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.

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.

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.

Jill Abramson and Gender Bilingual Communication

Jill AbramsonWith hindsight, this 2013 article all but predicted Jill Abramson’s unceremonious fall. Though according to the New Yorker  rendition, her demise was precipitated when Abramson, the New York Times’ first female executive editor, confronted her boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., after learning her pay was significantly less than her predecessor, I point the finger of firing fate much toward implicit cultural biases that influence behavior much more than any of us want to believe.

Daily Beast columnist Keli Goff asked me whether I think Abramson’s firing will deter women from seeking top jobs. I have in the past made the naïve assumption that once doors are open, women will inherently want to walk through them.

But I’ve come to realize that women have been stuck at under 18% of top leadership positions across all sectors because we too often resist the hard knuckle fray or don’t even apply for positions for which we’re technically qualified because we lack the confidence to do so. We literally speak a different language from the men who make up the majority of the prevailing corporate culture and have learned that when we ask, we are less likely than men to get, and thus it’s safer not to ask.

Even though we’re all speaking English, there is cultural and linguistic gender bilingualism. Women typically use more words than men, for example, more adjectives, more body movements, less directness. And while men might (and often do) complain about that language pattern, the truth is that when women violate the familiar norms, they are treated even worse. Wise insights about this reality in journalism are offered by Newsweek’s first female Senior Editor Lynn Povich.

Not adhering to that stereotype, not being willing to play the nice girl, was Abramson’s real Achilles heel. I seriously doubt that Sulzberger even knows what he doesn’t know about his own biases. His privilege runs so deep that he has never needed to understand them.

Tech journalist Kara Swisher describes a deep-seated problem for the Times if these gendered biases are not openly addressed, however.

Let me see if I can say it more simply than Sulzberger: She was a real pain in my ass and so she had to go.

I can relate, to say the least. As one of the few top editors in tech journalism who is a woman and, even from my many years of reporting before that, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been called a pain in the ass for my aggressive manner. Silly me, but that kind of tonality is exactly what makes for a successful journalist — you know, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted — and what is more often than not needed in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of media.

Take The Lead blogger, Susan Gross nailed the grey lady to the wall with this relevant bit of research:

Abe Rosenberg was the top editor of The New York Times for 17 years. The Times own obituary of Rosenberg described him as an “abrasive man of dark moods and mercurial temperament,” who had a “combative and imperious style” and was known for “driving his staffs relentlessly.”  Yet there was never any move to force him out. Instead, when he retired Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, then the publisher of The Times, declared that Rosenberg’s “record of performance as executive editor of The Times will last as a monument to one of the titans of American journalism.” The abrasive Rosenberg got plaudits. The abrasive Abramson got the sack (emphasis mine).

So what’s a woman to do? To speak the language of leadership, women still have to navigate the double-edged sword. The plain truth is that the group with less power always has to learn to speak the language of the group with greater power. You have to know the rules of the game before you can change them. While it is exhausting to be relentlessly pleasant as women are often advised to do, we always benefit more by respecting others’ communications patterns and “languages” than not.

But we won’t succeed by trying to “go the way of the man” as a colleague recently described those women who adopt male characteristics to be heard and promoted. To the contrary.

We must remain aware that all those little mincing steps we learn as women–the suppression, silence, overcompensation that are so deeply ingrained–are cultural ways of controlling women and keeping us in a subordinate space. And we must not let anything stop our full expression of who we are and what we want. Authenticity in the end draws people to you and allows you to demonstrate your unique value. The solution is to be smart and strategic and unleash our authentic selves while speaking in tongues others can understand.

Write on, Jill, and speak on. I believe the media firestorm this episode wrought has created an inflection point, and that if women keep speaking up now, we’ll keep on moving up, thanks in part to your willingness to self-advocate. My guess is that though you might think being executive editor of the New York Times was the pinnacle of your career, you’ll soon find a higher peak, right around the next switchback.


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.

Thank You, Maya Angelou, Phenomenal Woman, 1928-2014

Maya AngelouI remember the first time I read Maya Angelou’s book
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was the most searing yet beautiful prose I had ever encountered. And later, the phenomenon of her poem “Phenomenal Woman” invaded my consciousness and became a kind of anthem for women everywhere:

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

And who can forget the distinctive, rich voice of America’s poet laureate reading “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration?

“And still we rise.”

Like picking your favorite star from the galaxy, who can choose one from among Maya Angelou’s shining words? But it’s equally impossible not to try. Here are a few of our favorites in tribute to the woman who in the authenticity of her soul and the sharing of her wisdom  grew ever more beautiful with age:

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.

Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

 ♦

You may encounter many defeats,

but you must not be defeated.

In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats,

so you can know who you are,

what you can rise from,

how you can still come out of it.

♦ 

The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.

 ♦

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” 

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.

Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.

And nothing will ever dim the words of this phenomenal woman. Thank you, Maya Angelou. May you rest in the peace of one whose words and deeds have made the world phenomenally better.

What are some of your own favorite Angelou quotes?


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.

“Born Leader” Betsy Rafael Is GoDaddy’s First Female Board Member

Betsy RafaelWhen GM’s new, and first female, CEO Mary Barra moved quickly and publicly to recall cars with the company’s potentially lethal ignition switch problems her predecessors had known but failed to address for a decade, you could feel the fresh air.

It would be foolhardy to say her gender made her act in this ethical manner, or to assume a man would not. Still, you can’t help but notice that Barra straight-up owned the problem in a way startlingly distant from the public relations posturing typical of Fortune 500’s protecting their fortunes.

This happened shortly after I’d interviewed GoDaddy’s first female board member, Betsy Rafael as a follow to my post on Blake Irving last week. I’d had that same airy feeling when I talked with her.

What was your life and career path?
My dad was a human resources executive; my mother owned an advertising agency. Dad told me I might as well focus on a degree that’s practical, where you can get a job, like engineering for accounting.

I got excited about technology in my first job with Ernst & Young. Apple had been a client, then I went to work there. I developed expertise in bringing organizations to scale. I’m a good coach and mentor. All along, I used my background in finance and the numbers of business. I’m goal oriented and liked being closer to the action than auditing the numbers.

You sound very intentional about what your career choices…
I didn’t have a long-term goal of being CFO. Careers are journeys in how you get from place to place. The core is I was a natural leader, a natural delegator, good at communicating and getting people to move in a direction. I keep teams connected. Everything you do as a leader is about connecting with people.

I’ve talked and worked with many women leaders and you are the first who ever said, “I’m a natural-born leader.” Tell me more.
Not only did I feel I was a natural leader, I also invested in my own leadership. You have to invest in yourself. I read every leadership book early on—I wanted to be better, to develop, to grow. To know how do you work through obstacles.

Was any training was particularly helpful to you?
There’s no silver bullet, but every quarter I did an offsite with extended leadership team with outside experts. Even if we only learn one thing each time, we get better. The key is knowing yourself which sometimes executives don’t do, your strengths and weaknesses. And you have to be your own advocate.

You also serve on the boards of Echelon and Autodesk. Why did you join the GoDaddy board?
It’s one of those special companies with a unique global built platform. It has the power of an established company with the energy of a start-up. I was drawn to help them scale.

Only 17% of Fortune 500 boards are female and in Silicon Valley that number hovers at 10%. Why do you think, or do you think getting more women on boards is a good idea?
Yes  —  I do, actually. I’ve always been a believer in my responsibility to help other women. Women always want to be so pure and say we just want the best person, whereas the men help each other. You show the value of diversity when women get onto the board.

What’s your advice to women interested in serving on boards?
I was fortunate that after 2002 when Sarbanes- Oxley came into effect, it put requirements on boards to have people who are qualified, especially in finance. Coming from a background in finance made me stand out as someone who had the experience to be in that capacity. The first thing to understand is your value proposition: finance, legal, securing funding, for example. At the end of the day, they’re looking for people who are experts in their field.

The second piece of advice is to have a network and to understand the people who are going to be making decisions about who joins the board. Are there ways you can get experience relevant to board service without being on a board? Are there ways to enhance your viability as a board member?

What do you do when you’re not working?
I’d like to think I’m a golfer. My husband and I play golf, and we have two dogs that are spoiled rotten. We have 3 out of 4 parents who need some assistance. I serve on the board of trustees of Santa Clara University where I went to school.

Postscript:The press release announcing Rafael’s appointment plays the gender card. But Rafael isn’t just varnish for the company’s image. She sounds solid, matter of fact, well grounded. When she says she’s a natural leader you don’t hear ego — it’s just a fact, ma’am.

You can also imagine that like Mary Barra, Rafael keeps calm in chaos. You sense those studies finding the addition of women increases group intelligence must be true, and that you’ve just met the archetype of the woman whose risk aversion — a key factor in that vaunted better performance of companies with more women on their boards — is firmly planted not in fear but in intelligent consideration of evidence.

Let me know what you think:

  • Are Barra and Rafael examples of a core difference rooted in culturally baked in attributes of gender, or does this behavioral difference have more to do with their being self-selected “firsts?”
  • What would change about organizations if men and women held equal shares of leadership?

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.