In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD) this Friday, we sat down here at Notion Consulting and had a frank talk about issues facing women in leadership roles. Following are some highlights from that conversation, from our leaders, Christine Andrukonis and Diana Vienne.
1. Diana, you’ve worked closely with women leaders at global institutions for decades, so you have great insight into the issues they face. In your opinion, how do the challenges women leaders face differ from those of their male peers?
Diana: One of the most difficult things I have seen for rising women and diverse stars in the traditional corporate environment is the lack of women role models at the top. I have often heard “When I look up in my organization, there are not that many women who have a position that matches the lifestyle that I want. I don’t want to give up being with my family for my job, yet, I still want to work hard and be successful.”
One move that will help is creating more flexible work environments, where women and men can thrive without being judged for their personal choices. And many companies are moving in the right direction. But many also have a long way to go in creating a culture that truly supports this.
In our work, we help organizations transform their workplace culture through vision, leadership, talent, and engagement initiatives, so that they can embed new mindsets that will make inclusion and representation a reality for all employees.
2. This one is for both of you. What are the key skills you would advise women to develop at the beginning or middle of their careers, that could help them attain leadership positions down the road, and why?
Diana: Rising women need three things to help them throughout their careers:
Be honest and real, ask for help, and help others to understand where you are at any given moment.
Understand that the road to leadership is not always up. There are many paths to leadership and sometimes learning a new role, moving laterally, or taking a pause to focus on more personal matters is what’s needed. That’s okay; you will still get there.
- Listening skills
Pay attention to the culture, the priorities and the norms that exist around you – the better you understand the professional ‘currency’ of your environment, the better you will understand how to become successful in that environment. Listen, observe, assess – then speak.
Christine: In addition to the three skills that Diana mentioned, I would add:
Formulate a point of view and express it with a sense of calm conviction. Don’t apologize or undercut your point before expressing it!
Establish and own your power in a room. Use body language, tone, and appropriate volume to support your authority.
Cultivate the ability to operate with a clear vision and direction, yet pivot as needed along the way.
3. Christine, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, the share of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies was just 4.8 percent. At its peak in 2017, the share was only 6.4 percent. How does the gender gap affect the work you do with leaders?
Christine: This under representation is a symptom of the fact many companies are not yet tapping into the full spectrum of talent that’s available, and are therefore not positioning themselves to deliver the best performance. This just makes our work more critical and urgent — to help executives clarify a compelling corporate vision, equip their leaders to inspire, activate their talent to grow, and engage everyone along for the journey.
4. Diana, tell us about Notion’s work with Gender Fair. How are you teaming with them to help accelerate equality?
Diana: Gender Fair recognizes companies that have made measurable progress in gender equality. This means they have proven they are committed to advancing women into leadership positions and have the policies in place to do so. They break traditional stereotypes of women through their advertising, and commit to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility efforts that support women.
We partner with Gender Fair to help organizations create the programs, policies and interventions that drive a change in mindset and behavior and embed these into the day-to-day culture of the organization.
5. And finally, one last question for both of you. What does this year’s IWD campaign theme, “Balance For Better” mean for you, personally?
Christine: It’s a solution to a math problem and a human problem. My six-year-old son articulated it best when we were watching the movie Hidden Figures. In the movie, which takes place in the Jim Crow era, a character is forced to run through the rain across the NASA campus in order to use the “colored” ladies room. Her boss makes a scene about how much time she is losing when she is not at her desk, without realizing why she was gone for so long. After she tells him why, he takes a crowbar to the “whites only” sign on the nearest ladies room to open it up to African Americans.
Seeing this, my son turned to me and said “Mommy, that’s nice of him. But let’s be honest, he also did it so she could work more and solve the math problem.” And this is the point, if you want the best people on the job doing the best work, you have to create a work environment that is inclusive, nurturing and empowering of the whole person, so the most talented people available can do their best work.
Diana: Achieving balance in the workplace is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. Organizations that reflect mindsets and behaviors that are accepting of diversity and new thinking are correlated to better business performance overall. These organizations innovate faster, transform more easily and are poised to grow at a more rapid rate than their more homogeneous counterparts.
Creating this environment is not easy. Companies need to commit to their infrastructure to support the growth of all their best and brightest people. They must have the programs, mentorship, leadership support, and leadership development at all levels to create and maintain an inclusive, balanced culture.