When we collaborate with people who are different than we are – be it in gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, experience or upbringing – we all benefit. The results associated with supporting female leaders come in many forms: increased productivity, greater innovation, better problem-solving, better decision-making and higher employee retention and satisfaction.
And yet…businesses do not always have the culture to embrace women leaders. It is something of which we have to be mindful, purposeful and intentional about building. I witnessed the need in my 25+ years of executive experience with a variety of companies, and I continue to witness the need in my consulting business.
Before we dive more deeply, it’s important to define a leader. Leadership is not a title. It’s a skill, and every position in an organization has a component of leadership. Leadership is about influence, not the sign that hangs on your door or cubicle. It’s about actions and influence to reach an outcome with a keen eye on influencing others to grow in a positive direction. That, in turn, significantly impacts a company’s internal culture as well as how it fares as a business.
Leadership journeys may bring bigger projects, management of people or promotions, but it’s different for each person. The reality is there are so many things that tend to slow women leaders including our own choices, self-selecting out, sending mixed messages and feeling that likability is in direct battle with assertiveness. In some cases, women may not feel they’re ready or can’t handle the work/life balance required of being a leader, and that’s not only unfortunate but a huge misperception. We need to learn to get out of our own way.
One of the things that was glaringly absent for me early in my journey was that I did not have a community of professional women to lean on. Women thrive when they have female peers who can serve as dialogue partners to talk to about business realities. The trust and the communication is immensely strong.
My own career progressed from working in a marketing discipline to moving into vice president, chief marketing officer and presidential roles, and from there, starting my own company around creating leaders. What I recognized on my journey is that I have been fortunate to have positive influences who have shown me what good, solid leadership means. I’ve also witnessed bad examples that I don’t want to emulate. The most important thing we have to continue to do is recognize that leadership is a continuous learning journey.
As I started working with women leaders, my goal has to help them through their journey, to continue to progress in their careers, build their self-awareness and set the stage for approaches they haven’t thought about. It’s about continual learning.
It’s important that our male leaders also sponsor and mentor female leaders. One of the most important people in the progression of my career was one of my male presidents, and he was amazing. He took the time to really create a relationship and build an environment for me to learn and grow. Businesses need to continue to work to sponsor and teach female leaders across an organization.
All these elements for developing leadership were the inspiration for my company, New Sage Strategies, and its numerous women-focused resource groups. And now, the Women in Leadership Conference, we’re hosting on Thursday, October 17, at Liberty Hall in Kimberly. (Investors Community Bank is a sponsor of this inaugural event, and for that, we are extremely grateful!)
The whole premise of the leadership conference is to assemble women from diverse backgrounds and at different places in their leadership journeys, and yet, who we will show have similarities. Each has faced unique challenges. Each woman will share things we will recognize in ourselves, and in doing so, we can draw understanding, knowledge, skills and inspiration from her. We’re encouraging and empowering attendees to take ownership of their careers through keynote talks, panel discussions and breakout sessions featuring regional, national and international experts, as well as network with fellow professionals. Topics will include leadership development, career advancement and well-being, and attendees will have actionable items to take away. I have every reason to believe the energy at this event will be high, the networking will be a bit more intentional, and attendees will have actionable items they take home with them. Inspiration is great, but what we do with that – what action we take – is what matters. Companies can demonstrate the importance of their female leaders by giving them this day to reflect on their leadership journey and what would make them more effective and stronger in their roles as they impact their organizations.