CHICAGO, IL – In the spirit of leaning in, the Illinois Diversity Council August meeting centered on women assuming more leadership roles, whether in the workplace or within their own personal lives. ILDC monthly and quarterly meetings always provide the public an opportunity to learn more about the ILDC, their programs and events, while focusing on relative educational topics focusing on diversity and inclusion.
The August meeting was spearheaded by Gathered Wisdom Partners, a business to consumer entity that provides mentoring and leadership programs for women seeking professional and personal development. Gathered Wisdom Partners’ philosophy is truth-in-advertising in action, as founders Diane Sawyer and Marcia Perkins have over 50 years collective experience in business administration, operations, personnel management, customer service, training, as well as motherhood.
Their organization has succeeded in its mission to support other women via programs for working women who benefit from the insights and lessons gathered from both proprietary and deep-diving research. Their most recent findings show women represent 47% of the current U.S. workforce. While that figure may be encouraging, women still face an enormous amount of obstacles to overcome when improving their professional development.
Golf: the other boardroom
The Gathered Women Partners panel discussed how prime career opportunities are formed on fields like the golf course. If sports aren’t an interest, women can still insert themselves in key roles during company outings that will not only guarantee them key presence, but the opportunity to make a quantum leap in crossing paths with management beneficial to their career development they wouldn’t have otherwise met.
There’s nothing wrong with showing a spirit of teamwork and pitching in keeping the little things around the office running, right? Maybe.
Women ordering flowers or managing housekeeping tasks for events is harmless enough, depending on the frequency. It turns out, the time it takes in consistently managing such tasks being automatically delegated to women – or women being made to feel that way – eventually comes at the expense of women building the necessary acumen for career development. Another negative is the overall reinforcement of negative stereotypes concerning women and perceived roles.
The professional development model examined during the meeting was as follows:
Choose your direction based on who you are. Women have more & more options on how to live their lives, but on the flipside, those options have become more complex. Knowing who you are is key and to let it work for you by utilizing strengths and re-evaluating priorities.
What leaders can do
Provide feedback. If you’re in a management role, always be sure to provide feedback to your reports, focusing on their strengths. Eventually construct diverse teams who take advantage of various strengths.
Build valuable relationships to easily navigate your environment. Oftentimes, women are more hesitant about carving their own path, seemingly with an attitude of “heads up, pencils down.” Enter the results of Bain & Company’s study released in May. The study asked 1,000+ men and women across various U.S. companies the following two questions:
“Do you aspire to top management within a large company?” and
“Do you have the confidence you can reach top management?”
The numbers showed women who were on the job for two or more years had an alarming decrease in aspiration and confidence by well over 50%. This is quite telling of modern-day corporate culture that is still dominated by age-old Good ‘Ol Boys Club philosophies and further supports the purpose of organizations like the Illinois Diversity Council and Gathered Wisdom Partners.
One can easily navigate through Good ‘Ol Boys environments by connecting and building both internal and external, networks. Without this practice, women stand to miss out on key opportunities to advance in professional development.
Advocate for Self. It’s common knowledge women are largely instinctive advocates for others (e.g., children, family, charity, causes, etc.), but not so much when it comes to speaking up for that woman in the mirror. Event panelists discussed how women can self-advocate authentically, while polling attendees for their self-advocate experiences and backlashes.
Common shared backlashes from a great deal of everyone in the room were cultural (e.g., deemed aggressive); perceived as a “bitch” or prideful. Courtesy of the Good ‘Ol Boys, success and likeability proved (and still proves) positive for men; negative for women.
Not letting fellow sisterhood off the hook, it was widely acknowledged that as women, we can be our own worst enemies; being all-too-willing to provide the knives for the backs of other women deemed a threat (or prey.) Women blessed with more backbone need to always be prepared for the ask. (E.g., If you know yourself and know what you want, then you need to leverage relevant opportunities.)
What leaders can do
Great leaders coach others to speak up. Ask a question that not only sparks honesty but encourages boldness. (E.g., “What went well?” instead of, “So, how’d it go?”) Also, leaders shouldn’t necessarily default to the first hand raised during meetings. Just because a woman is quiet doesn’t mean she doesn’t have great ideas.
Make sure you give quiet team members opportunities to not only be heard, but provide something new.
Help others to see You. It’s not surprising that a great deal of women had zero experience in sports activities during their youth, which is unfortunate, as sports have proven to foster important social development qualities like competition, persistence, etc. These are qualities that can largely be transferred into the workforce for better (great addition to the team), or worse (conscious and unconscious biases).
Manage your brand. Male or female, it’s important early on to find one’s voice and to trust one’s own instincts. It’s the latter that will help you get out of your own way.
Parents, watch your mouths! Parents should be careful what they project onto their children, lest their seeds “inherit” it, again – for better or worse. When it comes to little things, parents should encourage children handle their own situations, as necessary (and, obviously, as age-appropriate.)
What leaders can do
- Ask quiet people their opinions in meetings without picking on them
- Strategize pre-meeting to maximize team impact success
- Provide avenues for open dialogue regarding inclusion, as well as topics important to corporate culture
- Provide monthly educational opportunities via leadership or STEM conferences
- Identify topics, e.g., inclusion, diversity and development
For more information on how the Illinois Diversity Council and Gathered Wisdom Partners can get the needle moving within your organization for women’s professional and personal development, visit www.illinoisdiversitycouncil.org and www.gatheredwisdompartners.com, respectively.