It’s a High Wire Act for Women

It’s a High Wire Act for Women                           

Brigid Moynahan, CEO, The Next Level Inc.: advancing women’s leadership in the Fortune 500

A steep cavern opens up for women when they reach senior manager levels.  McKinsey has noted that if just 25% of women managers were to move into senior roles, we could fill the gap that stalls progress to the top.

But crossing over between manager and executive roles is a High Wire Act for a woman.  It’s where evaluation becomes most subjective, as leaders watch from the other side and question whether “she’s got the stuff.”  While juggling extreme demands at work and home, she navigates the hidden biases that block her progress.  She’ll slip off if she’s seen as either “too soft” or “too hard.”  In addition to performance, she now must demonstrate “executive presence,” but without seeming aggressive or overly self-promoting.  If she’s seen as likable, she’s likely to be perceived as less capable.  Yet when she’s seen as capable, she’s likely to be viewed as less likable. While likability is not a major factor for men, it has proven to make or break women’s survival on the High Wire[1].

Does this High Wire Act seem scary?  Unfair?  Impossible?  “I think I have a sprained ankle, coach!”  For almost thirty years, we’ve watched women take joy and pride in crossing the High Wire.  Because getting across is what makes women into great leaders.  It takes true commitment, courage, resilience, adaptability, and influence to make that journey.  Most of all, it takes positive belief in what you can contribute and generosity in bringing out contribution in others.

So how do women make it across the High Wire? Important changes need to happen inside organizations to ease that journey but in meantime, we’re training women to succeed now. Our candidates are more than capable; it’s perceptions that have to change. Leadership is about inspiring confidence; so we train women to express courage themselves as they encourage each other. We teach them the exact strategies successful women need: projecting positive and powerful leadership presence; creating networks of allies, mentors and sponsors who invest in their success; discovering their leadership strengths and asking for  opportunities to express them; thinking strategically about their businesses, jobs, and lives to stay resilient and visionary as they lead through extreme change.

How do they do all this?  By building a safety network underneath the high wire they walk. In peer Success Circles® they build skills as they lead each other. Using powerful questions they urge each other forward, leading bravely and strategically. Program graduates stay connected long after programs end through their Success Circles®,

Now, there’s one more thing to add to the safety net: our new newsletter, High Wire; Advancing Women In Leadership.  In each issue , we share useful leadership tips, and inspiring interviews with women redefining leadership as they cross over. Our aim is to celebrate, not just the crossing, but the journey—the  courageous  High Wire Acts women do every day.

To subscribe to our newsletter, click here.

Our aim is to celebrate, not just the crossing, but the journey—the courageous High Wire Acts women do every day.

To learn more about our programs to advance women leaders visit our website at or call us at 973-783-7675.




[1] Catalyst.  “The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t”.  

High Wire Act: Maria Spelterini, b 1853

On July 8, 1876, Maria Spelterini, an Italian known for elaborate costumes, became the only woman in history to cross the Niagara River gorge on a tightrope. She then crossed with her feet strapped in peach baskets, blindfolded, and with her ankles and wrists manacled.