to human relationship,” Kuhl said. You can consider: “I want this person to thrive, so I am going to accept whatever decisions they made. I can be different and do that job too.”

“We put too much burden on women at the top,” Kuhl said. “It’s a lot to take on.”