We’ve been celebrating National Women’s History Month here at Linkage, a topic that many of us are passionate about. When our partners at Paradigm for Parity came to us asking for words of wisdom to inspire today’s and tomorrow’s leaders around gender parity, we jumped at the chance to get involved. Many of our team members shared practical advice we can all learn from to support teamwork and inclusive workplace cultures.
Read on for an overview of the advice shared that naturally fell into five themes that have the power to transform how each of us lives and leads every day.
Your voice is your power—if you use it
Finding and using our own voice can offer a unique perspective to a challenge or issue, help us identify and define our own value, represent our authenticity, and make us visible. Here are a few ideas my colleagues shared:
“I urge any young woman to learn and practice negotiating early and often: negotiate flexibility, negotiate being added to a project that isn’t in your normal work silo, and negotiate for a new technology or process. Show your value, work hard, and ask for things that you believe you’ve earned and deserve.” – Ashley Brown, Salesforce Administrator
“The only way you can add value to a conversation is by actively engaging in it. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself in a room of people who are all senior to you and it will be tempting to keep quiet out of a fear of saying the wrong thing or looking foolish…. But remember: you have a unique perspective that no one else has—and you do a disservice to the conversation to keep that perspective to yourself.” – Briana Goldman, Senior Consultant
“The more perceptive of a person you are, the harder it will be for you to realize that, in the working world, you are likely invisible until you announce yourself. Find role models who know how to articulate and demonstrate their own value.” – Jill Maver Ihsanullah, SVP of Consulting
There was also a theme among our team around curiosity and our ability to question legacy thinking that may be perpetuating bias or unintended behaviors.
“If ever there was a time to learn and practice exquisite curiosity, it is now. Men and women need to seek understanding of differences, and amplify and leverage those unique differences to create differential value.” – Susan MacKenty Brady, EVP of Global Program Strategy & Development
“Question your beliefs, assumptions and biases on a daily basis; and become curious about your thinking when you find yourself justifying actions that support long-held beliefs. We’ve been indoctrinated into a belief system from a very early age and often that belief system is a significant barrier to the advancement of ourselves and others.” – Susie Kelleher, Principal Consultant
“As a woman, take a conscious look at how you perceive female peers and the women you lead. Do you expect more or are you more critical of the women around you? We all need to be working on commending great work and achievements regardless of gender.” – Angela Hicks, Learning Architect/Instructional Designer
“Define your path to success by expanding your thinking, and learning from examples, while not letting those examples bind you to a status quo—because there is no one single way to succeed. And, when you see someone else trying to find their way, bring a message of innovation and curiosity, not answers.” – Shannon Bayer, AVP Affiliate Network
“If you’re wearing blinders, you can’t look around…. If you’re looking in a mirror, you can only see yourself. Look to others (ask and listen), look to data (interpret, verify), try new ways of being (fail and succeed!), and keep learning.” – Shirley Milgrom, Manager, Learning Architectures
Sponsorship and networking
Statistics tell the story: Sponsorship isn’t just a passing fad, and it might just be one of the most meaningful strategies that we can establish as leaders today to help our teams thrive in the future. Read our 5-Step Guide for more on this topic.
“Find a sponsor early in your career. A sponsor is someone who speaks highly and honestly about you behind your back, who knows your talent and dreams, sees your potential that you may not see, and positions you for opportunities of which you may not know.” – Reed Parker, SVP of Business Development
“It’s tempting to only focus on those senior leaders you aspire to impress; however you must always remember the impact you have on those who look up to you as well.” – Kerry Seitz, Director, Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute™
Ask for what you want
Our recent survey data shows that women have a tougher time than men asking for what they want. This is one of the 7 Hurdles we’ve identified that women face in the workforce. My colleague Susan MacKenty Brady explains in this short video. Asking for it is one thing. Identifying it to know what you want to ask for can also take a lot of work, discovery and be a journey in and of itself. Tuning into your purpose can help you define this.
“The answer may not always be ‘yes’, but making the ask will get easier with time and also shows your engagement and commitment. Stay closely connected with colleagues who already know your value, take their feedback to heart, and don’t be afraid to fail—be resilient and it will pay off.” – Ashley Niven, Manager of Operations
“In today’s pace of business, we know that hard work, determination, powerful statistics, and passion alone don’t always unleash a woman’s leadership potential. It takes executive alignment, talent systems, accountability, transparency and metrics; and, it requires individual women to pause, negotiate and look up to define a larger leadership purpose beyond what they feel possible.” – Danielle Lucido, Linkage Network Director
Diversity is the new (old) equalizer
Research from McKinsey shows that more diverse companies financially outperform their peers. We need to find ways to bring diversity—in both people and perspectives—and gender parity to the party. And, create cultures of mutual respect and admiration for the differences that make us complementary. My colleague Mark Hannum sums this up nicely in his advice to men who want to support their female talent:
“Surround yourself with diverse talent. The best teams of talent are made up of both men and women. As your career progresses, be sure to find and sponsor the best women you encounter in your workplace…. Everything will be better as a result of that practice!” – Mark Hannum, SVP of Research and Development
I hope that next year at this time, we’ll see more practical applications of both formal and informal sponsorship programs in companies; that men and women will have a different and more mutually respectful (and natural and open) talk track with each other; and that my daughters who will turn 15 will experience a year of role models in the news that don’t have to do with gender or racial injustice, misogyny, #MeToo, disrespect and predatory behavior.
In closing, I’ll offer you my own parting words of advice: Think creatively and be fearless about talking with, connecting with and networking with people inside and outside your organization. Your visibility will help you when opportunities arise that you may not always be aware of.
What advice would you add? What conversations do you want to be a part of for National Women’s History Month next year? How can we change the conversation? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below and you may see them reflected on this blog in the future.