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Greater Boston Women in Leadership Symposium – “A Day of Excellence through Leadership”

Panel hosted by Sheryl Chamberlain, EMCToday I had the honor of being part of the Greater Boston Women in Leadership Symposium – “A Day of Excellence through Leadership” sponsored by the New England Diversity Council. This is an annual event which brings together a diverse mix of successful women leaders who discuss topics pertinent to today’s workforce in order to educate, inspire, and encourage attendees to reflect they strive to advance within their organizations. The panels were moderated by two very inspiring intrapreneurs and role-models, Sheryl Chamberlain and Stacey Schaeffer, both from EMC Corporation, a Boston-based Fortune 200 company focused on B2B information technology as a service (ITaaS) enablement.

I wanted to do a special shout out to Sheryl Chamberlain, EMC Office of the CTO – she is the lead for handling the partnership with MassChallenge, and is one of those go-go-go people at EMC and in the world. A person you just want to see more of, who is always doing and part of interesting endeavors. Sheryl is a creator and an innovator.  She has a deep understanding of the impact of leadership and innovation in this increasingly connected world, and she is committed to empowering women and creating a corporate culture that spurs innovation. She is also one of my favorite people, a friend, and a mentor. She did a great job leading the panel with humor and grace.

The panel topics for the day included:

  • Becoming a Person of Influence in the Workplace and Community
  • Perceptions of Assertive Women
  • Winning at Office Politics
  • Prepping for a Position of Power
  •  Maintaining Your Value During Shaky Economic Times

Next are some highlights and sound-bites from each of the panelist, ordered by how they were sitting during the event.

Danielle Duplin, VP & Executive Program Director at Fidelity Investments, Curator & Executive Producer for TEDxBoston– Danielle had great advice and told us to “follow your bliss.” She started out by explaining the three different types of entrepreneurs:

  1. Entrepreneur 1 rushes into the boss’s office and says “there’s a problem I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do.”
  2. Entrepreneur 2 rushes in to the boss’s office and says “there’s a problem and we have three options—can you pick?”
  3. Entrepreneur 3 rushes in to the boss’s office and explains that “there’s a problem and we had three options. I chose the second option and here’s what happened.”

It’s that confidence that makes the difference between Entrepreneur 1 and 3. But besides confidence, you need the commitment to get it done and cross the finish line.  There are three elements critical to success:

  1. Content.
  2. Creativity.
  3. Commitment.

Danielle also discussed that invention is her drug – she learned this at Lincoln Lab, and throughout founding TEDx Boston, which she set up to authentically contribute to the economy.

Stephanie Sonnabend, Former President & CEO, Sonesta International Hotel Corporation Founder & Chair, 2020 Women on Boards: She explained a cold-hard-fact – that assertive women are not well liked – that’s the bad news. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In”, Sheryl writes a whole chapter about this. She explains that assertiveness is positively correlated for men, but negatively correlated for women. When women are not assertive they are perceived as not nice, whereas men can be both likeable and assertive. Stephanie says we can be both assertive and nice by taking the following steps:

  • Listen. “We are given two ears and one mouth for a reason,” and it’s important to understand gender, as well as cultural, differences. Listen not only with your ears but also with your eyes.
  • Develop relationships. When she was an executive she tried to cultivate a culture of caring. Her advice is to walk around your organization and engage with people, show them that you care. It’s amazing what a hug or a handshake will do.
  • Lead by example. It’s amazing how much others are actually watching you, and will model their behavior after what they see you do. Be very aware therefore how you are perceived by others.

Now let’s talk about being assertive. Her advice here is to:

  • Speak up and be fully engaged. When you’re at a meeting, ALWAYS participate. But only with relevant and good ideas (don’t just talk to talk). Volunteer for high profile assignments, and take the opportunity to self-promote. Here women should be aware of how she acknowledges her contributions and gives herself credit. When you tell a woman good job on the project, a woman would say “It wasn’t me it was the team.” When you ask a man, he would say “Thank you very much, let me tell you what more I can do.” So remember, don’t be afraid to promote yourself and your brand.
  • Develop your plan for your strategic development. You should do this for your career the same way you would for a company. It starts with passion then goes to vision (personal and career), and then define what skills and experiences you need along the way and what resources you need to put in place.
  • Have a thick skin. You have to recognize that you’re not going to please everyone all the time (if you try, you’ll failure at everything simultaneously). Most importantly, if someone steals your idea at a meeting, just be subtle about it and reinforce that you were the idea originator by saying something like: “As I said before, with respect to this idea…” and eventually just let it go. Don’t get defensive.

With these tips, you can continue to be assertive while being nice.

Carrie Webb Olson, Partner, Day Pitney LLP: Here advice on being a woman of influence? You DO have influence on people and you have to realize this – you need to change your behavior when you’re being watched and judged. Once you’re aware of that, it’s amazing how you can modify your own behavior and therefore people’s perceptions of you. How people perceive you is reality after all. She explained about her own career: “I was a good lawyer and had learned my trade, but I was part of an organization, and there were other people coming up in the ranks who were watching me. Once I realized this…I became a lot nicer.” She was able to develop other parts of her character composition with this awareness.

She also explains how important as a woman to compliment women to other women and other men, and be supportive when talking about female colleagues. This is really important especially since, she explains, women often get pitted against one another in the work place and bad, catty behavior just perpetuates the myth. So her advice is not to fall in to the trap of trashing another women (or anyone) within your organization.

RItu Jyoti, VP Product Management, startup Kaminario (former EMC) – Ritu explains her ife philosophy around how candor and accepting your mistakes are the two biggest qualities you can obtain in your professional life. There is a place for every type of technology in the hearts and minds of the customer.  And her secret weapon is candor, especially in the high-tech industry, and especially talking about her competitors in an honest way.

She also had something to add about other people taking credit for your ideas – don’t worry! It’s all about getting the work done and getting the idea implemented in the company anyways. If you take this attitude, you will get noticed. Stay focused on your goal and put it in a style that others can consume. This is very similar in the startup world, and how you can’t not being too concerned about others stealing your idea – it’s better to be candid and honest. Because in the end, implementation and execution is everything.

Juliette Mayers, Executive Director of Multicultural Marketing, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts: Juliette names three key qualities to be a person of influence:

  1. Credibility.
  2. Integrity.
  3. Being a role-model to others.

But having influence doesn’t mean you have to be a CEO or do something externally “large.”  You can do this at whatever level you’re out. Whether you’re inside an organization or whether you’re on the outside doing your own business. Women need to take the lead and not wait to take this opportunity and to be entrepreneurial and innovative to create your own opportunities.

What skills has she developed to listen better and to let other people know that she’s listening? One way is to respond to what they’re saying and not just wait to speak. This can include body language, acknowledging or asking questions, nodding, validating or agreeing (if you do).

Around the topic of perceptions in the workplace – she does agree that it has a gender lens but it also has a racial lens, (she’s written the book “A Black Woman’s Guide to Networking”). In fact the behavior we associate to being assertive and advancing yourself in the workplace is very much correlated with the type of person it’s coming from (woman, of color, etc.) and of course the culture of the organization. You have to arm yourself with what works well within the organization and be particularly sensitive about how you’re coming across. Also you should seek feedback from others about how you’re being perceived. It’s about being self-aware and not doing things to torpedo your career. You have to take action in the right context, understanding your environment, and understand what you can do within the constraints of that environment. This is how you will succeed.

Women's Leadership Forum at Mass Challenge 2013

There are so many more topics of discussion that came up, I can’t begin o capture them all in one blog. But stay tuned for the next installment where we’ll discuss Office Politics and whether women network differently than men.

Do you think there’s something to all this gender differentiation? (or not). Would love to hear from you here.

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