Women are making gains in corporate leadership, but still face obstacles, and meeting those challenges means building networks, continuing education, confidence, and not being afraid to challenge the status quo.
That was the message Thursday in “A Crash Course: Women in Leadership,” part of the Leaders & Innovators business breakfast series presented by WWJ Newsradio 950 at Lawrence Technological University. Approximately 80 people attended, despite icy roads that closed school districts in Southeast Michigan.
Certified career coach Lila Asanti-Appiah, president and co-founder of the nonprofit Purposeful Pursuits and chief administrative officer of The Heat and Warmth Fund, began the session with a series of tips for career advancement. She advised attendees to invest in a personal career coach, and not to be afraid of applying for jobs or promotions where they don’t exactly fit the desired experience. “Seventy percent of hiring managers have hired those whose skill sets may not exactly match the role,” she said.
Asanti-Appiah also advised those in supervisory roles to “learn how to coach, and learn that there is a time to coach and a time to tell. Be specific and non-judgmental with the aim of improving performance. Set clear expectations that are well communicated.”
Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Detroit-based Inforum, a professional organization focused on accelerating careers for women, noted that her organization has been tracking women in the corporate world since 2003. Today, she said, “there is parity between men and women in entry-level hiring. But that begins to change with the very first promotion. Of every 100 men who get that first promotion, there are only 73 women. That starts the gap right off the bat, and it gets worse as careers progress.”
So even though Michigan’s corporate boardrooms are now 21 percent women—up from 12 percent in 2003—“we have more work to do.”
Asante-Appiah advised companies in male-dominated industries to intentionally seek out women at career fairs, and to seek out women with general business expertise for their boards of directors.
Margaret Anderson, senior vice president and chief sales and marketing officer at HAP, offered career advice that started with her father: “I’m very lucky to have my father as a mentor. He grew up in the projects and is a self-made business owner. What he instilled in me is that you can do everything your brother can do. If you believe that, if you have that support, why not?”
Anderson worked for a time in pharmaceutical sales, but constant travel began wearing on her family, and she eventually opened an MRI clinic in upstate New York with two radiologists she knew. She said that “there were times in my career where I went sideways, and those were probably my biggest learning opportunities to grow.”
Panelists also offered insights into managing people. Anderson said “it’s about connecting with people and making sure they know you have their best interest at heart…If people don’t know how much you care, they won’t care how much you know.” She said bosses need to learn employees’ histories, drivers, and family situations.
At the same time, she said, managers need to be “focused on making sure (they) have the best skill set of anybody in the room, (and) can be intelligent in conversation” about topics relevant to the business.
Added Barclay: “People mistake confidence for competence all the time. Hiring managers see someone confident and think they’re competent. That’s why (confidence) is so important.”
Panel moderator Murray Feldman, business editor at WWJ, pointed out research showing that among employees with equal performance ratings, men rate themselves more competent than women do, which shows how important it is for women to be more assertive in assessing their own talent.
Anderson said that includes negotiating salary. The still-persisting inequality of pay for men and women “is not fair, it’s not right, and we can’t be afraid of having those conversations. You need to say, ‘This is my value, this is my worth, help me understand why I’m not there, help me understand what value I’m not providing to the organization.’”
Barclay also said that when it comes to pay inequality, “This is where our male allies, where their presence in this conversation is so important. Male leaders need to be asking for that data from their organizations and holding their organizations accountable. There’s been a push for pay transparency at larger organizations, and there needs to be more of that.”
And in terms of general career advice, Barclay said: “One of the best ways to keep your pay rising is to move around, unfortunately.”
Panelists also advised women to volunteer for nonprofit boards to broaden their career horizons. Said Anderson: “The way I got into the health care industry was volunteering for the American Lung Association board in western New York. I didn’t have the skill set for my first health care job, but they saw the passion I had and gave me the opportunity.”
The event closed with three quotes from Barclay: “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” Also, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And finally, “If you’re going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.”