Women in Leadership

It's Election Day here in America, and we have the first female Presidential candidate of a major political party. The highest and thickest glass ceiling has been cracked (if not broken). For good. And for *good*. 

This makes today ideal for posting my first blog article. It's a report from the Woman in Leadership panel I attended at St. Mary's College. 

Panel of inspiring women

The topic alone wasn't enough to draw me to Moraga. The panel had to be populated with impressive executives who happened to be women. And it was. 

  • Moire Rasmussen: PricewaterhouseCoopers Diversity and Inclusion Leader (moderator)
  • Donna Uchida: chief of communications at Kaiser Permanente
  • Amy Vernetti: director of leadership recruiting at Google
  • Tiffin Groff: vice president of channel marketing for Peet’s Coffee & Tea

Unconscious bias

Vernetti proposed that unless there's 30% women at the table, there is discrimination. Throughout her Google activities and at the companies she advises, this is the yardstick by which she determines whether or not she's in a fair environment. 

Rasmussen suggested the USA Today article "Becoming conscious of unconscious bias in high tech" by Hank Williams. While this article is two years old, and there's been much more written on this topic since then, it's useful editorial. 

One of the best pieces I’ve read on the topic is from Russell Reynolds Associates. The research report titled Different is Better states that, as it relates to boards of directors, “Being able to draw upon a diverse set of competencies and knowledge is essential if boards are to successfully address the complex issues their companies face.”

HeForShe was recommended as a starting point for ideas on how to effect change toward gender equality. HeForShe is inviting people around the world to stand together to create a bold, visible force for gender equality.

What we can do for ourselves

The panelists shared several quality tips on what women can do for themselves in the workplace. 

  • Be competitive and ambitious. Operate as if you want a seat at the table. Be outward about your goals. 
  • Be heard. While in meetings, if someone else repeats your earlier-shared-but-ignored idea, respond with something along the lines of, "Thanks for saying that in a different way that I did." I love the suggestion because this scenario is very common, and the response isn't defensive. 
  • Ask for what you want. That promotion, that raise, that chair position on an important committee, that high-profile project. Ask for it. If you don't, the answer will always be "no."
  • Read the room. In meetings, during presentations, and at the big pitch, tune in to what your audience needs from you. A very funny story was shared by Rasmussen. She was going on too long during a meeting, taking a winding route to her main points. Her mentor said, "Land the plane." That's it. Land The Plane. Rasmussen didn't take it personally. She focused, and then succinctly hit all her main points. If she had read the room, she would have gotten there quicker. 
  • Maintain the body language of confidence. Uchida talked about getting a seat at the table, in part because of her level head. She meant that literally, too. So doesn't cock her head to one side when presenting her ideas. Neither should we. Another panelist talked about the "power pose" and what that does for confidence. 
    • I suggest social psychologist Amy Cuddy's TEDTalk that shows how "power posing" — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don't feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. It's been viewed more than 37 million times!
  • Take the meeting notes. Now this is an interesting piece of advice. We're typically advised to NOT take the notes, as it can appear to secretarial. But Rasmussen proposes that having this role in a meeting gives you great control, puts you in the position of having others clarify their comments, and puts you at the whiteboard where everyone sees your participation (should you decide to take notes in that way). 

What we can do for others

There were a few nuggets of solid advice on what we can do for other women in the room. 

  • Back up other women in meetings. When they say something important or valuable, amplify their comments with credit to them. And block others from speaking over them. 
  • Vernetti suggested we look for the "men with ovaries" who will also back up other women in meetings. 
  • I posed to the panel the question of what we can do for the very young women, the girls in our families and communities. Vernetti responded with the notion of "Be what you see." Meaning, kids can be anything they see as possible. So take them to work, bring them to meetings, show them your involvement at city council meetings. 
  • We were reminded of Madeleine Albright's famous line, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
    • She's since apologized in the New York Times for saying this in relation to Hillary Clinton's presidential run. But come on, it does apply to women in the workplace. Let's support each other.

Time to land the plane!

One point from the panel that I had to applaud was the notion: do what makes you uncomfortable; run toward those things. I love that. 

Thank you for reading my report from St. Mary's College's Women in Leadership panel. 

 St. mary's college in the rolling hills of moraga, california

St. mary's college in the rolling hills of moraga, california