I joined a panel of amazing women recently for a discussion about leadership. Wisconsin Women in Higher Education Leadership (WWHEL) invited us to talk with top women from Carthage College, Gateway Technical College, and UW-Parkside. WWHEL supports women leaders in higher education and encourages women in faculty and staff to pursue leadership positions.
The panel’s goal was to share insights from our own journeys and equip the audience with strategies they can put in place to help more women move into leadership roles. Our diverse group of panelists included the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporations’ Katherine Marks, Johnson Financial’s Karla Krehbiel, CNH’s Emily Lawrence and Racine County’s Kimberly Payne.
Our top strategies:
Authenticity is a compass. In a fast-paced world driven by standards often set by others (including the media), it’s easy to lose sight of what grounds you, what makes you unique. As a panel, we discussed the importance of authenticity at every stage of your career and especially on the path to leadership. Know yourself, and own it. Don’t let others define who you are.
Risk taking is a critical trait for leaders, but it doesn’t come naturally for everyone. One of the panelists shared that she takes a calculated risk every week and challenged the group to do the same. We discussed how important it is not just for leaders to take risks, but for leaders to help employees learn to do the same and to learn from failure. Taking risks leads to innovation, it can strengthen partnerships and build character.
Accept tough times, and learn from them
Many don’t realize the sacrifices leaders make to get to the top or the tough times that have shaped them. It was humbling to hear this group of accomplished women share barriers they overcame like growing up in poverty, a single parent household or discrimination in the workplace. These barriers clearly didn’t stop any of us. In fact, they provided context and motivation for change, they served as learning opportunities and even as ladders.
Support the women around you
This was a consistent theme on the panel as we talked about role models, mentors and the important work women do today in education, business and in the community. Studies show organizations perform better with women in leadership roles. But getting there isn’t easy. One panelist challenged women in the room to look for ways to support the women around her – advocate for women, work with women-owned companies, get into a position where you write the rules. At Kane Communications Group, I’ve negotiated contracts with women where I’ve had to tell them they aren’t charging enough. As a nation, we’ve championed pay equity for women and I’ve challenged women to recognize the value of their work. I’m also working to create an environment at KCG that enables women to work at the top of their license even if they want to work part-time or have a flexible schedule.
Define balance at different stages in your life
A member of the audience asked the panel how we find balance. Everyone on the panel admitted a struggle with this. As a small business owner, employer and mom of four I find balance is different almost every day. I also believe there are times in our lives when balance is not the goal. There are tremendous opportunities for women today to lead and to open doors for others. Achieving success may not happen if balance is the priority. Are you happy? Is your family happy? Are your employees happy? Are you achieving your goals? If I can answer “Yes!” to these questions, that may be all the balance I need.
Thank you WWHEL for hosting such a dynamic group, thank you to UW Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford for the thought-provoking questions as moderator, and thank you to Katherine, Karla, Emily and Kimberly for challenging us all to be authentic and continue to climb.
There are tremendous opportunities for women today to lead and to open doors for others.