Women in Leadership: It’s NOT about Gender
As seen in the Rochester Business Journal: The movement continues—women are progressing into leadership positions and making a significant impact. Forbes recent Leader Board of the top 100 of “The World’s Most Powerful Women” revealed, “nearly half run a global company…in all they control some $1 trillion in revenue.”
Business and industry are desperate for strong leadership in this highly-competitive global environment—so why not consider the entire population when recruiting talented individuals into leadership positions?
From my perspective this is quite the movement. I started out in engineering and primarily had classes with “the guys.” I was the first woman faculty member hired in industrial engineering at RIT and most of my professional colleagues were men. In all the years I’ve worked, I have never had a woman supervisor, save for my stint in high school as a lifeguard.
For me, it was never a big deal. It’s just the way it was. Yet as an associate dean and now dean, I am often asked about what it takes to be a woman in leadership. I would prefer to answer the question, what does it take to be an effective leader?
I have always been fortunate to be given the right opportunities through supportive mentors and supervisors. Yet these opportunities would not have led to success without developing the skills and experience necessary to succeed.
Independent of gender, our most significant responsibility as a leader is to perform well. It is important to find individuals who are capable, willing to serve and understand their value to the team. It is important to have the ability to effectively lead and engage with a diverse team, and be comfortable sharing and respecting different views. And last, it is important to have a willingness to execute the plan, or support the plan, dependent upon the situation.
Women may have more people watching, but to me, nothing moves us forward more effectively than when we are working in positions we are prepared for—and we perform well.
As our workforce becomes more diverse, we all have our unique qualities that subject us to different perspectives on how people view us. Invariably, I probably receive more questions than men regarding how I manage my leadership position with my home life. With so many more women working outside the home, work-life balance is a good question for both working moms and dads today. Personally, I’m blessed to have a wonderful husband, who also works full-time, but who also does a lot at home. It is a 50/50 relationship and he’s enabled me to take on my position as dean. Every morning we go over the game plan. It can be a juggling act, but the teamwork is essential.
This spring at RIT we hosted Sarah Personette, VP of Global Business Marketing at Facebook, who was the keynote speaker for our Saunders College Power Your Potential Women’s Conference. As an authentic, caring and highly competent woman, she is an outstanding role model for women—and men. She discussed the importance of “caring” for your employees—helping them to be their best. While she has a demanding job at a “connected” tech company, she also talked about the value of being unplugged for a couple of hours each evening to spend time with her family.
This may be more important than ever. Now that we have technology, it has enabled us to better balance work and family. I have my laptop and keep it on my kitchen island to catch up with email while at home. But at work, I think it is also important to connect personally. I like to leave my office door open for anyone who wants to stop by and chat, and I also like to walk around and connect with others. Many things just can’t be addressed effectively via email!
There’s a lot out there in the professional development literature about having a plan. Having an overall career map can be important, but it shouldn’t take priority over the task at hand. I didn’t have a master plan to become a dean. I never focused on the next opportunity but stayed committed and dedicated to my current position. I firmly believe, if you do a good job, the next opportunity will find you.