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2020 Women’s Leadership Conference

Women's leadership conference playing on computer screen

Women have come a long way in the workplace. There is a woman on the board of every S&P 500 company. The recent Women’s Leadership Conference celebrated this progress while reminding participants of how far there is still left to go.

A series of speakers and panels filled three mornings with insights, advice, and empowerment. Many of our team members were able to attend the virtual conference and shared their most valuable takeaways.

Know Your Worth

Self-awareness is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal as women. Take the time to reflect on your strengths and areas for improvement. Don’t be afraid to seek out constructive criticism from those you trust and consistently work to develop and grow your skills.

Don’t confuse self-awareness with self-criticism, though. Be confident in your accomplishments and advocate for yourself in everything from salary negotiations, promotion consideration, or new opportunities. Don’t wait for someone to open doors for you. Rather, make sure you are laying the groundwork for your success and reaching to open doors on your own.

Take Risks

Lee Anne Nance of Stewart shared that she thinks of her career journey as a highway. As she progressed, she saw opportunities as exit ramps and had to decide at which ramps to get off. The most pivotal moments for her, she said, happened when she took the risk of getting off the “highway” and tried something new.

All the speakers echoed similar sentiments. Don’t worry about being perfect or 100% ready; trust yourself and never self-eliminate from an opportunity. After all, the worst you will hear is no. As for failure, the speakers shared that its inevitable. Embrace the power of the word “yet.” Instead of thinking “I can’t do this,” or “It hasn’t happened for me,” add the word “yet” to each of those phrases. “I can’t do this yet.” “It hasn’t happened for me yet.” Focus on your growth and the potential for your future.

Push Back on Bias

Both women and men have a role in eliminating bias in the workplace. Many policies have been enacted to counteract explicit bias but improving explicit bias doesn’t necessarily improve implicit bias. Courtney White with BASF spoke about second generation bias that often goes unnoticed. This occurs when policies, procedures, or norms seem gender neutral but could still be favoring men. For example, the path to senior leadership roles often are tailored to fit men’s lifestyles over women’s. Women face a subtle, unspoken pressure to appear and behave a certain way. Even the words we use, such as manpower or right-hand man, conjure a masculine image.

Breaking these biases and stereotypes takes work that starts with internal reflection. What subconscious prejudices do you have that may be perpetuating these barriers? Then turn outward to your organization. Does your company have policies in place, both formal and informal, to support women’s growth and development? Does the organization source talent intentionally from a diverse pipeline? If you are a woman in leadership, are you reaching back to mentor and support rising young women? This is a process of continuous improvement that moves not only women, but all of us forward.

Conclusion

Zena Howard with Perkins + Will summarized the conference’s message perfectly. So often, women ask if they can have it all. Zena encouraged us to redefine “having it all” to simply HAVE. Help others. Associate with quality colleagues and organizations. Value your work and the work of others. Engage with others to learn and grow. We can all take action today for a more equitable future.

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