Balance in the Boardroom

The topic is one that I have already covered in another post but, a recent special section titled “What’s Holding Women Back” and a follow-up article, “How Women Can Get Ahead: Advice from Female CEOs”  in the Wall Street Journal  (articles attached) have sparked such incredible dialogue I wanted to be sure that everyone has had a chance to read them, contemplate the many issues debated and even join in the discussion and offer your own tips and travails.  The topic is always hot – the limited number of women who have reached the top spots in corporate America – but what really struck me is the optimism, confidence and encouraging outlook shared by many who participated in the conversation, both in the articles and other social medium.

Though the article was published on May 7, 2012, virtually every day since then there have been multiple posts and comments published that have flowed through the many resources that I follow.  One of my favorites so far came in yesterday through a LinkedIn group of which I am a member, “Women in Hospitality.”  Because I do not have the writer’s permission, I will only use her initials and I hope when she sees this it lets her know just how powerful her message was…I also hope that you find it inspiring!

  • When I became a single mother of three, many decades ago, my solution was to establish my own company, and never look back. At that time, the men I encountered in the course of doing business were initially astounded to see a “woman” in business”, but many became my biggest cheerleaders. In hindsight, perhaps they were able to respond this way, as they were not threatened by my presence in a heretofore male world. However, I have persevered, succeeded, thanks to necessity, pride, and determination ~ but, maybe mostly the fact that I am my own boss, independent from the male corporate ladder.   H.S.

I found the post showed courage and determination in making her early career plan/decisions.  Understanding that work-life balance is not a perfect science but rather more a series of acceptable consequences is something she seems to have embraced.  H.S. discovered that it is possible to have a brilliant career and be a responsible mother…a burning question from aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs.

One of the threads in several of the conversations had to do with having mentors.  A comment by Jack Welch brought about many comments, “Support groups, such as women’s employee groups, can be likened to ‘victim’s units’, which the best women tend to avoid.”  The dialogue related to this came from the question of whether we need mentors and, if so, of what gender.  We sure do, and speaking from my own experience, gender was important but only in that both were represented!  Yes, I have had women mentors that changed my life, outlook on my career and much more than there’s time for here but, I had many male mentors who made an indelible, vital and unforgettable impact, as well.  In fact, early in my career there were so few women in leadership positions in the hospitality industry that we simply had none to turn to.

My experience was remarkable in that none of the men who shared their wisdom and time teaching, encouraging and inspiring me ever seemed to view me as less of an acceptable apprentice or probable success because of my sex.  Maybe I was just lucky, but I hope that there are many other women who had the same good fortune.  Without knowing early in my career that my male counter-parts could respect me notwithstanding my being a woman, who knows if I would have had the confidence to take on many of the risks and heavy loads knowing that at least my sex wouldn’t hold back my credibility or ability to succeed….perhaps skill, brawn, or even confidence, but definitely not because I was “a girl.”

Of course, all this is not to say that those of us who have achieved some level of success in reaching the boardrooms and executive offices haven’t been challenged by the tough guys.  Yup, had those and still find them filling many of the seats around the table and we just have to learn to manage them as best we can, and each individual and case will be different and require a special approach.  Be the one to change the constitution in your company to limit the disruption by those that are troubled with gender-bias in leadership or success, and encourage greatness and great ideas to flow from anyone and everyone in the organization who has something to contribute.

A quote from Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint, particularly struck me as poignant, “The most important factor in determining whether you succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you.  Be open to opportunity and take risks.  In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment you can find, and then take control.”

So, let’s shift the balance in the boardrooms and truly make this next decade one of monumental progress for women in leadership in America!  As noted in my prior post on this topic, the results from adding women to the top-line management team is measurable in ROI and other quantifiable gauges…and well worth the effort!

Check out a comprehensive report from McKinsey and Company HERE.

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