The Art of Leadership for Women
Jessalynn Tran is the Sales & Marketing Coordinator at Optimus Information
Today, more women are moving up the corporate ladder and breaking glass ceilings. We are raising a generation of girl bosses and have even more available opportunities. However, women in leadership roles will face many challenges in this evolving world that will require them to adapt in order to succeed.
On April 5th, I was fortunate enough to attend The Art of Leadership for Women, an annual one-day conference focusing on the topics and trends most critical to women leaders. The event this year brought together an extraordinary group of influential women consisting of business icons, bestselling authors, and even a Nobel Peace Prize winner. You could feel the energy, excitement, and significance of this event from outside the doors. It felt like something magical was about to take place.
The speakers included:
Anchor & Executive Producer, Bloomberg Technology, Emmy Award Winning Journalist and Bestselling Author
Growth & Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce and Bestselling Author
Laura Gassner Otting
Chief Catalyzing Officer at Limitless Possibility and Author
Dr. Tasha Eurich
Organizational Psychologist, Researcher and New York Times Bestselling Author
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, International Bestselling Author and Founder of Malala Fund
Here were some of my key takeaways from these inspiring speakers.
Success is directly related to access to opportunity
But, what does access mean and look like?
One historical fact that stood out to me was that women used to dominate the computing and programming industry. Women like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and the women of ENIAC were on the leading edge. It was only until much later that the tech industry used personality tests to identify the characteristics that they thought would make a good programmer. This created the stereotype of techies as anti-social male nerds that we now think of. The number of women in computer science declined because they were reframed as individuals who would not excel in this industry as much as their counterparts (despite their prior dominance).
Access to opportunities refers to equal opportunities that are free of biases. However, access to me also means creating a sense of inclusion. Even when women are present, if we don’t see examples of other women in roles that we want, it makes it difficult to imagine ourselves in those roles. There are subtle cultural signals we’re sending that tell women “you don’t belong here” or “you’re not good enough.” For example, the photo used for the first jpeg algorithm was a Playboy centerfold. The use of this photo was later defended by stating that there were no women in the room. Would the choice of this photo have been different if there was a woman in the room? And what message would using this photo send to a woman in the room? What are the long-term societal consequences when we are limiting ourselves to a narrower gender-biased view?
Who gave us our scorecard?
Don’t measure yourself against someone else’s standards of success or happiness.
Although the conference mainly viewed leadership through a female lens, the majority of the information provided was applicable for both men and women.
One gender-neutral idea was having a metaphorical scorecard that we all measure our success and happiness against. For example, there is a lot of pressure to get married and have children. This sends the signal that we unsuccessful if we decided that is not the life that would make us happy. We will never be happy if we are trying to live according to someone else’s scorecards and not our own.
A similarity between all the speakers was that they didn’t all have it all figured out. It was trial and error along the course of their career, and they tossed external scorecards a long time ago. Each step helped them figure out what they wanted to do, what they didn’t want to do, and what their strengths are. For me, I tend to measure myself against the perceived timeline I should follow for my career. Having gone back to school to pursue a different path, I have always felt behind where I “should” be.
Understanding who we are and how we are seen.
Self aware individuals are typically more successful at work, receive more promotions, communicate better, parent better and maintain happier relationships. Most people think that they are self aware. However, in reality, most people suck at it. This is something that I realized is definitely true for me. I have a difficult time identifying my strengths and limitations, and often feel like I have imposter syndrome.
Studies have shown that women tend to underestimate how others see them. Dr. Tasha Eurich provided practical tools to help improve our self awareness and to use trusted individuals to combat our negative perceptions.
- Reflected best self
Ask a few people who know you well, “What qualities do you most appreciate me as a leader?”
- Prove them wrong
What are you capable of that no one else knows?
- Ask what, not why
Asking “Why?” can put us in an emotional trap feeling like a victim asking “Why is this happening to me?” A better way is to ask “What?” questions that will give you factual growth. For example, ask “What patterns do I see and what can I do differently?”
- Loving critics
Seek honest feedback from someone who has your best interest at heart and wants to see you succeed.
How to Get Women to More Prominent Roles?
Practical advice for any leader.
It’s one thing to read this and make commitments to improving at leadership. But, we don’t want to settle for vague goals. If you are a woman and want to truly excel, here are four pieces of advice for you:
- Don’t ask for permission
Go out and prove them wrong.
- Have mentors
Surround yourself with people who can help you develop your skills.
- Know your own strengths and limitations
Focusing on your strengths will help guide your career and understanding areas you can improve or need help improving.
- Being bad at something is an opportunity to improve
Mistakes are inevitable; but they are opportunities to learn.
My day at the Art of Leadership for Women felt like a day full of “Aha!” moments. Not only did I leave with practical advice that I can apply to my own life, but I left feeling empowered. In addition to the extraordinary women, it was great to see men in attendance as well. The fight for equality and inclusivity needs to include men in the dialogue. Being sent to this conference clearly communicated to me Optimus’ core values and their support of gender equality. When asked what the gender ratio is at Optimus, I was proudly able to say the ratio is 1:1. I am grateful to work for a company that sees my personal potential as a professional and also the importance of being an ambassador of women in leadership.