Author: Ashley Parsons

May Showers Bring Summer Flowers

Observing this past month of May where we celebrated Mental Health Awareness, it is vital to reflect on the general state of wellness impacted by the pandemic and quarantine. We do not want to labor into another disparaging article about the statistical impacts that sudden loss, sustained periods of doubt and uncertainty, and isolation (among other effects) have had on our health outlook. Instead, we want to encourage you to remember the incredible obstacles we have overcome through the course of quarantine 2020, as we return to a semblance of what our life was before.

While some are bold to make the leap, others are understandably hesitant to re-enter an inevitably changed world. They are weary of returning to a state of blissful ignorance and remain cautious of their people interactions despite substantial progress in projected health outcomes. They still carry trauma from the suddenness of the quarantine order, shutting down our economy and livelihood many depended on. And, this fear of dire consequence drives a delayed expectation of gratification that has permanently changed how we approach mindfulness, connecting with others, and how we seek enjoyment outside of our professions.

In spite of this, we are seeing major improvements in public mental health acceptance. Undeniably, the time spent in isolation or confinement awakened space to identify and face some areas of trouble we faced prior to 2020. We had to put in the tough effort to derive comfort from ourselves and continue to build self-originated hope. Whether we carried in mental health issues from our past or were confronted by new ones, it is more visible to us how our stress, low self-worth, or low trust impede our day-to-day tasks.

Going forward, we must continue to prioritize mental health wellness and take action, not retrospectively, but because we deserve positivity and assurance about our progress. We deserve to pursue happiness in tandem with our responsibilities. We deserve to disrupt business to introduce intervals of peace, creativity, and freedom. These are all necessary pursuits.

 

 

By Nikita Udayakumar

Defining Intersectionality

The Case for Intersectionality

Intersectionality has been a commonplace phrase in the feminist realm since Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. Essentially, it refers to the notion that the combination of different identities – age, race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality dramatically influence the way people experience the world. The intersection of these identities contributes to the obstacles and/or privileges that those who share some but not all identities may experience.

Too often, human resource stakeholders fall into the trap of the one size fits all approach. Its appeal in simplicity sacrifices efficacy. These one size fits all approaches for women in leadership aim to solve the challenges for white, middle-class, cisgender women. The Western default. Which leaves out doubly or triply marginalized women as a result. As organizational demographics evolve, they leave out more women than they aim to benefit.

According to research conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. in 2019, women make up 38 percent of frontline leader-level positions in the United States and Canada. White women hold 27 percent of these manager roles and women of color only hold 12 percent. The disparity is even greater at the executive level. White women hold 18 percent of roles while women of color hold 4 percent.

These discrepancies are due to a large disfunction of systemic and cultural barriers, not just failed women advocacy programs. Infusing intersectionality into policies and practices aimed at advancing women in leadership can help.

How can we do better?

Embracing intersectionality means embracing variety which adds an element of complexity. To ensure an environment where everyone can thrive because of their differences, follow these three steps:

1. Ask the Experts

The ideal approach is to have a diversity and inclusion expert with a focus on human-centered design to solve persistent and painful challenges with an empathetic perspective. Applying these principles to intersectionality and women’s advocacy efforts ensures the correct focus. The women leaders that are the goal are experts in their own experiences and challenges. Opening a dialogue creates space for these women to tell you exactly what they need without any guesswork.  

2. Diverse Populations Deserve Diverse Solutions

It is necessary to tailor approaches to fit different populations to achieve satisfaction. Equality is about giving everyone the same level of support, but equity requires different supports for different situations.

3. Use Multi-Dimensional Metrics to Track Multi-Level Impact

Lean on metrics, track engagement, retention, promotion, salary, and representation to measure the success of empowering women leaders. It is important to look at the data from a demographic perspective to see if the efforts positively impact all women. If efforts to advance women leaders are working for certain groups disproportionately, it is important to investigate and reevaluate accordingly.

Gender Wage Gap: Fact or Fiction?

“Women earn less because they take time off for motherhood.”

The census data collected by the National Women’s Law Center in 2019 calculated that women lose an average of $16,000 a year due to the “motherhood penalty.” Mothers in the U.S. earn 24.8 percent less than their paternal counterparts. Mothers also have to deal with employers that harbor certain biases. Employers have stereotypes about the value of mothers as employees. They are perceived to be less committed to the job, less dependable, and more emotional. This discriminatory thought process plays a significant role in the limitations for working mothers.

This bias includes these mother’s coworkers as well. A 2018 study conducted by Bright Horizons, which operates over 1,000 early education childcare centers in the United States, found that 41 percent of employed Americans perceived working mothers to be less devoted to their work than single women. Over one-third judge working mothers on their inflexibility. The number of women worried about announcing their pregnancies bosses and coworkers has nearly doubled from 12 percent to 21 percent since 2015.

“Women choose lower-paying careers so it makes sense why men make more money.”

Women do choose lower-paying careers in comparison to their male counterparts. Those careers being paid lower is part of the problem. Young girls are steered away from certain subjects from childhood by their parents, teachers, and peers. From a young age, boys are expected to be better in math and science. These fields typically result in higher pay. Girls are encouraged to enter into “traditional” careers as a result of this bias.

Women don’t choose low-paying jobs. Society values women’s work less. Job industries dominated by women pay less than those dominated by men. For example, teaching, especially early childhood, is a field dominated by women. The work is insanely hard and demanding, it requires certain skills and educations, and the success of future generations depends on their shoulders. Yet, because these teachers are mostly women, the pay is not proportional to the demand of the job.

“Saying a woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes is an exaggeration!”

Comparing the difference in annual earnings between men and women finds that women make about 23 cents less per dollar than men on average. These statistics are even less favorable for women of color who on average earn significantly less than their white coworkers. Looking at weekly earnings between men and women, the figure is a little smaller, around an 18 cent difference.

When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1959, women were only making 59 cents on the dollar. That figure rose to 77 cents by 2004 and has increased by less than half a penny annually.

At some point or another, every woman has heard these three statements in her career. The issue with these statements is that they make women intentionally feel like second-class citizens in a patriarchal society that perpetuates fictional beliefs that harm women in the corporate sector. 

ALUMNA SPOTLIGHT: BRITTNEY SMITH

One of the greatest things about Momentum is the powerful alumnae network. Periodically we interview these amazing women about their experience in our program.

Brittney graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a degree in Communications Management/Business Management in 2010.

Brittney began her career as a program and compliance specialist for the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity and later joined Virginia College as a Student Career Development Coach. She joined Birmingham Business Alliance in 2015 as a Program Manager, Workforce Development. And in 2019, Brittney began at Protective Life as a Corporate Recruiter and transitioned into her role as a Diversity & Inclusion specialist in January of 2021.

As a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Protective Life, Brittney Smith partners with HR & business leaders to develop and implement D&I strategy and programming designed to promote inclusion and increase diverse representation across the organization. She also leads Protective Life’s D&I outreach efforts, including establishing recruitment partnerships with colleges, universities, and professional organizations and leading Protective Life’s Summer Internship Program team.

Brittney is a board member of the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation Board of Directors, as well as a member of the Rotaract Club of Birmingham. She is a former board member of Better Basics Inc. as well as an inaugural member of Momentum’s first Upward cohort.

What did you gain from your Momentum experience?

Relationships. I had the opportunity to meet so many incredible women who are making an impact in Birmingham. Some of them even went on to become friends, which is something I count as my greatest gain. Another thing that contributed to my Momentum experience was the specific professional season I was in. There’s a point in every career where you have achieved quite a bit, but there’s still much more to go in terms of navigating the journey and taking ownership of your career, and Momentum helped me take more control over my career journey.

What is one piece of leadership advice you have been given that has helped you in your career?

Early on in my career, someone shared with me a piece of advice that still applies no matter what stage of your career you’re in, and that’s the need to trust that your God-given ability will always make room for you. If you give your best in whatever position you’re in, do right by people, and be authentic, the right opportunity will always come to you. When I think about people that have given me advice I think it’s especially important, that when the door of opportunity is opened you’re ready to walk through it, and also leave the door open for other people to follow. 

If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?

The first thing I would say to my younger self is that success is a journey, and never compare that journey to others. The other thing I would add would be to learn at every stage and step of your career. No matter how difficult the job or the season may be, there is always something to learn.

What challenges do you think the next generation of women leaders faces?

The first thing that came to mind would be balance. In the new normal of work, more and more companies are allowing people to work remotely, though that’s a huge plus, it increases the difficulty of drawing an important line between work and home. Both men and women have different home priorities, but it is especially true for women. 

The second thing that came to mind is connectivity. Relationships are incredibly important and it’s much harder to fully connect in a gratifying way in a virtual world. Women need to find ways to be intentional and overcome that obstacle to build and maintain relationships as we move away from traditional work experiences. 

What do you think organizations need to do differently for more women to rise into executive roles?

Mckinsey & Co. produced a report in partnership with the Lean In organization back in 2019. According to the report, for every 100 men hired or promoted into a first-time manager role, only 72 women are hired into that same position. These numbers are even lower for women of color. That’s a gap. When I think about potential solutions, I immediately think of sponsorship. Companies have the opportunity to consider putting more thought into building out a framework for sponsorship specifically for women and underrepresented minorities. Most people are willing to mentor, and I think that mentoring is an incredible opportunity, but women need sponsors, advocates, people willing to invite us to the table and have our voices heard to truly experience growth. 

What three words do you think should characterize every leader?

The first one is integrity. Good leaders should do what they say they’re going to do. People should be able to trust their words. A good leader will do the right thing, even when no one is looking. The second word that comes to mind is vision. I think the ability to cast a vision as well as bring others into that vision and help them see how they fit into the vision is a sign of a good leader. The last thing I associate with a good leader is empathy. Good leaders can connect with people and share the feelings of others.

How do you manage your career, home, and community life?

This is something I am in the process of restructuring how I balance all of those. One of the things I have been doing is making sure I know my priorities. For me, my priority is my family. I always want to be the person that thinks of my family and uses them as the drive for my success, not the other way around. One of the things that helps me balance my priorities, which I learned through one of the Momentum courses is taking a survey of all of my activities and responsibilities and ranking them based on what I can control. It’s also important to take the time during the day to accomplish the things that I need to accomplish so that it doesn’t carry over into my personal life. 

What advice do you have for aspiring leaders?

My advice would be, talent is a start but it’s not enough. Sometimes we focus so much on the base talent of intellect or creativity and that’s great. What’s equally as important is development. Invest in your development. Develop your environment, and that includes your network, your skillset, and your character. 

The Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion within the Workplace

 

Employees are prioritizing diversity and inclusion strategies more than ever in order to ensure their teams are prepared for success. Diversity in the workplace leads to a variety of benefits, both internal and external. In order to effectively implement these strategies and receive the benefits, you have to understand what diversity and inclusion mean in a corporate setting. 

What is diversity in the workplace? 

Diversity in the workplace refers to the intentional employment of a workforce comprised of people from diverse backgrounds, religions, genders, races, ages, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, as well as other qualities. 

The benefits of diversity in the workplace:

1. Wider Talent Pool

Gone are the days where employees are seeking a typical 9-to-5 job with a good salary. Most people nowadays are looking for a job where they can grow, feel accepted, and be challenged. Implementing diversity allows companies to attract a wider range of candidates looking for an innovative place to work. 

2. Fresh Perspectives

Hiring people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures brings a new set of perspectives to the company which can lead to increased critical thinking, problem-solving, better productivity, and increased innovation. 

3. Increased Innovation

Workplace diversity leads to increased innovation. Companies with a lack of diversity suffer from homogenous thinking, meaning that their thought patterns are so similar it is hard for individuals to create something new. A heterogeneous group of employees contributes to unique perspectives which can lead to breakthrough ideas.

4. Better Employee Performance

Diversity and inclusion are harmonious. When the company culture reflects a healthy mixture of cultures, backgrounds, and opinions, employees are more likely to feel comfortable, relaxed, and ultimately themselves. This leads to happier employees which increases productivity. 

It’s critical that companies understand the importance diversity and inclusion play resilience and success. Effective diversity and inclusion help better employee support, build culture, and create a flourishing workplace. Employees will feel more engaged as a result and show up to work feeling safe, connected, and heard

3 Ways to Celebrate Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. What began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California has grown into a nationwide acknowledgment of women’s accomplishments throughout history. This month-long celebration seeks to highlight women’s groundbreaking contributions as well as uplift women to help get them through issues still lingering today.

We’re already planning how we’re going to celebrate here at Momentum. Looking to find ways to celebrate Women’s History Month too? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

  1. Read up on the history of women’s rights – What is Women’s History Month? Why is March Women’s History Month? This resource gives you all the answers you need
  2. Write a letter to a woman that inspires and motivates you to be the best woman you can be. A simple thank you to a family member, coworker, or friend to remind them of how awesome they are this month and every other month. Don’t forget to write one to yourself! Because you’re pretty awesome too!
  3. Whether you’re looking to educate yourself more on the women’s movement, or simply take stock in the amazing accomplishments made by women, be sure to read and share works by female authors this month. Momentum’s current pick is the historical fiction novel, The Vanishing Half, by American author Brit Bennett. You can pick up a copy of this book at a female-owned bookstore, Thank You Books, in Crestwood!

 

EQ: The Key to Leadership Success

Dr. Jean Ann Larson

Dr. Jean Ann Larson, BSIE, MBA, EdD, FACHE, LFHIMSS, FIISE, serves as the Leadership Development Officer for UAB School of Medicine and will be a session speaker at Momentum’s Vision 2020 biennial leadership conference in March.

People often ask me what is one thing they can do to become a better leader.  The advice I offer is fairly easy. However, it is not quite so easy to follow.

My suggestion is to improve your Emotional Intelligence (EQ).  It is said that 90% of the difference in effectiveness between star performers and average performers can be explained by emotional intelligence according to Daniel Goleman’s, (1995) book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than Intelligence.  The good news is that if you really want to improve your emotional intelligence there are actions you can take.

First of all, why would you want to improve your emotional intelligence?  Improving EQ not only helps you become a better leader, it also helps you be better at navigating interpersonal differences, build stronger relationships and even deal with change more effectively.  Ultimately, strengthening our EQ connects us to more productive reactions to challenging situations.

There are five parts of the emotional intelligence model popularized by Goleman’s book which was built upon research by other researchers. Those five parts are:

Interpersonal aspects:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others
  2. Self-Regulation: The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting.
  3. Motivation: A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status, and a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.

Intrapersonal aspects:

  1. Social-awareness or empathy: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people by sensing others’ feelings and perspectives and taking an active interest in their concerns.
  2. Social regulation or social skills: A proficiency in managing relationships and building networks while wielding effective tactics for persuasion and listening openly and sending convincing messages.

So where to start?  It can be very helpful to take an EQ assessment, but even without that, I recommend starting with either self-awareness or self-regulation.  The idea is to start with things within yourself before beginning work on external or intrapersonal parts of EQ.  I have seen that by focusing on a very few but vital behavioral changes in yourself, it can have a large impact upon how you show up as a leader.  Here are some examples of things you can do to improve in each area:

Improving self-awareness

  • Practice self-reflection by recognizing your current emotional state – do you experience discreet feelings and emotions? Can you name them?
  • Once you identify the emotion, describe it aloud or write it down on paper
  • Feel your emotions physically
  • To improve your ability to self-assess, ask a family member or trusted advisor to describe your strengths and weaknesses. Compare their perspective with your own self-assessment
  • Pay attention to your emotions and behaviors and see if you recognize patterns throughout the day
  • Reflect on the connection between your emotions and your behavior
  • Know who and what pushes your buttons
  • Write in a journal about your emotional responses to situations that were significant

Improving self-regulation

  • Practice self-restraint by listening first, pausing and then responding
  • When becoming frustrated, identify what brought on that emotion
  • Create effective responses to stressful situations by finding strategies for altering a negative mood
  • Discuss ways of dealing with change and stress with family members, friends or a trusted advisor
  • Focus on events that provide a sense of calm or positive emotions
  • Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” in order to consider the reality of the situation
  • Journal occurrences during which you were able to regulate your responses or emotions. How did the ability to self-regulate affect the outcomes and your relationship with others?
  • Begin regular exercise, yoga or meditation to increase your ability to manage your emotions and relax both body and mind. Exercise regulates your emotions by releasing endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine
  • Get adequate sleep and rest.  Without it, even with the best intentions, it is too easy to react in a way that you’ll regret.

The lists may seem long and you have many ideas to select from.  I recommend you select the one or two items that you can actually incorporate into your daily routine and which you feel will have the most impact on your ability to be a more effective and productive leader.

And if none of the above suggestions work for you, here are general ways to improve your emotional intelligence:

  • Improve your non-verbal communication
  • Focus on the other person
  • Make eye contact
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues
  • Smile
  • Use humor and play to deal with challenges
  • Take hardships in stride
  • Smooth over differences
  • Simultaneously relax and energize yourself
  • Be creative
  • Resolve conflict positively and in a trust building way
  • Stay focused in the present
  • Choose your arguments
  • Forgive
  • End conflicts that cannot be resolved