Paying Attention to Women’s Leadership

by julia.hanigsberg | May 17th, 2012

Good food, good company, smart folks and a beautiful setting. What could be better? Focus your discussion around women and leadership and now you’re talking about a great evening.

On Tuesday May 15th, Lisa Kimmel, Edelman’s Toronto General Manager hosted a great event as part of Edelman’s broader global women’s initiative: GWEN – a truly inspiring plan with clear targets for gender equality in practice leadership by 2016.

Lisa asked me to share my thoughts on women and leadership with an intimate group of female corporate leaders and their mentees that night. Here are the things that were on my mind.

• It isn’t just about the mom’s anymore

• It’s a boys problem too (maybe mostly)

• Don’t sweat the small stuff

• But don’t make it look too easy either

• Be prepared to let happen what you’re not prepared to happen

1. It isn’t just about the mom’s anymore – For my generation of women the major career challenge was how to manage work and family. And until the kids showed up we put our noses to the grindstone to prove that we were everything our male counterparts are. Today we have four generations in the workplace. For our latest entries, the millennials, kids aren’t on the horizon yet but they want a life anyway! They are socially engaged like the group of Ryerson Alternative Spring Break students who right now are building special needs housing in Ghana. These employees want to work but they also travel, contribute to public life, and maybe even go snowboarding. We don’t quite get them and we don’t know how to fit them into our concept of work-life flow.

2. It’s a boys problem too (maybe mostly) – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg got me thinking about this stunningly obvious concept. Until boys and men have the fullest possible range of life and career options, women will never be able to pursue theirs. Period. I’ve got a son and it had never occurred to me to encourage him to think of career options that might put parenting first for either some or all of his professional life. How we raise our sons, how we choose our male partners, how we influence our children’s assumptions of what to look for in a male partner, how we manage the men in our teams and our expectations of them…these are all going to make a critical impact for the next generation of women leaders.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff – Women may be able to “have it all” but probably not all at the same time every day! There are only so many things at any given moment at which you can be totally fantastic. I complained to a female Vice President friend of mine the other day that I was frustrated because my oven had been broken for two weeks and I hadn’t been able to find time to get it fixed. Her comment: “Julia, my oven could be broken for two years and no one would even notice!” Nuf said.

4. But don’t make it look too easy either – True sisterhood has got to include letting each other in on some of the dirty secrets. I admit I want everything to look effortless. But when you do this you set up other women to think they are the only ones who can’t pull it all off. Let other women in, share your tips and tricks and admit when you’ve blown it at work and at home. Give each other permission to admit that that being a woman leader can be hard slogging.

5. Be prepared to let happen what you’re not prepared to happen – Success in career as in life is at least part luck. But you’ve got to be willing to let yourself be lucky! Twice in my career I got what in retrospect were big breaks at the most unlikely times. The first time I was 2 months pregnant and thought to myself, bad time to take a new job on! The second time when I was on mat leave with twins and got offered a big promotion. Three kids under 4—was I certain this was the right time? Nope, but I took a chance on myself. In each of those cases I let something happen that I was totally unprepared to happen.

I need women leaders around me because there is just too much hard work to do to sideline any great talent. Richard Edelman seems to think that makes sense too. Edelman has set the bar. Let’s all rise to the challenge.

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