Take The Lead Presented and Connected in 2014—and Wants Your Suggestions for 2015

IMG_6939-X3Understanding the Role Confidence Plays

Would workplaces become more balanced and society more equitable if women exhibited more confidence? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman created a stir with their book The Confidence Code and their article, “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic. To continue this important conversation, we were honored to have Shipman speak to the Take The Lead community in July about how personal confidence relates to women advancing in the workplace and in society. Yes, women face very real barriers, no matter how confident we are, but leading with confidence expands our possibilities in ways that change our lives and the lives of other women. (Like this quote? Tweet it!) Did you attend this event with Shipman? What did you learn? This confidence question will surely be an ongoing conversation, so we’d love to hear your thoughts!

TakeTheLead-80-X3The Solution to Feeling Stuck: Get a Coach!

At Take The Lead we teach women to define their lives and careers on their own terms. But history has also told us how crucial it is to seek help when we need it. That’s why we were so excited to gather some of the best coaches we know for an event in NYC sponsored by the fabulous ALEX AND ANI. Alisa Cohn, Robyn Hatcher, Bonnie Marcus, Dana Balicki, Audrey S. Lee, Maggie Castro Stevens, and Leslie Grossman joined us to share their wisdom and generously donate hours of coaching time to attendees. See photos from the event and learn more here.

15777710358_506c524d16_o-X3Circling Up!

One way we achieve leadership parity at Take The Lead is by working with women across all backgrounds, generations, and professional fields. And we’re proud to collaborate with a larger resurgent women’s movement. One way we create connections among women is through our online Take The Lead Community. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so to network and get honest, actionable advice from other accomplished women having valuable conversations. Soon we’ll be adding a mentoring component you won’t want to miss.

Gearing Up for 2015

Stay in touch with Take The Lead by signing up for our newsletter, and following us Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thanks again to everyone who joined us this year and stay tuned for exciting developments in 2015!

Remember! Please take a moment in the comments section to tell us what’s bugging you, highlight learning topics you want to see in our webcasts, courses, or blog, and suggest experts you admire. You can also tweet us at @takeleadwomen using the hashtag #takeleadwomen2015.

If you’re moved by the work Take The Lead does to give women and men true parity across all sectors, it’s not too late to donate to enable us to Teach, Connect, and Present to more people next year. Read more about our strategy for change, Take The Lead’s 4 keys to leadership parity, here.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Women and the 3 C-Words (Not What You think)

Journalist Sheila Weller triggered the gossip machine with her new book The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, when she reported on C-word #1: competition between the three female newsmedia icons.

NewsSororityCouric’s flippant comment that Sawyer must have traded sexual favors to land a coveted interview was THE sentence in the triple biography that hit multi-media headlines. In truth, the book is full of fascinating social history with well-rounded profiles of three women whose breakthroughs changed the media’s face forever.

Predictably, C-word #2: catfight raised its back and hissed at all womankind. Weller asked my opinion on the paradox that when women compete it’s a catfight as contrasted with men, for whom competition brings applause, promotions, and serious money. Here’s what I replied.

The very compound word “catfight” buys into two timeworn stereotypes.

First, that women are felines in the sense of being stealthy or treacherous (with not-so-oblique reference to slang for the female body parts to which women have historically been reduced as a primary way of diminishing us).

Second, that women inherently don’t support other women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the prevalence of women’s political collaboratives like Emily’s List or women’s funding networks such as Women Moving Millions in philanthropy (at whose annul conference I will be privileged to speak this week) and Golden Seeds in the entrepreneurial space.

Yet, both men and women persistently say, “Women are their own worst enemies,” and the media Mean Girls trope reinforces those time-honored stereotypes. We ingest these images and they affect our self-perceptions and therefore our behaviors. This is reinforced by the male model finite pie definition of “power over” others rather than the limitless “power to” do good things in the world.

We’re all socialized in the same culture, have similar implicit biases or blind spots. That’s why both men and women tend to think “man” when they think “leader.” This in spite of the fact that women are clearly not the problem but the solution to a variety of woes in business, politics and even saving the environment.

Which brings us to the third C-word: the C-Suite and what it takes to get there.

Women’s ambivalence about embracing power is linked to that traditional definition of power from which spring our culturally accepted female roles as nurturers and supporters rather than leaders. Break your gender stereotype and you will be punished by being dismissed, disparaged, and, by the way, less likely to get that promotion. This is called “stereotype threat.”

So not only do women risk losing treasured relationships when they compete as fiercely and directly as men do, they risk being punished for the very thing men are rewarded for. As a recent study by University of British Columbia researchers found, when women compete in the workplace, they are judged much more negatively than men who compete.

Why can’t we call different opinions among women “principled disagreements?” And why can’t we call vigorous workplace competition among women “striving to reach personal excellence?” Really that’s what they are. Positive use of conflict, controversy, and competition have become three of this “nice girl’s” favorite things because I learned the hard what that’s how you get people to pay attention to your ideas, create better products, and make sustainable social and organizational change.

Studying dozens of organizations that help women run for office (and that for decades have hardly moved the dial toward parity) made me notice that the same lack of progress was happening in the business world, and in personal relationships. That in turn motivated me to write No Excuses and then start Take The Lead.

I found that despite doors being open, women were reluctant to walk through them because they resist embracing the power embodied in head-on competition owing to the cultural punishment that comes with breaking their gender stereotype. Cracking that code is the next necessary step on long the road to full equality, and what Take The Lead’s programs such as our upcoming online certificate course in women’s leadership will accomplish by 2025.

Weller also asked me whether women agonize about the burdens of competing with other women when collaboration is historically our survival mechanism. I think we do. Often we agonize largely because we so want to be liked, to be seen as “nice” which our mothers told us to be and for which we were rewarded as girls. Guess what—it turns out that women leaders’ ability to balance competition with collaboration is a huge plus in today’s world.

This is our opportunity to create a #4 C-word narrative: strategic collaboration. In life and leadership, I suggest it’s the secret sauce behind those glowing, female driven, leadership outcomes, and why the world is crying out for more gender balanced leadership.

What are your thoughts? I’d love for you to share your observations and experiences about this intriguing topic with me.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

How to Keep Women from Leadership Parity

I led a women’s executive leadership workshop on “Women, Power, and Authentic Leadership” recently. A business school professor presented just before me, so I arrived early to observe her segment.

ladders wcf avisShe’s a highly skilled communicator who presented terrific content. Her elegant attire and direct but modulated self-presentation perfectly mirror how women are advised to look and speak to succeed in the business world. I know she’s passionate about advancing women in leadership and I was eager to garner some tips from her.

During the Q and A, Sarah, I’ll call her, was asked how to handle male colleagues’ informal gatherings—golfing, going out for drinks or afternoon coffee.  Sarah acknowledged that these groupings are where relationships are formed and business decisions often made, and that when women are excluded, it can mean they also lose out on promotions. At a minimum, it keeps them from being recognized as full partners on the work team.

She gave the example of several men in her department who go for coffee every afternoon and never invite her, despite officing in the same hallway. She rolled her eyes and said, “Whatever. I don’t let it bother me. Occasionally, if I have something I want to discuss, I’ll invite myself along. They never reject me—they just don’t think about including me. I don’t think they have ill will. It’s more like they don’t quite know what to do with me.”

I cringed, wishing she had let it bother her and had done something to change the dynamic. Because the first way to keep women from leadership parity is to keep them excluded from the informal relationship web.  

I made a mental note to share with participants my friend Nathalie Molina Nino’s technique.  She worked globally almost exclusively with men senior to herself in age and position.  When she was excluded from the men’s golf games, she didn’t learn to play golf as many women are counseled to do. (Not that there is anything wrong with golf; some women play for business relationship building because they like the game. I myself would have failed golf in college had there not been a written test.)

if yu don't know your own valueInstead, Nathalie staked her position on the team by doing something she enjoyed and inviting the others in. Before business travel, she researched restaurants, cuisine, and wines of the area. She planned a memorable dinner and invited all the men.  This positioned her as a leader, not a follower begging to be let into the cool kids’ circle. She became the cool kid everyone wanted to be with. Sharing meals, and a little excellent wine, opened lines of communication; the men then felt more comfortable working with her as an equal in other settings as well.

The second burning question from a participant was whether she should join the women’s workplace affinity group at her company. Sarah advised against it, saying it pigeonholes you as a “woman professional” instead of merely a “professional.”

No one countered that advice, whether from intentional complicity, that pesky niceness that women are socialized to exhibit, or lack of awareness that she had implied women are less valuable than men.

And here, Sarah had just excused the men in her department for going off together as an all-male group for coffee! Men have been doing this forever and been applauded for it.  This is in fact how most business gets done.

Again I cringed. During the break I told Sarah that I would be giving a different point of view because I didn’t want her to be surprised. She was most gracious about it and I intend to continue the conversation with her since as a professor in the business school her influence can be widespread. The second way to keep women from leadership parity is to avoid joining with other women in order to advance us all. 

I asked the participants to think through why employee affinity groups were formed in and what their purpose is—mutual support and to make up for the disadvantage of being a member of a group that has been traditionally less privileged or discriminated against. No one says LGBTQ people shouldn’t join affinity groups  — and look at the progress they’ve made in bringing equal treatment to their colleagues in the workplace in a relatively short time.

I shared Valerie Brown’s story of using her role as chair of the African American affinity group in her company to differentiate herself and get the promotion she sought. She set the group’s agenda around how demonstrating their value to the company by bringing in business and making sure they got credit for it.

We are what we are, and we are at our best when we can be authentically ourselves. Declining to join a women’s network out of fear of being pigeonholed as a women is as ludicrous as men declining to wear pants because it might pigeonhole them as men.

Why would women so undervalue themselves that they would decline to join with their sisters to help each other, and themselves, out? Because the third and most effective way to keep women from leadership parity is to undervalue ourselves even though the rest of the world recognizes their leadership value, not raise our hands, not stand out as women to leverage the unassailable data that women in leadership are good for the business bottom line.

To learn practical leadership Power Tools that help you overcome these three ways to keep women from leadership parity, and to advance your own career while improving your company’s business results, enroll now in my next signature online certificate course, “9 Practical Women’s Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career .”  Early bird rate through Sept. 16; corporate and group discounts are available for two or more from one organization.

PS. Next week I’ll tackle how to overcome the implicit bias that infects how both men and women think about gender and leadership and is the cause of these three ways to hold women back.

iPhoto


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

It’s not the mountain that trips you, it’s the pebble.

blue-footed boobieMy husband Alex and I just returned from a perfect vacation in the renowned Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. If you haven’t made this trip, put it on your bucket list.

We swam with the giant sea turtles and iguanas, cavorted with playful sea lions, and snapped photos of the famous blue-footed boobies—it was pure heaven. We also met fluffy white Nazca boobies and red-wattled magnificent frigatebirds in full mating season, penguins that adapted to the equatorial heat by becoming smaller and using their flippers to shield their feet from the hot sun, lumbering ancient land turtles, spotted eagle rays, orange-red crabs, and all kinds of other wonderful sea, land, and sky animals. I tend to get miserably seasick. The trip required us to live on a small ship for a week, and to island hop  each the day on the motorized rafts they call ”pangas.”

Worried seasickness would ruin my one opportunity to see the unique ecosystem where Darwin reputedly formulated his ideas about natural selection and evolution, I took six types of remedies with me. Miraculously, I became seasick only once, and the simplest cures of wristbands and candied ginger soon put me back in working order.

Lava hike

I was similarly over-cautious as we hiked different islands every day, sometimes on rugged lava rocks, sometimes up and down gravelly hills, clambering in and out of the pangas to traverse all kinds of terrain. Made it back from all these exotic adventures without a scratch.

Then, wouldn’t you know: On my first day back in the US, in the familiar surroundings of my neighborhood, I headed out for a routine morning walk. And I promptly I tripped right there on the sidewalk.

I fell SPLAT, skinning my knees and hands like a five year old. No broken bones, thank goodness, but painful contusions that left me lame for an as yet undetermined amount of time.

Sea lion and iguana

I wasn’t tripped up by a the hills or lava rocks, or other large impediments that I had so carefully prepared for, but rather by a small bump or pebble—I’m still not sure what because I didn’t see it.  I was paying less than careful attention to my all too usual surroundings as I multitasked on the phone to let family members know we had returned.

The same phenomenon happens to each and every one of us in other aspects of life.

It’s rarely the mountains or the big problems. It’s almost always the pebbles—those small unanticipated impediments–that surprise us and knock us off course.

Take a moment to think about it. What pebbles are tripping you up today? Not physically, but mentally, emotionally.

Your fear of taking a risk?

Your shame at not knowing an answer and being unwilling to ask?

Your lack of confidence to take on a leadership role for which you don’t feel 100% prepared?

Your tendency to hesitate for the split second that lets others set the agenda or get the credit for work you have done? Perhaps not seeing and embracing the power or resources you already have available to you to achieve your goals?

Pebbles

Your lack of focus or, like me, focusing on too many things at once so that you fail to pay attention to the environment around you and trip on that pebble you could have, should have, seen right in front of you?

I had a painful lesson. But you don’t have to. Be present. Pay attention so you can see the obstacle in the path, even if it is a tiny pebble. If you do that, not only can you avoid stumbling; you might just be able to turn that pebble into a stepping stone to new heights for your life and leadership.

 

 Want to increase your ability to climb those leadership mountains without tripping on the pebbles? Take The Lead’s next signature online course — 9 Practical Leadership Power Tools for Women to Accelerate Your Career — starts July 16. Early bird rate ends July 1 so enroll now in this “life changing” course.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Are Leadership Messes Women’s Opportunity?

BirdsFemale leadership firsts are trending. Especially when an organization is in big trouble, it seems. Often the choice of a woman appears to be an act of desperation. Fix us, clean up the mess and make it all work. Call mommy to doctor a skinned knee, soothe the troubled waters.

Marissa Mayer at Yahoo for instance, was brought in to stop the bleeding at Yahoo and set it back on a path to profits — when she was pregnant no less.

Chaotic moments can be enormous opportunities for women to move into leadership positions at organizations that have been impervious to women’s advancement due to what Secretary General of the Council of World Leaders Laura Liswood dubs a “thick layer of men” rather than a glass ceiling.

But the ugly underside occurs when women are called in as a Hail Mary pass after previous leaders have so messed up the system that the opportunity can be a set up for failure:

  • When the old systems, or leadership thereof, are corrupt as General Motors. Mary Barra didn’t have much time to celebrate her ascension to the first woman CEO of a major automobile company before she was faced with righting egregious safety wrongs, a moral bankruptcy more likely than economic bankruptcy to do the company in.
  • When an institution is shrinking like the vaunted Riverside a Church in New York which recently appointed its first woman senior minister, Dr. Amy K. Butler.
  • When scandal catapults a woman to a leadership role and being dubbed by Forbes the fifth most powerful woman in the world as it did Christine Lagarde, who became head of the International Monetary Fund in the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrogant sexual behavior.
  • When a tanking economy causes companies to shed higher paid men and take on or retain women who still earn comparatively 25% less than male counterparts.

That’s why women going into these situations need a special set of tools to help them succeed. 

I started writing this post from the ship Isabela II in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. While observing first hand natural selection and evolutionary adaptation at work, I’m also reading The Beak of the Finch, a beautifully written narrative of how Charles Darwin and other less known researchers developed their scientific theories of change in the natural world. The tale is told through the work of professors Rosemary and Peter Grant who studied the finches extensively a century after the nondescript little brown birds first prompted Darwin’s idea of evolution of species.

Upon careful observation, the finches turned out to have at least thirteen different beak adaptations, each an exquisitely evolved tool enabling the birds to access the various seeds available in order to survive the harshest island environments.

Similarly, anyone going into an organization in dire need of change will benefit from having specialized tools to clean up the mess while righting the culture and creating a new strategy.

Stepping up to such challenges first requires courage. The courage to embrace power in ways few women have historically done. I’m heartened when pop culture celebs like Kerry Washington encourage women to take more risks. Her “badass” message applies regardless of sector.

Being courageous in an intentional way requires employing practical leadership tools to leverage the opportunity–to “carpe the chaos”—one of the power tools I’ll teach in my
9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career certificate course. It’s a four-week course, entirely online so you can do the work at your convenience, starting July 16. I’d love to see you there. (You can still get the early bird price for a few more days.)

The course is packed with helpful specific tools and tips. Plus the big bonus is the support and insights you get from and give to other women. We make the online platform surprisingly human.

Let’s face it, if women are ever to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors as Take The Lead’s mission Intends, we must step up, even if the opportunity is rooted in chaos and the risk of failure is high.

If you have taken on a leadership challenge during a time of crisis and chaos, or are considering doing so, please tell us about it. Your story will inspire someone else. For each act of courage makes the path easier for the next woman.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Power and Leadership: Storify Your #SummerofPower

Gloria Feldt TweetchatIn case you missed or want to relive our June 1 tweetchat, I’m pleased to share the Storify summary.  The tweetchat about women and power was incredibly fast paced — the tweets virtually whizzed by — and I had a great time answering as many questions as I could get to in our short time.

Feel free to send more or to comment on the conversation here. And consider joining me to learn your 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career to energize your own #SummerofPower.

 


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Bikinis and Bongos: GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving Beats the Drums of Change

Blake IrvingWhen you speak with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, it’s easy to conjure the teenage percussionist he once was, asserting his high energy drive with his drumsticks, and quite possibly driving his mother crazy by beating bongos while doing the split in the kitchen like Jean-Claude Van Damme in this classically weird GoDaddy ad.

I had a chance to interview the leader of the world’s largest and most controversial domain name registrar, not long after his first anniversary there.

This New York Times piece on GoDaddy’s changed advertising strategy had initially drawn my attention to Irving, who describes himself accurately as gregarious and easy-going. I was curious to find out about his leadership philosophy, and how he had quickly moved the company to a laser focus on the mission of serving small businesses, their core customer base, while deftly changing its public image with women.

Like many women, I’ve in the past been offended by GoDaddy’s sexist brand presence. Remember those Superbowl ads depicting “hot women” in scanty clothes, their come-hither messages aimed to entice adolescent boys — and men who think like adolescent boys — to use the company’s products? Eye rollers became deal breakers as they increasingly objectified women’s bodies, with ample breasts and bikinis splayed over the company website.

And then suddenly, there was the switch from boobs to those funky bongos. What had happened?

The timely confluence of three factors — economics, personal lived experience and women’s activism — I believe, propelled Irving’s successful change of course.

Baring it all: women, business and changing the core culture

I found Irving, who keeps a drum set in his office, straightforward about how he had approached the company. He’s big on doing the hard work of understanding the company and the culture before making decisions about where to take it, then being decisive and consistent about his vision. He likens the discipline of leadership to Jazz, saying that in both, one must simultaneously perfect performance while improvising.

One of the first things he observed is that women, lo and behold, had become GoDaddy’s core customer. “We conducted extensive customer research and found that 58% of our customers are women. Women own half of the businesses in the US, and globally, women are the primary business owners,” said Irving. “The values inside the company didn’t square with the ads that were in the marketplace.”

Careful not to disparage GoDaddy’s founder, Irving opines that Bob Parsons knew garnering attention could gain market share. But he acknowledges, in today’s economy, a successful company has to be inclusive of women, both inside the company and in its public face: “We value everybody. We allow women customers to pursue their own ventures. We do not want to objectify them.”

And Irving believes a successful company’s employee base has to match its customer base. GoDaddy’s leadership overall is 30% women, and they’ve just appointed Silicon Valley insider Betsy Rafael (about whom I will write in my next post) to their board. Though she’ll be their first female board member, one gets the feeling she won’t be the only one for long.

I’ve even noticed more female (and female-friendly) voices lately when I call GoDaddy for customer support.

So the marketplace has pushed GoDaddy, as it has many companies, to better serve women customers and better treat female employees. But other factors are also at play.

The personal is still political

Often it’s soft hearts for their daughters that influence men to want women to get a fair shake. But Irving, who has sons and no daughters, says his views were shaped by his mom, wife and sisters — feminists all. And he was moved by the untimely death of his youngest sister, a leading researcher on the effects of women’s body image. He promised her he would do everything he can to get women into leadership in the tech industry. He’s making good on that promise.

At the root of social change is always the personal story, the most powerful driver in all realms. So for Blake Irving, commitment to advancing women comes from this deep well of lived experience.

But for changes in any field to occur and to stick, pressure for that change also has to come from outside.

How women are changing GoDaddy

GapAppIt’s said that the job of advocates is to make it impossible for decision makers not to do the right thing.

Women customers had begun beating the bongos of change at a volume impossible to ignore. Many were quietly voting with their mouse clicks, moving over to other web hosts. My female journalist friends launched a campaign to move their own website hosting to other services.

When I posted on my Facebook page about GoDaddy’s sponsorship of the Close the Gap App, a young woman entrepreneur quickly let me know her university still won’t use GoDaddy’s services because of its founder’s highly publicized ultimate macho elephant killing escapades in 2011. There’s even a hashtag #breakupwithgodaddy.

And if anyone thinks it’s hard to affect large systemic change like Take The Lead’s goal of reaching leadership gender parity by 2025, look at GoDaddy. Women, as purchasers of 85% of consumer products, now very much possess of all the power we need to achieve whatever we want.

Whenever I tell audiences that it’s time to change the narrative about women’s leadership from problems to solutions, they cheer. There is a readiness as never before, and clearly there are male champions like Blake Irving who will — and do — use their power to drive that change forward.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Mary Barra, First Female GM CEO, Takes The Lead

GM Mary Barra

Does it seem odd for Mary Barra, the newly appointed CEO of General Motors—the first woman to hold that top position in the male-dominated automobile industry–to be profiled as a “woman like you” by the nonprofit organization Take The Lead I cofounded in late 2012?

According to reports chronicling Barra’s career path, she fits the earthy description quite well. The daughter of a die-maker who worked for GM 39 years and who herself entered the company’s technical school at age 18 to become an engineer, Barra’s step-by-step journey up through the ranks might speak of authenticity, hard work, and focus.

In the midst of the media flurry about Barra’s new role, my friend Leslie Grossman tweeted: “Experience Trumps Gender!”

But what I gleaned from colleagues who know both Mary Barra and the auto industry, it took way more than experience for her to land this position. And her 30-year trajectory could be a textbook for women like you and me.

First, the published reports of Barra’s leadership style read like McKinsey studies of the characteristics of women’s leadership that result in higher return on investment for companies that have greater numbers of women in upper management and on their boards. She’s described as a hard worker, a consensus builder, a team player whose people skills are lauded as much as her intense competitiveness. That’s authenticity—not trying to be other than who you are.

Second, her colleagues observe with admiration that this female steel ceiling-breaker, as my friend and former Ford executive Anne Doyle calls it adeptly, walks the politically delicate line between using her advantageous timing as a talented woman in traditionally testosterone driven industry to propel herself forward while not pushing the gender stereotype envelope too far.

As one person said to me, “Mary is definitely one of those ‘Influential Insider’ (I’m no feminist but….) women.” Still, say others, Barra has helped women move up in the company: “She is playing the game quite well – her way!”

Third, Barra aligned with a powerful male sponsor. Her timing was right with that too, since her sponsor, who happened to be her predecessor, Daniel Akerson, left sooner than anticipated due to his wife’s illness. Thus Barra avoided the dangerous shoals of mentor/sponsor conflicts that have wrecked many a relationship when the mentor feels his position threatened, or the ambitious mentee chafes waiting for the sponsor to leave.

While it chills my hot feminist blood to hear her peers say she won’t discuss gender parity, Mary Barra’s personal story and humble beginnings give me hope that as she gains confidence from success as CEO, she will continue to grow in her commitment to advancing other women. That’s important to leadership parity because as Anne Doyle observed, having female role models boosts the talent pool of women who might not have previously seen themselves in the picture. It’s incumbent on women like all of us to support her and reward her for every step she takes in that direction.

 


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Boston Leads the Metropolis Charge to Erase Gender Wage Gap

Boston Women InitiativeEinstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Every year, we hear the same report, that women make 77 cents to men’s dollar. Sometimes 78, but basically, we get the same handwringing commentary and nothing changes. In fact, Catalyst just released its 2013 census reporting that there is still no progress for women as leaders. 

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Boston’s new initiative, designed to do something different to close the wage gap.

According to WNPR’s All Things Considered, “Boston thinks it has a solution. The city is working to be the first in the country to completely erase the gender wage gap. But will it work? That’s our cover story today.”

In April of 2013, Boston Mayor Menino established the Women’s Workforce Council. The council is made up of hard workers across all employment sectors, and their mission is to make Greater Boston the premier place for working women in America by closing the wage gap and removing the visible and invisible barriers to women’s advancement.  Their priority is to come up with new and creative ways of achieving this mission. The NPR story reported on progress to date.

The Women’s Workforce Council has created a compact to which businesses and companies of Boston are asked to pledge to pay their employees equal wages.  It’s a simple enough request.  But since the country seems to be having trouble moving the dial on pay equity, how is it that in Boston the council has already persuaded over 40 businesses to sign their pledge?

Companies that sign the pledge agree to take three concrete steps:

Step 1: Each company is asked to open their books and assess their own wage data.  As Cathy Minehan, Chair of the council, said in her NPR interview, “Sometimes people reject the idea that we have an issue until they actually see their data.”

 
Seattle provides a great example for the importance of this first step.  When Seattle mayor Mike McGinn read the April issued report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, he found that Seattle had the widest gender wage gap out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country. Seeing this information and being able to assess it in front of his own eyes lead him to assemble a task force.  This task force has a four step plan that hopes to launch a Gender Justice Initiative by January 2014. 

 Step 2 of Boston’s plan: Pick three strategies to improve pay equality. The council provides suggestions which include increasing wage transparency, actively recruiting women to executive-level positions, and offering subsidized childcare.

Step 3: Sharing wage data anonymously every two years so the city can measure progress.

Boston Women Initiative2

 The catch, says Minehan, is that none of this is required – it’s all voluntary. Businesses need to find it in their own interest if this initiative is to succeed. So it’s still up to women to advocate for themselves by delivering that message along with the now-ample data to support it.

Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque, New Mexico signed a bill in late November that would give a break to contractors working with the city if they would implement equal pay regulations.  A task force headed by women’s rights advocate Martha Burke is currently working to establish new guidelines for combating the wage gap within the city.  While this bill only helps to effect firms bidding with the city in the public sector, the hope is that it will encourage employers in the private sector to pay equal wages as well.

By the end of the year, the Women’s Workforce Council in Boston expects to have 50 companies on board with their initiative. They have one month left to rack up those last 10 companies, and at the rate they’re running, why shouldn’t they succeed? Seattle will soon have an established initiative to move forward with, and hopefully Albuquerque’s first steps will influence positive next steps.

And hopefully these three cities, fronting active change for women’s rights, can influence cities, states, and the national government to not only support change for women, but positively act on making changes for women.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

How Women Lead: Not A Hero, Everyone as Hero

 L-R: Lauren Sandground, Rhoda Hassan, Cheryl Swain meet to plan Take The Lead Challenge Feb. 19 launch
L-R: Lauren Sandground, Rhoda Hassan, Cheryl Swain meet to plan Take The Lead Challenge Feb. 19 launch

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Arizona State University student Lauren Sandground at a meeting to plan the Take The Lead Challenge Launch event (happening February 19 at ASU—check it out here and plan to be there live or by livestream). Lauren, a senior, started an organization named Woman as Hero in 2009 after being surprised to encounter gender biases in her own life even today, when young women are told they can do or be anything.

The mission of Woman as Hero is to advocate, enlighten, and inspire both women and men globally and locally to empower girls and women through education and entrepreneurship. They believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to support women in their times of struggle and to help create an environment of unity, respect and dignity.

The hierarchical mindset of top-down, command-and-control single-person leadership has remained largely unchanged since the mid-nineteenth century when organization structures as we know them today were invented by men for men who had women at home doing the housework and minding the children.

This model places impossible pressures on the man—almost always a man–at the top to be THE hero, have all the answers, and take 100% of the responsibility for decisions made. Focus on a single heroic leader stems from the “power over” model of leadership that is no longer functional in our fast moving, complex, brains-not-brawn driven world today.

Indeed, as Gayle Peterson, an associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program says, “We don’t need a hero, we just need more women at the top.” 

Key words and phrases that resonate from Woman as Hero’s mission are “both women and men” and “everyone’s responsibility.” This is true whether we are talking about changing the gender and diversity ratios in leadership roles or aiming to improve the quality of organizational leadership overall.

Leadership parity is not easily achieved for many reasons—inertia, co-option, and the resistance of those in power to share it being just a few. Less obvious is the struggle within women ourselves to embrace our “power to” be the leaders of our own lives and in our careers. Changing that paradigm must be fostered by collaboration and deliberate intention.

Woman as Hero observes on its website: “Educating women allows them to help themselves, their families and their communities by giving them the tools to become leaders, otherwise known as the ‘girl effect.’ Their well-being is tied to the well-being of the whole society. It just makes sense!”

But education is only as meaningful as the actions it inspires.

Woman as Hero takes action to inspire broad involvement. Through the hosting of dialogues and film screenings, annual summits, fundraisers, awareness campaigns, and community service projects, Woman as Hero educates to improve the status of girls and women all over the world.

As we digest the remains of our Thanksgiving turkey, there is a lot that we can be thankful for; the progress that women have made since the mid-nineteenth century; the men that have partnered with our movement; and those women who have already made it to the Sweet-C positions of companies and businesses.

But let’s not forget how much more we have to achieve; how much more educating and collaborating must be done before we can sit back and relax with our cranberry sauce. I am thankful for young women like Lauren and all of you heroes and very grateful that they are taking the lead for the next wave of women.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.