“Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.” – International Women’s Day Website

Happy (Belated) International Women’s Day! We have come a long way since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, and we still have a long way to go. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual and stems from the idea of Collective Individualism: the concept that an individual succeeding and realizing that their success is a benefit to everyone else.In the spirit of harnessing our individual experiences for collective growth, we’ve asked the women at Kotter to answer questions on their experience as women in the workplace and in leadership positions.

Kotter Celebrates International Women's Day

AS A FEMALE LEADER, WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER IN YOUR CAREER?

Deb Seidman, Affiliate at Kotter
“My most significant barrier was not having a strong network of advisers or a personal board of advisers to provide wisdom, perspective, and challenge my assumptions. I’d advise my 18 year old self to seek that out and use it.”
Deb Seidman, Affiliate

“I have found two barriers are most significant to me. First, being heard and recognized. There are so many ways that women’s voices get lost – whether through appropriation, dismissing, or minimizing. These types of barriers can be unintentional and gradual, which makes them hard to recognize and harder to address. Second, being able to challenge and have a voice. So much of what is required as a female leader is balance. Making sure that you come across as strong, but not domineering; as authoritative, but not aggressive. The level of energy and effort required to strike that perfect balance is exhausting.”
Brianna Goodlin, Senior Consultant

WHAT IS SOME OF THE ADVICE YOU SHARE WITH YOUNG WOMEN ENTERING A MALE-DOMINATED PROFESSION?

celine schillinger, affiliate at kotter
“First, brace yourself. It’s not going to be easy. Your talent alone will not suffice, and plenty of people will see you as competition (even some of the rare women already in that field). Second, build your credibility. Deliver against your goals, on time, be reliable and constructive. Third, build a network inside and (even more importantly) outside the company: get involved in industry conferences, associations… Invest some time and energy in creating a “portable” network of allies and external visibility, you’ll need them sooner or later.”
Céline Schillinger, Affiliate

“I hate the term “male-dominated profession”. What if instead we say “female excluded profession”? I never thought I’d be in a space that is male dominated, but I’ve learned that you have to have confidence that you are every bit as intelligent, valuable, and capable as your male colleagues. Because you are, although they’ll make you doubt yourself from time to time. The system is rigged in favor of their ways of working; they have been groomed their whole lives to succeed in this space. You have not. What that means is that you have to find people who support you in making it work for you; leaders who will change their own expectations and their leadership approach to enable you to flourish and succeed. We are not inferior, we are different and that is a strength if together we help them see it. Also – your male colleagues are more than likely being paid more than you, so pay attention.”
Kristin Oberdorf, Principal
kristin oberdorf, principal at kotter

Janani Ramachandran
“I would advise young women to seek out female mentors who have paved a path for themselves, as early as possible. Having strong alliances in your industry is incredibly important, especially if you are in a more niche field. I would also advise young women to stay strong! Unfortunately we have to work harder and smarter to get to places we want to go. There are often individuals who either overlook our talents or try to take advantage. Be hypervigilant about those you surround yourself with and don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve (e.g. the salary you deserve, the work-life balance, the role, the title…). All you need is one yes.”
Janani Ramachandran, Senior Consultant

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR 18 YEAR OLD SELF?

“The first piece of advice is this: whatever you tolerate will persist. Don’t be afraid to recognize and address behavior that crosses the line. The longer you compartmentalize it, let it go, or even try to use it to your advantage, the harder it will be to overcome, and you certainly won’t be doing any favors to the next generation of girls. Your legacy begins now.

My second piece of advice, which is an important balance to my first, is do not underestimate the value of trying to understand others’ perspectives. Empathy is an increasingly rare trait, and may just be the biggest competitive advantage for leaders in the 21st century. When people shut each other down or turn each other off, make a point to reach out, lean into the hard conversations, and commit to listening. Keep asking questions. Keep trying to understand. We are much more powerful when we communicate and come together. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”
Rachel Rosenfeldt, Director

Rachel Rosenfeldt

OF FORTUNE 500 CEOS, ONLY 32 ARE WOMEN, AND OF THOSE, ONLY 2 ARE WOMEN OF COLOR. WHAT STRATEGIES CAN WORK WELL TO PROMOTE INCLUSION IN THE WORKPLACE? AS A LEADER, HOW DO YOU STAY MINDFUL OF WHO’S AT THE TABLE AND WHO’S MISSING?

Laura Rivera, Marketing Associate at Kotter
“In my experience as a young woman of color, intersectionality is incredibly important. Every aspect of one’s identity is valuable and lends itself to create new perspectives – and often better solutions. However, you would need a comically long table to make sure that everyone is included. This is why I suggest assuming someone is always missing and functioning under the understanding that, no matter your level of experience, you will never have the full picture. Are you uncomfortable yet? Most leaders like to believe that they have the right answer, the optimal direction, but without a diverse sounding board they can only see so far. Not everyone can be at the table when decisions are being made, but everyone should have access to a larger, more varied table they can bounce ideas off of and gain insight from before coming back to the decision-making table. Yes, this means asking for help.”
Laura Camila Rivera, Marketing Associate

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO BE MALE ADVOCATES AND AREN’T SURE HOW TO START?

“For men who want to become allies to the women in their workplace, I think the first steps are simple, but can be really hard in practice. First, you have to be willing to accept that sexism and bias exist, and that you have played a part in it in the past. Next, do some research. What don’t you understand about sexism or bias? How does it show up in the workplace? Instead of asking women around you to explain, start by doing some ground work on your own. From there, it’s about changing behaviors even when it’s hard or uncomfortable. Pause before you speak to give a woman with a less loud voice a chance to be heard on a conference call. Call out a colleague when you hear them make a joke or a comment that is in poor taste. When a client asks you a question, refer them to a female colleague that has the answer instead of answering yourself.”
Abby Ezra, Marketing Manager
Abby ezra

Maria Leister at kotter
“While it’s helpful to have men as ‘allies’ and ‘mentors’, what really matters for our professional growth is for men to be sponsors in our development. Male advocates need to put their reputation on the line to create that seat at the table for women in the workplace. Of course, there is a tremendous amount of trust and relationship building involved before getting there, but it’s a commitment that allies must be willing to make and time they need to be able sacrifice to further gender equality. But trust me, it’s worth it.”
Maria Leister, L&D Program Manager

We invite you to join the conversation! How would you answer some of these questions?

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One Comment

  1. Zanetta Liza Miller says:

    Excellent points of advice for emerging female leaders.

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