Since today is International Women’s Day, I’ve been thinking through my career of the most influential leaders who have had the most impact on my career. I’m not surprised that the overwhelming majority of those leaders are female. It’s one of the reasons I am so passionate about gender diversity. Here are my top three reasons why gender diversity in management is important Actually, it’s mission necessary!
Who I am celebrating:
I’m almost hesitant to provide a list because there have been so many over my career but here’s a short list of the most impactful female leaders I’ve had in my career:
Women Leaders EMPOWER free thinkers to grow
Throughout my career, I’ve struggled with my identity as a team member and free thinker. I like to push the envelope and find new ways of accomplishing a mission. Early on, I was a bull in a china shop but have evolved over time with the help of some amazing leaders. They’ve allowed me to hone in on my strength while also giving me the necessary guidance to achieve career growth without so many casualties. It’s been female leaders who have provided me the most opportunity to grow and learn throughout my career. There was an inherent safety provided that I usually didn’t receive when working for a male leader. Perhaps with male leadership there’s this underlying sense of “Who’s the Alpha?” that isn’t normally the case when working for a female.
“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”Toni Morrison
The level of empowerment I had working for these strong female leaders was scary at times. I remember telling Sybille Goodson, “You’re giving me more responsibility than I feel comfortable with.” Somehow, she saw an ability in me that I didn’t see myself. If I had to summarize my career working for females the one word that comes to mind is empowerment? In a market that depends on talent to break through barriers and capture market share, the ability of a leader to empower those who think outside of the box are invaluable. They have the ability to allow those on your team with the next big idea to grow and be nurtured whereas those leaders who see free thinkers as a nuisance cripple your firm’s ability to grow.
They bring teams together through change
I’ll admit it, I can be an asshole sometimes. I want it my way and when I don’t get it, I mentally pack up my toys and leave.
Three years ago, I was in one of those moods because the organization was undergoing a shift and I didn’t like it. I placated the changes externally but internally, I was packing to leave. I became disengaged and agnostic to decisions presented, often quiet during meetings I would normally be active in. It took three women who knew me well to lead me out of this funk.
Reba, Sonia and Sheryl all approached me over time, all using different tactics to coach me out of my self-destructive mindset. I didn’t feel attacked but challenged to rise to the occasion. As I think of how they handled my tantrum and how I normally handle tantrums on my team, there is a stark difference. I tended to go in with a COMMAND mentality and all but browbeat team members into submission to get in line. I learned from this scenario how to lead with context and love. I am not necessarily saying that males can’t lead in the same way, I am only acknowledging that I learned some of my best change management lessons from female leaders.
I feel as though females have an instinctual ability to ensure no one is left behind. I can think of a thousand conversations when Sheryl and I would be at odds over how to roll an initiative out. I was so focused on hitting milestones that I would often neglect to consider the implications of the team. Sheryl was always there to be a voice for the team and focused on inclusivity. While early on it frustrated me, I learned so much from her insight as a leader and became a better, more inclusive leader as a result.
If your organization is considering radical change as a response to the market, you definitely need women in leadership to help navigate how to do it successfully. This is especially critical when considering how the organization’s team can make the transition successful.
An intuitive eye for talent
If you’ve listened to any interview of mine, you’ll know my entrance into HR was a little bumpy. Here I was, a punk banker who thought he knew everything, trying to fit in a recruiting role. I had previously spent more time in HR for violating policies (minor ones) than I did trying to learn the successful path of an HR professional. When I thought I had completely blundered my chance to stay in the HR profession, my leader recognized a trait that would make me successful.
Maggie hired me in late 2004 to be a recruiter when looking back, it didn’t make a lot of sense. I wasn’t your prototypical HR professional, much less a blazingly successful recruiter. She attended a meeting I had with our client six months after I started my contract. While I thought I had completely blundered, she apparently saw something different and offered me a full-time role days later. I debriefed the meeting with her and I remember distinctly her feedback: “You speak the same language as the client, I can’t teach you that. You’re consultative with them and take time to understand their needs-I don’t have time to teach you that. Now recruiting, I can definitely help you learn that.”
Another influential leader started out as my mentor before becoming the CHRO for the firm. Rosilyn and I would meet monthly to discuss my growth, trade book topics and just share life. She was such an impactful mentor on so many levels at a time when I was struggling in my career. Ironically, I was working for leaders who preferred me to stay in my lane which is one of the most primal ways to initiate a rebellion from me. It was the gentle but firm guidance I took from Rosilyn’s mentorship that allowed me to learn how to cope and excel in spite of the challenge.
When she assumed the role of CHRO, her challenge to me never diminished. She encouraged my outrageous feedback but also forced me to own some of the solutions. Her foresight into what I would be able to accomplish sometimes scared me, but I had already learned to trust her leadership as a mentor. She not only did this for me but for everyone in HR. I can think of countless organization changes that had me scratching me head but somehow, she always knew who to put in the right role at the right time. Honestly, it was fascinating to watch some of these changes and be let in on her “master plan” as the story unfolded itself. Her eye for talent was one I admired and personally benefited from.
Even as a recruiter, I’ve noticed female hiring managers see well beyond the generic interview questions. They’re more entuned with the intrinsic motivations and abilities of candidates than their male counterparts. As the market continues to force companies to evolve, leaders will need to learn to look beyond just the technical requirements of a job and begin focusing more on transferrable and scalable competencies. I think women leaders are well ahead of the curve and can help organizations achieve much more than many of us who try to fit talent into a box we can understand.
Focusing on women in leadership should not be something we talk about once a year. It should be an ongoing discussion within the Talent Acquisition industry because it’s the right thing to do. More importantly, I think it behooves any organization facing talent challenges will benefit more with a diversity of thought and gender at the table. This post is just my opportunity to share the tremendous impact of some incredible women leaders who have invested more in me than I’ll ever be able to return.
Who has had the most impact in your career? I’d love to hear your stories-share them in the comments below!
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