Women of distinction are those who choose to stand up and stand out. These are women who have a strong sense character, challenge themselves and others around them, effectively communicate, and have the courage to define leadership for themselves.
We assembled a group of 150 women in Indy at the Skyline Club last week at our Women of Distinction luncheon to discuss what these four building blocks mean for women in business today.
At the event, we heard from keynote speaker Colonel Mary Bolk who provided us with some hard-learned lessons of leadership from her time in the U.S. Army Reserve. I also had the incredible privilege of serving on a panel with Col. Bolk, Marty DuRall (MS Companies), Zaida Monell (Goodwill Industries) and Amy Hershman (Cisco).
Themes from that discussion included: personal branding, realizing your leadership potential, “owning up” to mistakes, taking risks, balance, and communicating your career aspirations.
Valuably, we not only posed our questions to the panel, we also polled our audience for input. I’d like to share a few of the results, which tell us that in our audience:
Only 14% point to a supervisor as the key in developing them as a leader
16% are the sole leaders on their teams
26% admit to little to no career conversations at work
Q: Who/What was the key component in developing you as a leader?
The majority of people responded that their “experience” was key in their leadership growth, which I found surprising. When we created this question, we actually added “experience” as an option to the poll as a way of saying, “no one, I’ve developed myself as a leader.” That may not be how some people answered this question. It’s fair to assume that many people saw “experience” as a true and valuable learning process; we learn by doing after all.
Still, only fourteen percent of people indicated that a supervisor was the key to their development and twenty-eight percent pointed to a mentor or coach. For women especially we recognize the need and importance of mentorship to our success. I would have hoped to see more influence from supervisors, as they should have an obligation to the continued development of their people.
What else does this data tell me? It reinforces what we have been saying at Integrating Woman Leaders for years; invest in your own development. We all need to spend the time and money on ourselves, gain valuable learning experiences and give time for networking and connecting with the community. Your career is in your own hands. So, what will you do with it?
It would be a mistake to not also make this a challenge to each of us. While we should be driving our own careers forward, this is also an opportunity to have others’ careers in mind. I challenge you to be the leader, supervisor or mentor that one thinks of as they sit at a luncheon like this, so when he or she asks themselves the question, “Who has influenced my development?” they think of you. We each have the ability to deeply affect others’ careers and it is both a large and important responsibility we own.
Q: What is the make up of your current team?
Notice that most people (forty-two percent) in our audience have very diverse teams in terms of gender. We asked this question to get a feel for the room and understand different team environments that may be represented. The real question though is, how many female leaders are there and how many are the only female leader represented? We had sixteen percent of our attendees who fit this category.
It’s always very telling to take a deep look within an organization to see how many women are in leadership roles. We know the statistics nationwide:
This is why Integrating Woman Leaders exists – to work every day to help move the needle and change these numbers.
Conversations like the one we had at this luncheon happen all the time and they are necessary to bring awareness around the issues, to share success stories and equip women with ways to navigate their careers. Yet on top of that foundation, there is more to do. Change doesn’t come easy and this is a cultural and systemic problem.
I touched on our individual obligations above with the previous question. This topic lends more to corporate leadership and organizational obligations. This sort of large-scale change will take time and it all starts at the top.
Q: How often do you have career conversations in the workplace?
Ask yourself this question. Can you list on one hand how many career conversations you have had at work in the last year?
If you’re having trouble, rest assured that you’re not alone. Twenty-six percent of those at our event indicated an extremely minimal amount of these critical conversations in their work lives. That is alarming. Why aren’t these conversations happening? And those that are happening, why are forty-five percent of them happening only once a year at a pre-determined time set aside for the performance review process? Aren’t leaders catching on that the performance review is dead?
These one or none conversations are not cutting it. Open communication and feedback should be regular occurrences at work, especially as more and more millennials enter the workforce because they expect and need this. And I’m not talking about shiny recognition or a pat on the shoulder. Carla Harris opened my eyes to this last year at the 2015 IWL Women’s Leadership Conference when she said “if you ask for feedback and they say, ‘I don’t know. Just keep doing what you’re doing,’ that’s a red flag! You have a problem here.” We all deserve constructive feedback. It’s a gift.
We’re also missing opportunities to grow our teams and our people. I am reminded of trueU’s tagline that I love so much, “companies don’t grow, people do.” Developing your people makes business sense. Unfortunately it’s clear that many people feel unsupported and unheard. To those other twenty-nine percent in our crowd who have regular career conversations, my hat’s off to you. Take advantage!
At IWL Foundation we work with women striving for influence and purpose. These are real responses from 150 local Indianapolis women about what they experience daily at work. Let’s all continue to have these important conversations and commit to supporting each others’ career aspirations.
* The surveyed group is not a representative sample. Attendees were a diverse group of business professionals local to Indianapolis, ninety-nine percent of whom were women and the majority was between the ages of thirty and fifty.