At year-end, life is getting pretty hectic for the working woman right about now. Many companies are closing out a fiscal year, budgeting for next year, conducting annual reviews, analyzing inventories, and making year-end purchasing decisions. While this type of work is equally dispersed between women and men, that’s not always the case.
On the home front, the majority of holiday preparation is done by women. From shopping, to meal prep, to sending greeting cards, to decorating the home and wrapping gifts, women are far more likely to take on additional tasks at home. At work, many women are “asked” to “volunteer” for tasks that have nothing to do with their job description, such as helping with holiday party planning, decorating the office, or sending client gifts.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Many women feel both pressure and desire to make the holidays special for their families. In families where only the man worked, it makes more sense for the majority of the home care to fall to the woman. But with couples who both work, open communication is key to defining what you want from the holidays and who will do which tasks. How important is the holiday card? Do all of the decorations your mom gave you have to be put out? Can the family opt to draw names for gifts, or make contributions to a charity in lieu of gifts this year? Can you agree on lights around the front door rather than the whole house? Perhaps you limit the number of social invitations you will accept. Ask the question: if I don’t enjoy it, why am I doing it? Find ways to include your partner, kids, and outsourcing services to help in holiday preparations.
In the workplace, women can suggest a team approach to “office housework.” When asked to plan the office party, recommend a more representative approach with men and women to take on the tasks. Office cards, decorations and client gifts can usually be outsourced. Clean-up after holiday festivities should likewise be everybody’s job. Depending on the size and environment at your office, it may make sense too rally a few allies (especially executives) to support taking a new approach to holiday planning.
On January 16th, we will host the second workshop in our Momentum Leadership Series. Our speaker is Dr. Sharon Melnick, the author of “Success Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident and Productive with the Pressure is On.” During the month of December we will feature some of Dr. Melnick’s advice on this blog to help out with managing the holiday crunch!
Throughout my career in the Army and in post-retirement, I have been asked by audiences to give them some guidance on getting their careers off on the right foot or help staying on course. I was not one to use a script to give speeches, but I have had time to pull out and review my scribbled 3-by-5 handwritten cards. The topics below have remained consistent during my over 40 years of leading people.
Set your moral compass to True North
Manage your reputation
Find your passion
Play for the team
I grew up in a family with parents that taught me values through their actions. I feel fortunate to have had wonderful role models teach me to set my moral compass to True North. I understand we all need forgiveness for some actions we may have taken in the “folly of our youth.” However, there are some mistakes that are seemingly impossible to move past. Those are typically the ones that deal with ethical, legal, or moral missteps. When it comes to parents, I won the lottery. If you were not as fortunate to get a firm grounding when you were growing up, find someone that can mentor you and learn by observing those you respect.
You have but one reputation in life – and it is yours to manage. In this day and age of 2018, with all the recording devices and 24-hour coverage, people are watching your every move. And for those in a leadership role – the spotlight is always on. I had a friend of mine who unfortunately had too much to drink at a work function; everyone was talking about him on Monday morning. He soon noticed that even though he had not repeatedly done this, people still talked about him after each work social function. As an experiment, he completely gave up drinking and to his amazement, people still reported how slammed he had gotten. Perceptions are just as important as the truth; they can hurt you and your reputation. Decide how you want people to “see” you and live your life accordingly. Differentiate yourself from the crowd in a positive way. My three touchstone words are dignity, compassion, and respect. That is how I want people to remember me so that is how I try to conduct myself in work and in life. Even when I have had to fire someone, I aimed to do so in a respectful and compassionate manner.
After entering active duty, I completely understood that if I was told to be in formation at 0600 hours (6 AM), I would there on time. However, I have learned not everyone is so accountable. Undoubtedly you will eventually run into the person that is always late or the one that didn’t complete his part of planned, collaborative work. If you need help becoming accountable, find an accountability partner; someone you can trust to tell you like it is. People find it harder to disappoint people they care about, so having a partner can help you stick to achieving your goals.
You are young but once – find your passion. A lot of people aren’t driven by or focused on a certain career path at a young age. We go to college to figure out what we think we want to do. We begin enjoying courses focused in one area but still may not have considered how we will use our education. To those that read this and identify with it – I get it. I found my calling as I was approaching 30 years of age. For some, life will line up and you will work in an area where your passion matches your job opportunities. I find most people that work in non-profits are passionate about that particular cause. However, not everyone can make a living by working where their passion lies, but hopefully you can find a way to keep it central in your life. Passion gives you energy and excitement and a sense of worth that helps keep your spirit strong.
Teamwork is key to life. Whether you have professional or personal goals to achieve, a team can make you more capable. Even our greatest athletes have coaches that continually help them maintain their greatness. Many workplaces are multi-generational and have individuals from varying life circumstances. Younger professionals strive to hone their skills and become acknowledged experts. Your 20s are a great time to develop your technical and people skills. I aim to work with people that have strengths where I feel less adequate. I also enjoy diverse people than bring different viewpoints to the group. Winning teams have shared visions, but relish individual differences and use them to benefit the group.
Cultivate long-term relationships. Having a pool of people from different backgrounds and opinions is a source of strength. It was difficult for me to learn to include some people whose company I did not particularly care for. It’s enjoyable to work solely with friends; super really. But being able to appreciate the skills of someone that pulls you out of comfort zone requires patience and a certain amount of savviness that comes with practice. Look, we all need people and one day you are going to need “that” person; the one you aren’t so keen on. You will be far ahead of the game if you have already developed a relationship with them. I also believe having a plentiful pool of people you can count on is the foundation to leading a rich, fulfilled life.
In today’s competitive environment we have a tough time separating work time from down time. Those devices that bring us great joy are the same ones that interrupt our family and play time. We are eager to achieve success at work and at home, but those lines have blurred. Some people feel guilty when they take time away from work to enjoy life, but then don’t enjoy life because they are worried about work. To this I say – choose happiness. Reflect, celebrate goodness, and good things. Stay in the moment with those you care about. Celebrate other people’s achievements as you would your own. When you overhear conversations that sound negative, turn the words you heard around, and think about how it could be stated in a positive way. Today’s actions feed tomorrow’s happiness. Optimism fuels optimism, happy people brew happy environments. It actually is that simple.
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!
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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:
Be energetic without being over-eager.
Ask questions that genuinely interest you, and really listen to the answer.
Attitude and emotions are contagious, so check yours before you engage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Women represent just 20% of Congress, and are similarly under-represented at the state and local level. The Washington Post published interactive data to show results by state.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.