Susan Mathison, Published January 29 2014
Positively Beautiful:Fostering women to take on top roles
I attended a breakfast meeting sponsored by the FM Area Foundation’s Women’s Fund at which they asked us to think about barriers and opportunities for women at work, government roles and board service. We talked about awareness, child care, gender roles, expectations, unconscious bias, corporate boards, programs and laws.
Then ND Women’s StartUp Weekend kept 60 of us busy last week as we dreamed and schemed for new business ventures.
Women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs globally. We talked about creativity, pitches, business plans, empowerment, funding and scale.
The serendipity of these two events happening in the same week struck me.
Women compromise 4 percent of corporate CEO’s, 14 percent of executive officers and 20 percent of America’s government officials.
Entrepreneurship may be the key to changing that. As more women start businesses that become companies, the stakes and risks are higher, but the potential rewards from a personal and societal perspective are even greater.
Research has shown the value of a diverse viewpoint. Gender equality is part of the story, but the bottom line proves the point. Last August, a Credit Suisse study that looked at 2,360 companies globally found that companies with at least one woman on their boards did better than those without women, in terms of higher average growth, stock price performance and other metrics.
Yet before the dreams of elections, financial abundance, decisions with power, C-level titles and boardrooms, we need to begin with our kids, partners, bosses, and most importantly, ourselves. Here are my ideas for fostering leadership:
1. Encourage possibility-thinking from a young age. All girls and boys need to be encouraged to dream big, pursue great ideas and give back. Dakota Medical Foundation and the YMCA have locally sponsored “The Seven Mindsets” as a curriculum that fosters this style of engagement.
2. Develop a healthy relationship with money. Leaders need not be rich, but they usually are conscious of their ins and outs, managing their financial lives in a way that minimizes stress.
3. Realize that leadership takes many forms. You are the CEO of YOU. Be determined to do your best and give your best at home and at work. You lead your children, partner and friends. You take the initiative to make things better. Sometimes, they lead you, and you support and follow them in their leadership.
4. Your boss needs leadership (and love), too. You will have many opportunities to lead up, providing honest feedback and support. When done from a place of authentic concern for the person, project and company, you can have great impact. A good boss will consider you a resource and remember your contribution.
5. Ask for what you want. If you want a leadership role at work, raise your hand and ask to be considered. If you have a hard time singing your own praises, seek testimonials from colleagues who see you in action at work and in the community. Use this language as a springboard to see and share the value you bring.
6. Seek advice. I have a friend who has her own personal board of directors, a group of three friends with diverse skills and backgrounds. She was very vulnerable in asking for candid counsel regarding projects she should consider. She asked what made sense for her future from a financial perspective and what was most in alignment with her values.
7. “Lean in,” as Sheryl Sandberg says in her controversial book. Want to join a nonprofit board? Ask where your skills might be useful. Volunteer for a committee. If you have kids, bring them along to participate if feasible. I’ve probably overdone this with my son, and sometimes his behavior is not perfect, but I hope he absorbs the joy I feel in being part of the action.
8. Regarding corporate boards, speak up. Notice the products you use from local, regional and national companies. Do they have any women on their boards? My business bank has 10 percent female board. Check out the group 2020 Women on Boards and their goal to increase the percentage of women on corporate boards in the U.S. to 20 percent or greater by the year 2020.
9. Speak up when you see things that aren’t fair. I know of a company that takes its men on an international trip. The women aren’t included. A western bank gave its male leaders company cars but not its female leadership.
10. Be the change. You don’t need to wait for a degree, a program or a law. Do one thing, mentor one student, invite one new family to dinner, form one group, organize one event. Create and collaborate. There is nothing more beautiful than watching people light up with new connections and possibilities.
11. Create your own table. Build your own company and invite great mentors, women and men to sit in your boardroom.
12. Declare yourself a leader. You already are.
Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.