I get to work for a woman. And not any woman, but a woman who started and runs her own business. She is a boss. And she is a woman.
My Opportunity to Assess
Eighteen months ago, I found myself in the midst of an abrupt and unanticipated career transition. This transition came with severance (aka ample time to deeply assess what I wanted in my next career move). I have a history of following great leaders. I work for those I respect and admire — those who possess a dynamic balance of power and compassion, strength and gentleness, clear direction and adaptability. In my “in-between things” time, I had a realization — in three different jobs, I had only worked and followed men. Wonderful men, but exclusively men.
My Framework for Women
This was problematic. You see, I’m a product of a long line of progressive, ambitious women. My grandmothers on both sides were college educated at Vanderbilt University, and one received her Master’s degree (in the 1940s). My mom was and is a pioneer, receiving her Doctorate in Pharmacy from UNC as one of five students in the first class, later making what she described as a “risk-taking move” working for a pharma start-up called Glaxo. She pushed through “glass ceilings” with determination before this phrase was even in our cultural vernacular. My sister and I are both products of all-girls education at a rigorous college prep school. We had to find our voice. We had to learn to step up, to lead, to give speeches and to share opinions. Embedded in us from an early age was this sense of power and endless opportunity that comes through hard work, determination and continual intellectual inquiry. Surrounded by some of the most high-potential, intelligent, motivated, talented and genuine women, we learned the capability of women. We were taught mutual respect, celebrating one another and believing in one another’s unique greatness.
Why So Few Women Leaders?
I continue to be amazed by just how few women leaders we have in our world. Women are not making it to the top in any profession. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, reveals in her book Lean In and reiterates in her Ted Talk:
- In the public sector, of 190 heads of state, nine are women
- In the corporate sector, women at the top in C-suite are 15-16%
- Even in the nonprofit world, women at the top are less than 20%
Why is this? Sheryl would say it’s because women are dropping out. Often, women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfillment. How do we change these numbers at the top? Sheryl has an answer for that too. She’d say there are a few critical messages we need to tell ourselves and those in our community:
1. Sit at the table
Women systematically underestimate their own abilities and willingly sit on the sidelines of the room. They don’t negotiate in the workplace (57% of men negotiate their first salary out of undergrad, only 7% women). Men attribute success to themselves and women attribute it to others. Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. We have to know these facts and push through them and beyond them. Women, believe in yourself, reach higher and make sure you always sit at the table.
2. Make your partner a real partner
We’ve made more progress in the workplace around equity than in the home. Even if a woman is working full time, statistically, women do twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare. So, who drops out when someone needs to be home with the kids? What would it look like to carry the domestic responsibility more evenly to enable both parties to invest in their careers?
3. Don’t leave before you leave
Most women are planners. From the moment a woman starts thinking about having a child, she starts making room for the child. From that moment onward, the woman has a tendency to not go after the promotion, to stop raising her hand and to start leaning back. But here’s the irony: if your work is not challenging and rewarding, you’re so much more likely to drop out when your child arrives. So, keep your foot on the gas pedal until the day you need to make a change.
Sheryl’s wisdom spurs us on. She exposes the reality and gives directives to keep more women in the workplace. I get to see her wisdom in action at Angel Oak Creative.
The “X” Factor
For women, there tends to be a beautiful, natural balance of intellectual intelligence (IQ aka intelligence quotient) and emotional intelligence (EQ aka emotional quotient). Emotional intelligence (the “X” factor) is the other kind of smart. Research reveals that it’s the critical factor that sets outstanding performers apart from the rest. EQ affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities and make personal decisions. EQ is comprised of five key components that together enable us to recognize and manage our emotions: send-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. A leader like Caitlin Clinard knows that not only is she building an organization that is smart, efficient, innovative and excellent, but she’s also building up her most valuable asset — her employees. She knows her organization is dependent on her human capital. The reality is that motivated employees who feel valued, recognized and invested in produce better work. Exercising EQ allows leaders to humanize the workplace and treat employees not as a cog in a machine but as a living, breathing person.
Working for a Girl Boss
Reflecting on and celebrating one year at Angel Oak Creative, I realize that working for a woman was a critical and incredibly influential decision. Finally, the framework my upbringing provided and the reality of my life are aligned. Formerly, while working for a man, it was harder to imagine what it would look like if I were in his shoes, how I would lead the organization. I often call to mind the truism that “you cannot imagine for yourself that which you have never seen.” I can now more fully imagine what leadership of people and company would and could look like. I get to be a part of the less than 20% of women in leadership, defying the odds, moving the needle and creating pathways for other women. Let’s keep pioneering to make leadership more and more accessible to women.
– Cate McLeane, Director of Client Relations