Today, Thursday, March 7th, I have the pleasure of addressing the Bay Area Women’s Leadership Symposium on the topic “Building Up the Women Around You.”
There are so many different paths a person can take to rise through the ranks in business to become a leader. One thing is certain, though. No one ever achieves success completely alone. Along the way, everyone who is in leadership was influenced, helped, supported, or directed in a way that allowed for new opportunities to unfold. But for women, the path to leadership can be challenging and we find ourselves faced with hurdles that men don’t always face. The problem statement presented to me at the Women’s Leadership Symposium was: sometimes the greatest barriers can be the other women with whom we work.
This is very troubling to me. As the highest-ranking female leader at Conduent, I believe it is my obligation to consider — and act on — the ways in which I can be supportive to other women in my organization and around me. While my career has thrived because I have taken initiative, sought out opportunities for growth, and embraced every chance to broaden my knowledge and capabilities, I have also had supportive colleagues and both male and female leadership who were willing to see not only the good work I was doing in the moment, but my future potential as well. I received encouragement and mentoring and have had many advocates along the way. That has been a great gift. It was not always easy, and there were purposeful decisions I made along the way as well, as I am a true believer that each of us plays a big role in creating the path we end up taking.
I also believe in the power of building up the women around me at all levels, whether they are junior to me or are my peers, both within and outside of Conduent. When we support each other, we can all thrive and succeed. As my career has progressed, I have developed a set of “truths” that I live by which help me to focus on supporting and encouraging the many women I work with — both directly and indirectly. I wanted to share some of what has worked for me along the way.
1) Find a mentor and have a “mentor mindset”
We all need someone to give us guidance and constructive feedback. We all need a sounding board. Consider the moments when you have thrived the most under the guidance of someone else. What were the qualities that made those interactions meaningful and helpful? All of us need encouragement and thoughtful, objective input, and need to work to emulate those qualities you have found most helpful from your own experiences. Every interaction with someone, even a peer, is an opportunity to listen, to provide guidance, and to be supportive. It is also critical to walk the walk by setting clear expectations and being consistent in your approach to solving problems, tackling projects, and providing input. I have always followed these 3 “T’s” — Transparency, Trust and Truth. When you hit roadblocks on your journey — and you will — having someone you can talk to that you trust, that you can share with transparently without risk of consequence, and someone who can be very truthful with you on feedback will only help you grow. I have been fortunate to have had mentors outside of my chain of command, which has really enabled open dialogue and candor. This has helped immensely.
Now, having a mentor mindset can also help you to validate that the choices you are making are balanced and appropriate. And because life changes, the “right” balance can shift so it’s always important to take stock and adjust. March 8th is International Women’s Day and the theme is Balance for Better. With a strong mentor mindset, you can positively impact the women you interact with and help those around you affirm their choices are in balance. You will also likely find that you learn a lot about yourself and your own balance needs too.
2) Be curious
Curiosity is one of the most powerful tools we can use to build connections with others. It also makes learning far more interesting and fun than approaching new ideas with a sense of reluctance or rote necessity. Curiosity can open lines of communication that may otherwise have never been explored. By showing genuine interest in the women in your work environment, you may uncover ideas and talents that can help your team or group achieve greater success. Digging into issues or learning about people with a mindset of discovery and allowing for curiosity to lead the way can shift how you approach problem-solving. And this naturally can lead to the opportunity to help other women participate in meaningful ways that are beneficial to you, to them, and to the greater organization. And that makes everyone successful.
3) Consider your own next step
Within an organization, especially a large corporation, to move into the “next” role you may be required to find someone to fill your current one. Succession planning is a critical component of leadership. And having an idea of where you want to go next is equally important. This requires introspection and consideration about the trajectory you want your career to take. And your next, best move might be a lateral one. Learning a completely new area of a business by accepting a lateral move can have a huge impact on your long-term career. A lateral move might also be one that helps you progress your career while keeping other elements of life in balance. But whether you are ready for a career move up the corporate ladder or a lateral move to learn new skills is a better fit for balance, contemplate the women around you who have potential. You will likely need to fill your own shoes. Who is ready to rise to new challenges and be groomed for their own next step in leadership? How can you help prepare them? Being purposeful in your own career choices can open the door to you being helpful to other women along the way. Take the opportunity to recognize and support the talents of others as you consider your own next steps.
4) Drive supportive policies
I firmly believe that once you reach a certain level of seniority in an organization, it is incumbent upon you to address and correct unsupportive policies for women in the workplace. Senior female leaders must champion policies and procedures that allow for flexibility around women’s choices and roles in society, such as taking leave and returning to work to have a child, manage responsibilities with aging parents, or anything in between.
The US Department of Labor reports that mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18. And a McKinsey & Company report, “Women Matter: Time to accelerate. Ten years of insights into gender diversity 2018,” indicates that companies greatly benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women through increased organizational effectiveness and growth. This report estimates that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance. There are countless other studies that show the value of attracting and retaining women the workforce. But in addition to the creation and implementation of supportive policies, probably the more critical element is the education about and implementation of the policies themselves. A company can put great things into place, but the entire organization must implement them, adhere to them, and fully embrace them culturally. And senior female leaders are in an optimal position to make a significant difference on this front.
5) Use your powers for good
There’s room at the table for all of us. I take it upon myself to MAKE room at the table for the women with whom I interact. In my role, I travel the world and meet women across the globe who work for Conduent. Every trip I take to our various global offices, I ask the local country leader to help me identify three or four high-potential women I can host for dinner — just me and those women. No one else. For example on a recent trip to our Bangalore, India office I had the opportunity to spend some time with the women pictured above including (l to r) Archana Ramakrishnan, Ramya Thirumagal, Harsha Arora, me, and Shalini Sachdev.
There is power in breaking bread with others. And there is power in providing a time and a place for women to interact with me and each other as leaders. These dinners afford me the opportunity to build connections, hear new ideas, and discover the talented women who are helping our business to grow and thrive. Take it upon yourself to establish a time and a place for you and the women you work with to connect and share because great ideas can surface, and everyone comes away feeling empowered.
By embracing and supporting the talents of the women around us, we can build stronger organizations, realize greater personal success, and support the success and growth of the companies for which we work.
About the AuthorMore Content by Christine Landry