Guest post by Valerie Dennis (read more about Valerie at the end of this post)
I was just reading the thread of dialogue in a community forum and the question was asked about what makes a successful female leader. In truth, I was a little disappointed in the answers.
Some of the comments went to the reasons why we lack a presence in executive management roles (I.e. maternity leave). One person, citing a recent work experience stated that the boys’ club still exists and that men would prefer that the women “keep out.” Clearly, a negative experience for her, but I would call her experience anecdotal, not a hard cold trend. Only one person talked about how we need to engage in the right corporate dialogue to revise the trends.
What I didn’t hear enough of was how professional women can contribute to that dialogue and perhaps more importantly, take an active role in mentoring other women and minorities. In a newly structured division, I was one of thirty directors and for a while I was the only woman. The feedback I received was “I’m happy for you but…” They didn’t see enough activity, development and advocacy for bringing diverse candidates through the ranks. They were right. After that conference, I presented the feedback to my management, offering to take the lead on a diversity initiative. I wouldn’t say it fell it on deaf ears, I would say it fell on uneducated ears, whose priorities were elsewhere—at first.
I persisted, enlisting the help of a female VP and with the benefit of timing and company priorities, diversity was back on the table again. We did a lot of research to understand the real obstacles that inhibit diverse candidates from moving up in the ranks and revised succession planning, management development programs, re-prioritized management objectives and increased awareness. It was a start and bear in mind, rules applied—hire the right person for the role, so they are set up for success…
Mentoring and coaching doesn’t have corporate boundaries. So aside from what a company does or doesn’t do, it also comes down to personal contribution. I still give advice and get advice from others–whether I asked for it or not! The great thing about leadership is that it is not exclusive; it is not limited to rank or title. I’ve seen great leadership in people who are just starting their career.
Perhaps equally important, I’m not advocating that this dialogue should be completely gender-specific. Given that some guidance and experiences are better translated because of gender, then we have to engage in dialogue and invest our time in both women and men.
In the case of this forum, the comments emphasized the obstacles and not the opportunities. We’ve surely made strides and while the glass ceiling may still exist in certain areas, others have broken through. Look for the success stories and more importantly, be part of someone else’s success. Not every one has to be in the executive suite; mentoring is about getting the best out of people, regardless of their aspirations. This is part of what makes a leader successful.
About the Author
Valerie Dennis is a veteran sales leader who has worked for, and with, some of the best-known brands in the world, with most of her professional experience focused on helping companies create long-term value. She has collaborated with a range of businesses from retail to B2B, across diverse industry segments, helping local and global companies drive growth through differentiating solutions.
Her strength is transformation, growth strategies, performance improvement, and sales effectiveness. She has successfully redirected or rebuilt underperforming sales teams, improved management capabilities, defined new market potential and increased top-line sales and profit. Her combined work experience has shaped her perspective on successful selling, training, management and leadership.
Valerie is starting a consulting business, specializing in sales, social media and marketing strategy to small and medium businesses. Her consulting approach comes from her practical business experience, having been accountable to her own ideas and decisions.
For more insights, you can read Valerie’s blog, Sales Savvy.