The Paula Principle: Helping Women Level Up

15 Jun
June 15, 2017

Susy Roberts, 15th June 2017

In his book The Paula Principle, Tom Schuller says that most women work below their level of competence. And there’s no doubt that there’s a huge amount of inequality when it comes to the top jobs; only 25% of FTSE 100 directors are female, the lowest level since 2011.

Why it pays for a leader to look on the bright side of life

It’s a phenomenon I frequently witness first hand. I work with so many women who simply don’t believe that they’re good enough for top roles, when all the evidence tells me the opposite. Outstanding CVs, demonstrable results, glowing references; yet the self-doubt remains, even at the highest level.

Female-only business networks can be effective in providing support and encouragement, but often women are reluctant to highlight the gender issue further by setting themselves apart from the men. So instead, they compete; they mirror the authoritative and assertive behaviours of the men in the boardroom, but rather than being seen as powerful and confident, they’re labelled as difficult and awkward.

A study by Brigham Young University and Princeton found that men dominate conversation in boardrooms, speaking 75% of the time. Women are often interrupted and talked over, seen as irrational and emotional if they disagree, or quite simply ignored.

In such a culture, it’s hardly surprising that confidence is low and women work below their ability. But what can we do about it?

Focusing on gender-related traits can perpetuate the stereotypes, and introducing female-only programmes can add to the imbalance. I’ve worked with international organisations that focused on developing senior women, only to be snubbed by managers furious at being singled out instead of judged on merit.

But get it right, and you can develop the potential of a huge number of talented leaders.

Personal development coaching – one to one mentoring by someone from outside the organisation – can be incredibly effective in encouraging women to see themselves positively. Introducing a structured programme into the workplace, where performance is regularly reviewed and the skills, talents and achievements of an individual are acknowledged – can help women to focus in on their own strengths and future career goals. Rather than trying to emulate the behaviour of their colleagues – male or otherwise – their own strengths are celebrated.

We need to be serious about developing female talent. It’s not just a tick-box in diversity – it’s encouraging talented, skilled people to have the confidence in their own abilities so they can make their way to the top.


If you would like to discuss enhancing the employee experience at your organisation, by clarifying your mission, moulding roles around people or adopting strengths-based performance measures, please call us on +44(0)1270 750232 or email


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