Author: April Benetollo

Bring in the Men

Part of Momentum’s strategic plan is to expand our efforts to involve men as advocates for women in leadership. We call it “Men with Momentum.” Recently the committee in charge of this initiative designated two representatives from their companies to attend a work group meeting on diversity and inclusion initiatives, graciously hosted by Encompass Health and facilitated by Momentum alumnae Anne Marie Seibel and Crissy Carlisle.

During the workshop participants from BBVA, Bradley, Encompass Health, Protective Life, Southern Research Institute, and UAB shared the metrics and data their companies examine to measure effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs. Encompass Health and BBVA Compass both presented the data warehouses and reporting tools they use to track metrics such as demographics, hiring outcomes, satisfaction ratings, and retention scores. Beyond the data, the group discussed practices that lead to better outcomes in terms of on-boarding, career advancement, awareness training, and measuring impact.

By the end of our session one thing was very clear: everyone in the room would benefit from regularly scheduled sessions to share experiences. Working together to determine inclusion practices that get results will produce far greater gains than trying get there alone. Momentum is proud to serve as a facilitator and resource for this important work. Our committee will meet again in November to discuss next steps, and you can count on seeing more news about Men with Momentum in 2019!

 

 

 

 

Strength Training for Women in Leadership

The October session for our executive leadership class will focus on strength training. No, we are not doing dead-lifts and squats. We are bringing in certified-strength trainer Gwen Hall from North Carolina to work with the class on how to leverage their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.

This got me thinking about the common strengths shared by most women that make them effective leaders. Women tend to have a high degree of self-awareness as well as organizational awareness, the two primary factors in emotional intelligence that have been tied to top performers. Learning how to self-manage or manage relationships is equally important, and a woman’s ability to do that increases with experience. I am was more interested in learning about studies that have been done to test women on leadership competencies, and what the data could tell us.

I found an excellent study conducted by Zenger/Folkman and published in the Harvard Business Review. The authors mention that public perception is that men are more competitive, results-driven, and women are better nurturers, relationship-builders. What their study found is that women scored higher than men on 12 out of 16 leadership competencies…and two of the traits where women “outscored men to the highest degree–taking initiative and driving for results–have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.”

Perhaps one way to explain why women score higher is that because of bias, either explicit or implicit, women have to work harder to earn respect, recognition, and rank, plus they are often doubly scrutinized and thus have little margin for error.

My big take-away from this study is that women may be surpassing men in demonstrating leadership competencies because they have to be twice as good to be recognized half as much. As the playing field becomes more level, hopefully we’ll see a time when men and women are evaluated equally and everyone is in encouraged to work to achieve their full potential leveraging their strengths.

Mixing Business and Friendship

Anita Turner, COO Corporate Realty Associates, Momentum Class 12

Successful business women are great at building relationships with other women and supporting one another in doing charitable or civic work.  That said, they are often reluctant to do business together– to the point where the mere mention of doing business can seriously threaten a solid friendship.

I was bemoaning this fact to a friend recently and she pointed me to an article in Fortune magazine entitled “How Friendship Holds Women Back in Their Careers – and What They Can Do About It.”  In the article, the author, tech exec Mallun Yen states that after interviewing dozens of women, she concluded there is a “false dichotomy between personal relationships and the transactionality of business.”

Yes.  Amen.  Also WTH?

I cannot tell you how many prospecting calls I sat in with my former partner (a man) where the conversation ended with “how can we do business with each other?”  Or “can you send us some business?”  Not only was this not uncomfortable, it was expected.  And the follow through on any promises of business made in the meeting was staggeringly high.

Contrast this with Yen’s observation:

“Women who received an ask from a friend said they didn’t expect their friends to hit them up for business and when they did, it sometimes caused an unspoken tension that dampened their enthusiasm for the relationship.  Some even began to doubt the true motives behind the friendship in the first place. Others went so far as avoiding those who might ask for business later.”

She adds “women tend to struggle when it comes to mixing money and friendship, cutting themselves off from one of the most effective tactics in the constant struggle to get ahead.” Is this due to the classic stigma women have in their minds: ‘don’t mix business with pleasure’?

Men have been mixing business with pleasure for centuries. This form of prospecting is the basis on which many business and sales practices exist. What better person to refer work to than someone you already know and trust?

I often find myself on the receiving end of women’s reluctance to mix business and friendship.  I know many amazing women who  are in very high-profile corporate positions, however, very few of them are in a sales role.  When we spend time together, whether it is socially or in a business setting, I often get the feeling that they are on guard around me. Is it because they know I am in a sales role? Side note – this is a topic for another day, however, real estate brokers are consultants who provide specialized and proven value-added services; our role goes beyond sales.

Now, if I want to attend an event one of these women is involved in, they are happy to help.  One of the commenters on Wen’s article observed, “My female friends are more likely to support the ‘soft’ benefits: speaking opportunities, events and attendance at women-only gatherings.”

When I try to get a meeting to discuss their company’s real estate needs, it can be a different story.

Assume for table stakes that I am good at my job.  I have been a tenant representative office advisor for twenty-five years across the United States, have graduate degrees in both law and business, and write a professional blog to ensure that I am always learning and growing in my field.  When I propose my services to a potential client, I am not asking them to take a chance on me because I am trying to get my career off the ground.  I am qualified and capable.

That said, I find that I am less likely to get fair consideration for business from a female friend than from a complete stranger, or even a male friend for that matter.  Wen’s theory?  “Trying to make the leap directly from intense personal relationships to business can feel abrupt and awkward to both sides.  So the very thing about female friendships that is deservedly celebrated may also be holding us back from generating vital business with each other.”

Introspection time.

I have to stop and ask myself whether I make an effort to do business with my women friends.  Or am I just as guilty of this bias?

Sometimes, I do make an effort.  But not always.  My inability to answer “always” is often a result of my concern about the appearance of favoritism; a concern I think is misplaced.  If a woman is capable and a friend, why wouldn’t I choose to do business with her over someone else?

What does this mean for me going forward?

Two things.  First, I am going to make an effort to identify and reach out to my women friends when I have a business opportunity for them.  Second, I am going to make sure that I welcome other women to approach me with their business requests.  They need to feel safe asking me for business.  And that is up to me.

Yen suggests one of the best ways to make that happen is to consider addressing the elephant in the room and “acknowledge the awkwardness that can arise” when you scaffold from a personal relationship to a business one.  What does this look like?  Perhaps you begin the conversation with “I would like to talk to you about your company’s real estate needs and whether I could provide value to you relative to those needs.  I realize we are friends so I would only be raising this subject with you if I thought I was qualified and our doing business together would reflect positively on you in your business role.”

This is not a feminist issue. This is straight-up business with friends whom you know and trust to get the job done. Join me?

 

 

It’s All in the Attitude

One of the exercises we do at the Momentum opening retreat is called Emotional Contagion. Participants are asked to stand and walk around the room. One person is asked to frown deeply, look concerned, stressed or sad. In less than a few minutes the bad vibe is picked up and reflected by everyone in the room. Then another person is asked to change that frown to a hopeful happy face. Like the sun after a storm, the good mood fills the room in no time.

Our attitudes are contagious, and great leaders know how to cultivate a positive outlook, even in the face of great adversity. Most of the time, we cannot change the situations we are in. We can’t change the deadline or the difficult customers we are serving, but at the end of every day we can control our attitude. We control how we approach and react to every situation. Momentum facilitator Dr. Sharon Melnick explores the idea of focusing our energies on the 50% of things we can control in her book “Success Under Stress.” (Tip: you can download an excerpt from her book on her website for free!)

Here are a few more tips on how to maintain a positive attitude, even when the going gets tough.

  • Know that you are resilient. Celebrate failure as a learning opportunity and bounce back with vigor.
  • Set time-bound, measurable goals. Getting clarity about what we want to achieve and by when leads to intentional living, a sense of purpose, and satisfaction.
  • Celebrate victories, even small ones. Big wins are made from little steps that take us to the end goal. Rejoice at the milestones along the way and invite others celebrate with you!
  • See the bigger picture. What feels like an impossible situation “on the ground” can have a simple solution when viewed from 10,000 feet. Get a new perspective to help you shift your attitude.
  • Take action. Put yourself out there and take some risks. Let your passion guide you and refuse to be defined by fear.
  • Practice random acts of kindness. Giving back or helping someone will not only brighten someone else’s day, it brings joy to our own.
  • Finally, be grateful. An attitude of gratitude can affect how successful and content we are. Even on our worst days, we have so much to say thanks for.

The way we view challenges and approach others says a lot about ourselves. It also says a lot about how far we will go. Let’s be willing to train our brain to see the positives in every situation and encourage others to do the same.

Contributing writer Holly Moore. 

Building Social Capital

We all have days when work feels overwhelming and we may not take the time to speak to a coworker in the parking lot or put away the mobile phone at the coffee machine. Yet, it is opportunities like these to engage with others, even on a surface level, that build social capital.
While some relationships with coworkers form naturally, others need time and attention to grow. It may feel awkward to strike up a conversation with someone who works in a different department or is much higher (or lower) in the hierarchy. Simply opening a conversation with a comment about the coffee, the weather, or the new landscaping outside is a good start. If time permits, ask what your coworker is working on today. We don’t have to have an agenda driving every conversation, we just need to take the time to build that social capital. Here are a few good reminders:
  1. Be energetic without being over-eager.

  2. Ask questions that genuinely interest you, and really listen to the answer.

  3. Attitude and emotions are contagious, so check yours before you engage.

  4. Stay optimistic. Even if your coworker is complaining, don’t add to their load. Be part of the solution.

CEO and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan has an insightful and entertaining TED Talk on social capital that is well worth the watch. She explains that companies who encourage interaction between teams produce better results. At the end of the day, people need people and we never know what we can do for someone else or where that relationship could take us. Investing in social capital may be the very best thing we can do to make work meaningful.

Contributing writer Holly Moore

Landing Your Next Job

Holly Moore, Contributing Writer

You’ve done the research. You’ve turned in the resume and the cover letter. You got a call back, an interview, and now it’s time for the real show to start. Now you step up to the plate and you give it your best shot, but don’t do it blindly or all your hard work might not matter.

Interviews can be scary and intense. They test how well we can handle off-beat questions on the spot, our self-awareness, our talents, our experience, and even where we think we want to go.

First, research.

Some say it’s good to spend two hours researching before the interview. Be familiar with their LinkedIn page, blog (if they have one), website and statistics for the year. Check Glassdoor.com (to see what past employees have said about the company and sometimes potential interview questions), their company culture, their expectations, and whatever else we think could be valuable information. It’s also important that we have questions prepared to ask them. All of this content will give you some ammunition with they ask if you have any questions for them.

Second, practice.

We don’t want to be tripping over questions in a big interview, unaware of our “biggest weaknesses” or unable to articulate our accomplishments. Maybe we need to call on a friend to ask us questions or practice in the mirror. We want to prepare the outfit and make sure we feel comfortable and confident in it, sending the right tone and message.

 

Third, have patience. 

If we walk into big interviews stressed about how much we want or need the job, we may not be able to give it our best shot and show our best selves. At the end of the day we need to sell ourselves, explain why we would be such an incredible asset to the team, why they ultimately need us. But we also need to understand that they’ve probably interviewed a lot of candidates and we don’t want to walk in and blab only about ourselves. Because chances are, unless they ask, they don’t care. We need to have questions prepared and be focused on our value to the organization, not just on ourselves.

Being interviewed can be intimidating, but when we think about it like a conversation, one where we get to know the company better and imagine how we would best fit in, it’s easier to showcase where we could add value.

Equality on Independence Day

Photo courtesy of Ishtodo

Reflecting on our celebration of independence on this 4th of July holiday, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence is predicated first and foremost on the premise of equality.  Now in our 242nd year since that declaration was signed, many groups of people in this country that should be governed “for the people, by the people” are still woefully under-represented in public office, still suffer social injustice, and experience profound economic inequalities. That said, our history shows progress. Among the legislative milestones:

  • Abolition of slavery, 1865
  • African-American (male) right to vote, 1870
  • Women’s right to vote, 1920
  • Civil Rights Act, 1964
  • Equal Rights Amendment, 1972*
  • Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

Of these milestones, it is worth noting that only the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has failed to become law. The ERA was reintroduced before Congress in 1982, and has been introduced again every year since then. Passage of the ERA requires a 2/3 majority vote in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states.  In May of this year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA, although five states who previously ratified it have rescinded their ratification. The struggle is real!

Opposition to the ERA is largely based on the argument that the proposed language would eradicate much of the “protection of women” under current law. Chief among these, and the most inflammatory in our political climate, is the argument that passage of the ERA would be used to roll back current restrictions on abortion, the role of women in combat, the separation of public restrooms/locker rooms, etc. Each of these is political speculation, but certainly effective in suppressing ratification.

Some believe that the protection of women is already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. Whether you agree with that or believe that the ERA should be ratified and signed into law, the debate underscores the great extent to which men in power, whether for or against ratification, are still making the decisions on what women can and cannot do for their livelihood, their families, and their health.

Evidence that women are far from equal in this country abounds:

We clearly have a lot of work to do to advance women in leadership and to shape policy that will protect women, their families, and the economic outlook for our country. In the next month, Momentum will present a new three-year strategic plan to our Board of Directors. Together we can greatly improve conditions for the women in our state through engaging men in determining policy, developing leadership in emerging women leaders, collecting the data to show our problem areas and progress going forward, and unifying our strength as women leaders in service to our communities.

Happy Independence Day.

 

Mental Health in the Workplace

Holly Moore, Contributing Writer

Mental Health does not discriminate, and it’s a real issue in the workplace. According to a recent article, mental health costs employers $17 billion and 217 million lost days of work in one year, which are no small numbers. Addressing mental health issues creates more a productive and effective workforce

Work life balance can be quite the struggle, exacerbating mental health issues. Too many people, particularly women, are juggling too much between work and home. The affects are bleeding into every part of their lives. Most of us seek meaningful careers. In order for our work to reach its full potential, we need to have healthy relationships with work.

Photo: Rob Bye

If high-impact, high-quality work is expected on a day-to-day basis from employers, then employers should also be paying attention to holistic health and wellness. We’re only humans; our bodies and our brains need a break sometimes in order to function at full capacity, especially when there is great pressure from a society that defines us by our work.  Employers need to take care of their employees so that employees can turn around and do the best they can for their respective companies. We want employees to thrive, not just survive.

The benefits of addressing mental health in the workplace are extensive. Most employees spend the majority of their days at work, and if they’re more content at work then they’ll be more content overall in their lives. If they’re stressed at work, then it will be seep into other areas of their lives as well.

Photo: Pim Chu

It’s common knowledge that one in five people deal with an easily-diagnosed mental illness. Think about how many people in your office that would include. Maybe it’s the guy in the cubicle next to you. Maybe it’s you. Most employees don’t feel that they can be honest about this reality. While many employees feel as if their illness doesn’t affect their work, they are also afraid that speaking up about it could mean that they will lose their job altogether. In addition, they may have seen how the stigma affected other coworkers who came forward and they are not willing to repeat it.

 

 

Photo: rawpixel

David Butlein said it best in a recent Forbes article , “stress inhibits creativity.” He explained that if our bodies are in fight or flight mode then we’re focused on “just trying to reduce the pain of stress and overwhelm” rather than finding new, innovative ways to accomplish the same goals and objectives. Our culture thrives on creativity, and in order for creativity to flourish, there needs to be room for rest and mistakes. If employees are buzzing with eighteen million different thoughts about work, life, social calendars, stress, family, illnesses then how will they create the next big idea, a safe environment, an equality focused space? Many work places are adopting meditative rooms, offering yoga classes, and including wellness programs in their employee benefits packages. There are countless ways to go about supporting staff well.

So let’s work together. Let’s make this whole employment thing a relationship again, a give and take, a trust system built on relationships, hard work, and communication. Let’s agree to keep the conversation going about mental health. It takes bravery, but it is worth it.

 

 

 

 

Practical Tips for Leadership

Holly Moore, Contributing Writer

We see people honored for their leadership ability all the time. Some for their cutting edge ideas, others for their work ethic,  their resilience, or their ability to motivate others. Sometimes in the “everydayness” of our individual lives we forget that we can actually enhance our credibility as a leader. At the end of the day, we know that leadership is not the result of one singular thing. It is a culmination of experiences and intentions. If leadership were a building, who you are would be the foundation, relationships would be the supporting beams, and intentions would be the roof. Each of these can be strengthened with attention to the details that define how you “show up” as a leader.

 

Here are a few tips to help you build a stronger image as a leader:

  1. Be on time. This will may not naturally warrant you respect, but being late will give you a reputation.
  2. Under promise and over deliver. People who promise things that they cannot deliver give others reason to doubt their integrity. Far better to deliver more than you said you could and leave others pleasantly surprised.
  3. Be honest and transparent in your communication. People appreciate this. Communicate with clarity and give people the right information at the right time. In the absence of information, people make up their own stories–and they usually are not good!
  4. Don’t make excuses. Do your best. Work hard. If you made a mistake, apologize and move on. Don’t let it happen again and most definitely, do not let it define you.
  5. Know your convictions and stand for them. Sometimes we are to fearful to speak about the things that we care the most about. People will trust you more if they know what you believe about an issue, even if they do not agree.
  6. Be aware of your every action. When you are a leader, your team is watching your every move. Be aware of the message your attitude conveys. Having a bad day? Be careful when and how you let it show through at work. Our emotions are contagious. They affect the work we produce, our ability to influence others, and can spread to affect the whole team.
  7. Show empathy to those around you, no matter where they are on the  ladder: above, below, or next to you. Offer support, encouragement, and a helping hand whenever and wherever you can. You never know who is having a hard time at home or struggling personally. Care for them at work and remind them they aren’t alone. You never know who needs that extra support. Your team will be all the better for it, and you will be seen as an even stronger leader.

Every step you take gets you closer to your leadership ideal. Being mindful of your steps can get you there faster. Based on your actions today, are you becoming a better leader? What will you do differently tomorrow?

The Leadership Challenge

Each year when our executive leadership class graduates, we throw down the leadership challenge:

With the leadership skills you’ve honed, the network you’ve established, and the increasing influence you’ve gained as a Momentum graduate, how will you create positive impact?

With their graduation, Momentum’s Class 15 is prepared to take on bigger, bolder challenges at work, at home, and in the community. Our hope is that they have a renewed sense of excitement about what they can accomplish. May their experience in Momentum remind them of their potential while reaffirming who they have already become.

We are all familiar with the expression “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So we ask of leaders everywhere, how do you put your leadership to work outside of immediate responsibilities for career and family? Where will you invest your time and money? How will you use your life lessons, your network, your influence to solve new challenges and pay it forward? Be creative. Find something that suits your passion, whether that’s within your organization, a non-profit, or something in a community initiative that hits close to home.

Leaders are busy people. Many people ask for their time. Yet the really accomplished leaders always find ways to align their passions, abilities, strengths, and schedules to do more. If you haven’t quite found the “more” that you want to do, here are some ideas to get started.

1. Form a Women’s Resource Group at your office. Women must lift, support, encourage, and learn from each other if we want to be our best selves. Women’s Resource Groups create a safe space to ask questions and share experiences that can be difficult to discuss in mixed company.

2. Adopt a mentee. Find someone who you can support and guide through the ups and downs of working life. You might just be surprised to see how you also benefit from the experience. Your relationship can be a short or long one. Boundaries are really important, so spell out the guidelines. If you are unsure how to go about finding a mentee, Momentum can help.

3. Volunteer with a nonprofit that supports women. Momentum can introduce you to a number of “mission partners” right here in Alabama who would value your time and experience.

Great leaders know that as they add things to their plate, they also have to let go of some things. Taking on a bold new project or a even a small volunteer opportunity is a great time to take inventory of your time and get rid of anything that zaps your energy or wastes your talent. Refill the space with something service-oriented that aligns with your passion, and you’re sure to feel a net gain in self-worth!