Why Flex Time Is the #2 Most Important Employee Benefit

A big barrier to women’s leadership parity was overlooked in the recent brouhaha about Facebook and Apple covering employees’ insurance for egg freezing.

These companies are not, as headlines screamed “paying women to freeze eggs.” And I see nothing wrong with covering fertility treatments that though still far from fully effective, can give women childbearing options men naturally have, and often exercise with trophy wives.

But next to quality child care, flex time–much more than high tech fertility–is the most effective benefit companies could give women, and increasingly, men as well, to enhance opportunities to advance their careers while garnering better retention rates and job satisfaction without compromising productivity.

October 21, has been declared National Flex Day by workingmother.com for good reason. National_FlexDay_Badge

As negotiation expert Victoria Pynchon put it in her Linked In Pulse post, “You deserve a family-friendly workplace, not an egg-farm.”

Much has changed for the better

When I entered the paid employment world after my three children entered elementary school, neither egg freezing technology nor flex time were options.

One day during my first full year of work teaching Head Start kindergarten, my seven-year-old son, home from first grade with the flu, called to say he’d caught the toaster on fire and I’d better come home right away.

I raced home wild with fear that I would find him injured, that the house would burn down before I arrived, that most of all I was a BAD MOTHER.

This was before cell phones. So I couldn’t find out more till I arrived home. Acrid burnt toast odor met me the door. My eyes watered as much from relief as from the fumes, upon finding that my son was in need of hugs, but sustained no injuries, and there were no irreparable property damages.

His dad was due home from working his night shift shortly. I had taken a chance that I could safely leave my son for an hour while I rushed across town to fulfill my work obligation. I loved my job and the income was important to our family’s ability to pay our basic bills.flexday

These are the kinds of choices workers still face every day. True, some jobs are more amenable to flextime than others. In my case, twenty children arriving at school that morning had to be greeted by an adult. And certainly the children in my class were from homes where their parents were even less likely to have flexible jobs. So they needed a teacher to arrive on time as much as I needed to be able to go home to take care of my child.

Given that teachers are predominantly female, and women still are the predominant caregivers in most families, it would have made sense for my school to buck the budget pressures and hire a floating teacher or substitutes for such situations. Because they’re bound to happen to all human beings at some time or another.

Too much is still frozen in time

Things have not changed sufficiently, despite important progress and examples of creative flex time policies reported by the Wall Street Journal.

According to MomsRising.com “Mom’s Manifesto”,

From the highly paid to those making minimum wage, far too few women in America have flexible work options—almost three-fourths of working adults state they don’t control their work schedules…The lack of flexible work options often leads women to quit needed jobs.

This is a problem because most families need two working parents to support their family, many women want and need to continue their careers, and when women take time out of the workforce they face huge wage hits, or pay cuts, when they later return (as 74 percent do within two years). These wage hits take a life-long toll: On average, women take an 18 percent cut in their pay, a significant wage hit, for an average of 2.2 years out of the labor force—with women in business sectors taking an increased hit of 28 percent. For those women who stay out of the labor force for three or more years, the news is even bleaker: A 37 percent loss of earning power.

Designating a day to promote flextime is a step forward. But let’s not rely on Karma to make the real deal happen, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advised women regarding their pay raises. No, it’s time to campaign hard for policies that allow flex time, where the work delivered is more important than time spent behind a desk.


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 “Play Like a Girl” Went From Epithet to Compliment

I’ve never been to a professional hockey game nor wanted to. I stay far away from sports bars.

But I do resonate with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky whose pithy leadership advice is, “Don’t skate to where the hockey puck is. Skate to where the hockey puck is going.”

I love the direction the hockey puck is going for women in sports.

That’s why why I’m excited about Take The Lead’s upcoming “Play Hockey Like a Girl” panel in Phoenix, AZ on November 11. More later on that.

My own sports story begins in elementary school. I was often humiliated by being the last person chosen for the softball team.  Probably today to make all children feel equally worthy, they draw lots or number off. But when I was a girl, I was the epitome of the dreaded epithet, “Play (whatever) Like a Girl.”

Except for the spelling bee. Everybody wanted me on their team for that. How “like a girl.” Another story for another day.

The more I failed to perform well at sports, the less I played, and the klutzier I therefore became.

I lived with three loving but busy adults for the formative first six years of my life and was rewarded for being quiet. Oh, they enrolled me in ballet and tap, in stereotypical girl child fashion. I was cute in my pink ballet tutu. But I was also the slightly chunky one on the end who was never quite on point. In tap, I was a total disaster, the top-hatted, foot-clicking version of Wrong Way Corrigan.

It was expected that my boy cousins and playmates on the block would be active and boisterous. I envied them. Tried to run after them, and have the scars to prove it.

My Turnaround

It wasn’t until years later, after I had children and was starting to thicken around the waist, that I was motivated to engage in any significant physical activity.

It started slowly with 10 or 15 minutes of exercises I learned from a women’s magazine. Periodically I would run laps around the nearby football practice field. (We lived a block from the real Friday Night Lights.)

Thank You, Jane Fonda

But I lacked the tenacity or lung power to stick with running. About when I hit 40, though, Jane Fonda released her exercise videos. I did one almost every morning until I got hooked on exercise endorphins and couldn’t start the day without feeling the burn.

Thank you Jane, for changing the lives of many women by showing us how to exercise like a girl and love it.

Here a shout out to Bernice Sandler is overdue–the “godmother” of Title IX, the 1972 legislation that had brought equity to girls in various aspects of education, but is best known for requiring schools to provide boys and girls equal access sports.

The value of participation in sports for girls and women is profound: learning leadership skills, physical discipline, teamwork, and how to compete in a positive way understanding that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and you come back to play again another day.

I wanted to continue to improve rather than go downhill physically at middle age. So I hired a trainer and began to build upper body strength for the first time. Wow. What a difference it made. I began to feel a mastery over my body and my physical prowess that I’m guessing male children learn by the time they are five years old.

The definition of “play like a girl” was clearly changing. When my husband and I were visiting friends around the 30th anniversary of Title IX, their nine-year-old daughter Sarah came racing home breathless and sweaty from her soccer practice. My husband said to her in his old-fashioned “like a boy” way, “You must be a tomboy.”

Sarah looked at him like he had two heads and replied, “What’s a tomboy?”

That was when I knew a true shift had taken place. And the trajectory has continued. Parity in funding and public attention to women’s sports has not been reached–far from it. But the days when Billie Jean King had to play a man to get attention are long gone. Over a third of high school and college women participate in sports. Women’s college basketball teams often play to sellout stadiums, and women are making a living in every sport from rock climbing to car racing , as well as in other professions that support sports, such as media announcers, team administrators, sports medicine, and much more.

Women in sports is a big deal now. As the much touted Always advertisement illustrates, “Play like a girl” is no longer an epithet but quickly becoming the best compliment we can give.

If you’re in Arizona, come join Take The Lead and a panel of distinguished women in sports, sponsored by the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

Ticket purchase details are here.

Sponsorship opportunities are 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.

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.

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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.

4 Ways You Can Push for Parity This Women’s Equality Day

I was savoring my grilled salmon salad recently when my lunch partner’s casual comment made me drop my fork and get serious.

“They’ve asked me to be board chair at the Brooklyn Museum, I’d be the first woman in their 100-year history. But I don’t know if I can do it,” Elizabeth Sackler said. “What do you think I should do?”

Without flipping a lettuce leaf, I hopped right onto my soapbox. “You must do it. Think of what it will mean for the next woman with leadership abilities in the arts who needs a path to walk, a role model to enable her to see the possibilities. You have to ‘sit in the high seat,’ Elizabeth,” I said, quoting former Labor Secretary Frances Perkins when President Franklin Roosevelt tapped women's suffrage in cartoonher to be the first woman cabinet member.

Women’s Equality Day 2014 Finds Many Female Firsts

On this year’s Women’s Equality Day, the 94th anniversary of American women’s right to vote, women are taking high seats at an astonishing cadence, even in unexpected professions.

So it would be easy to treat Women’s Equality Day as a charming historical artifact and assume women’s advancement to leadership parity is unstoppable, perhaps even nearing a full table of high seats.

But one thing we’ve learned from history or should have by now, is that it rarely goes in a straight line. And indeed, these recent female firsts remind us both how far we have come and that we have a long way to go before such milestones warrant no more headline attention than if men were to achieve them.

Few professions have broken the 20% barrier in their leadership gender balance.

As Denver University Women’s College “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership” 2013 study states: “[W]omen are outperforming men, but they are not earning salaries or obtaining leadership roles commensurate with their higher levels of performance.” And most people know the dismal 23 cent pay gap and the Fortune 1000 leadership pyramid that shows women at the tip top CEO level constitute a paltry 4.8%.

So how can we capture the momentum and use it to propel women to parity–our fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors, as Take The Lead’s mission envisions?

Parity Push Time

I’m a fan of my own Power Tool #1, Know your history and you can create the future of your choice, and it seems appropriate  Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 10.06.16 AMto focus on for Women’s Equality Day. (Shameless but sincere promotion here–you can learn all 9 Power Tools in my upcoming online certificate course that starts September 30.)

You don’t have to be a “first.” Each of us can play a part, large or small, to push that momentum toward true equality and parity. Even a very small pebble thrown into the pool makes a ripple that undulates outward indefinitely.

Four ways to celebrate this Women’s Equality Day:

1. Go out and learn. Learn your own family’s history. How did your mother, aunts, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers fare in the past? How can what they lived through serve as an inspiration for you and your life? Study the status of women in society and policies that affect women and girls too.

2. Go out and teach. The day is full of teachable moments, mentoring, and role modeling opportunities. By sharing our own history, we also illustrate how the world can change and how we can contribute to making that change happen. Social media can be a powerful tool to supplement direct conversation. Shelby Knox, a young activist, has used her Facebook as a forum to share short vignettes of notable moments in women’s history with her more than 2,500-strong Facebook network.

3. Go out and raise hell. Start a campaign to require women’s representation in history courses to be half the content, or to include women’s history in every school history curriculum. Join Moms Rising to learn what you can do to make the workplace more flexible, the National Women’s Law Center, or any of dozens of women’s groups that advocate for women to learn how you can get involved in policy issues. Contribute to organizations you like, or join funding collaboratives like Women Moving Millions, Women Donor’s Network, to leverage your philanthropic impact.

4. Go out and just do it. Have you ever considered running for office but felt you weren’t qualified yet? Found out after the fact that a man with the same qualifications holding the same job as you started at a higher salary or got a promotion because he asked for it and you didn’t? Been asked to take a leadership position and hesitated to say yes? No more of that! Take The Lead. Just do it.

For more ways you can create the future of your choice, check out Kaitlin Rattigan’s post on Women’s Equality Day.

“For a people is only as great, as free, as lofty, as advanced, as its women are free, noble, and progressive,” said Susan B. Anthony, 19th-century suffragist leader who did not live to see the suffrage amendment to the U. S. Constitution that we celebrate today ratified. It was up to the next generations to complete the job.

By knowing our past, we can overcome overt and covert cultural barriers and implicit biases that remain even after laws are changed and doors opened. We can break old patterns within ourselves that hold us back. We can step forward and keep on stepping yet further forward, taking other women with us as we go. We can refuse to allow our power to be dissipated by victory or diminished by defeat. We can create the future of our choice.

Oh, and Elizabeth did say yes to chairing the museum board, and she’s incredibly happy about her decision. Women like her are my cause for celebration today.


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.

The World Turns on Human Connections

After a whirlwind year of creating an organization, hosting an amazing launch, and being overwhelmed with gratitude for the scores of organizations and individuals who have supported our cause, donated to it, and who want to align with Take The Lead’s mission and programs, we’ve been taking stock. Asking ourselves what works and what not so much. What are the highest leverage activities that will move us with most alacrity toward our vision of leadership parity? How in the world will we ever get the resources we need to implement this vision fully?

9580068088_2fcd61419e_zAnd over and over, as we embarked on the questions, the answers come back to our human connections. As you will see by other articles in this newsletter, it comes back to our circles where we network with link minded colleagues, to the relationships we build in courses and webchats and the #SisterCourage campaign.

And here is what I know from being a leader and working to advance women in society as well as the workplace:  Women need each other. We need to learn the stories about how other women succeeded, the barriers they faced and how they overcame them. We need to know the barriers that our sisters and friends didn’t overcome, or didn’t overcome the first time, or the second, or the tenth, but finally on the eleventh attempt, succeeded.

Or how someone found a different path when the barriers were too great on the first path she started traveling. And if there were days that she was distraught and depressed and angry and ready to throw in the towel.  We need to share stories of worst moments as well as the best. We need to learn our problems are not unique and we are not alone.

This is why Take The Lead places such a high value on collaboration. Because #SisterCourage extends to organizations as well as individuals, to Brother Partners who share our mission as well as sisters.

Perhaps you know the story of the mother who had five daughters. She gave each daughter a stick and said, “Break it.”  They easily snapped the sticks. Then she had the daughters gather five more sticks, which she bound into one bundle. Each sister in turn tried to break the bundle, but none could do so. “You see, my daughters,” said the mother, “Together, you are unbreakable.  Together, you can do anything.”

The world turns on human connections.

You are not alone in your concerns.

Reach out. Be a sister. Ask for help when you need it.

Have courage. The courage of convictions, the courage to take action.

Put the two together with a strategy and you have a movement to make the change you want to see or be in the world.

Thank you for your support that enabled Take The Lead to get such a meaningful start. Please stay connected, whether by joining our circle, taking a course or funding someone else to take one, inviting us to speak or train personnel at your organization, attending an event, contributing to the cause financially or with your talents, or simply subscribing to this newsletter to stay on top of our progress.  Tell us what you think—help us get better at what we do.

And please stay engaged so we go can forward together to turn the vision into reality.


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.

Can a Tampon Ad Really Empower You?

Consumer products ads have jumped on the girls and women’s empowerment bandwagon. Is this commercialization of women’s equality a good thing?

On the positive side, when a company like Pantene bases an entire shampoo ad campaign on exposing sexism and starts a hashtag telling women to #ShineStrong, you know something big has shifted in the culture.

Pantene’s wildly successful first commercial in the series exposing gender stereotypes–along with the bounciest, shiniest hair I’ve ever seen–spread so fast virally that clearly integrating a women’s empowerment social message into a sales pitch must be the wave (sorry, pun) of the future.

Oops, I didn’t mean to apologize. Pantene’s second ad, “Not Sorry”,

Illustrates how often women apologize for—everything. And how uncalled for that is.

CNN.com reporter Kelly Wallace asked me why women apologize so much for an article she wrote. She cited a study that found men don’t think women apologize excessively. Yet the research is clear that we do. The reason for this disconnect in perception is simple. When you have the power and the privilege, you also have blind spots. You don’t need to empathize with what is going on with others.  You can afford to be clueless because you already own the world.  A clever ad that illustrates those dynamics can only help both men and women recognize their patterns and perhaps even modify sexist behavior.

Soon after the “Not Sorry” ad, a Procter and Gamble Always sanitary pads ad soon began its viral climb to popularity with a positive #LikeAGirl message.

The gendered language examples in all three ads are starkly about power. Who has more, who has less, and how men and women position themselves as a result.  The group with less power (in this case women) will always exhibit language, including body language, consistent with lesser power. Sort of a form of curtseying or kissing the ring.  Women also use less direct language, more nuanced adjectives; this drives men who want simple declarative sentences mad.

I’ve started teaching what I call gender bilingual communication skills in my women’s leadership courses because I’ve realized how important these nuanced narratives are to reinforcing culturally learned implicit biases that influence our behavior from the boardroom to the bedroom.

The good news is that once we are aware of behavior, we can change it. These are learnable skills. Pop culture like these ads can help illustrate our foibles and model more equitable actions. And it is precisely the nuanced skills in reading people that make women executives so effective and companies with more of them more profitable.  Let’s not be sorry about that.

Yet, I confess to mixed feelings about the commercialization of women’s empowerment messages. It’s great that teaching girls and women to embrace their gender as a positive has become so mainstream that consumer products companies are promoting it. Those companies have much more advertising money than women’s advocacy groups. So props to them for spending it on a positive message.

The downside of course is identical—women’s advocacy groups typically have little money to spend on public messages. And, more importantly, let’s face it: consumer product companies rarely jump onto a message bandwagon until the rest of us are already there anyway. For in the end their mission is, after all, to sell products that might or might not be healthy for women.

As gender scholar and Mama w/Pen writer Deborah Siegel put it,

Thinking like a girl over here, I say it’s high time empowerment causes, and not just empowerment products, had a PSA as powerful as this tampon ad. Causes for the betterment of women and girls’ lives deserve our most creative thinking, our savviest makers of all sorts.

I’ll take commercial ads that boost the confidence of girls and women and raise them one with this challenge: how about committing an equal amount of money to women’s leadership development, engaging more girls and women in STEM fields, and investing in women entrepreneurs, for starters?

 

 


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.

8 Ways to Erase the “Can Women Have It All?” Question

If it’s so darn hard to be a parent and a CEO, why doesn’t Indra Nooyi resign from PepsiCo?

Nooyi, who receives high marks as a CEO, fell several notches in my estimation as a leader who apparently doesn’t realize the impact her words will have on younger women’s aspirations. And don’t even talk to me about Anne-Marie Slaughter, who firestarted the debate with her incendiary article that got her a tidy book advance and left many women smoldering with guilt. I am so done with her whining about “not having it all” when the rest of us have a mighty hard time mustering sympathy for her life as a tenured professor married to another tenured professor.

I mean, really. All of life for everyone, men and women, is a series of choices. No one has it all, all the time. Everyone has to make decisions about what is important to him or her daily.

But men are never, ever asked whether they can be good parents and CEOs at the same time. I am boycotting The Atlantic, which keeps publishing this tired trope. Let’s not feed the beast.

Let’s have some positive advice for a change.

To be sure, Indra Nooya comes from a culture where she is grappling with traditional role expectations. And even women who grew up in the US and Europe face implicit bias in the workplace and often at home. Women have come far and fast. We are in an unfinished revolution, on an easily interrupted path toward gender parity in leadership. So how do we deal with it?

Instead of handwringing, let’s share with women and men how they can have a life and earn a living, including as fulfilling, high powered career as they want.

I decided to look for helpful advice from the likes of executive coach Kathy Caprino, who like me is sick and tired of stories that tell women they can’t have it all, and worries that these narratives place enormous and unnecessary emotional burdens on women who are already struggling to define their lives and careers.

Caprino gives four wise pointers:

  • Understand that your career – and your life – has seasons. It’s not just all about today—you can have multiple opportunities to fulfill what is most meaningful to you.
  • Be vigilant about how you talk about, your life and career – the lens you use to see it through, and the language you use to describe it—those words have consequences for yourself and others.
  • Third—and I think this one is really key–build a support network and get help when you need it.
  • And finally, stop comparing yourself with others. It’s your life after all. If it makes you happy, who cares what others are doing?
Anna Catalano
Anna Catalano

Anna Catalano, a businesswoman who blogs about leadership, tweeted me a link to her post with four more points of sage advice:

  • The household works on a partnership.  If a woman is holding an incredibly demanding job, then maybe she shouldn’t be made to feel like she has to pick up all the groceries on the way home.  Of course no one can “take the place” of a mother.  But the role of mother doesn’t mean she has to do 100% of everything at home.  Husbands and partners need to be willing to cook, clean, iron, run errands, give baths, and help with homework.
  • The kids need to understand the program.  Kids at a young age will realize that yours is not a “traditional” family.  It’s okay.  They turn out fine.  In fact, kids from these families develop a wonderful set of values that men and women are capable of doing all kinds of things.  What a novel idea.  Mom can work in a business just like dad can, and dad can cook dinner just like mom!  Boys and girls who grow up in this environment have a healthy outlook on gender issues, feel loved by both of their parents, and don’t get hung up on whether someone is there for every soccer game or school play.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself.  Popular culture places incredible pressure on what a woman is supposed to do.  If we’re executives, we’re supposed to be a darling of Wall Street.  At the same time, we’re led to think we have to run a household like Mary Poppins, be a homemaker to rival Martha Stewart, while all the time, look like the cover of a fashion magazine.  Stop feeling guilty about not doing everything perfectly.
  • Ask for help when needed.  It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a privilege that you have earned!  Hire someone to do the things you’d rather not do.  It might be housecleaning, it might be yard work, it might be cooking.  Doing this does not make you a bad wife or mother.  And don’t let anyone make you feel that way.  You are doing amazing things, and you deserve some help.

What about you?

Tell us: What tips do you have for women AND men who love their work and love their families and intend to have satisfying lives with both?

How can we erase the limiting “Can You Have It All?” framing and turn the question into a celebration of the choices we have today as women and as leaders?

Grappling with a problem or have a work/life goal you want to achieve? Create your own personal action plan for your life and leadership. It’s not too late to register for 9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career. We have some great group rates for your organization—or create your own group and inquire 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.

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.

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.