In its seventh Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) series, Texas A&M’s Mays Business School recently explored the issue of “Power and Influence: Leading in Typically Male-Dominated Environments.” Following a networking event at Mays’ CityCentre Houston campus, the panel tackled tough issues such as the barriers to leadership for women and the challenges surrounding career advancement.
The panel, moderated by Shannon Deer, director of the Mays Full-Time MBA program, featured Susan Clifton, Assistant Chief of Police, City of Pasadena; Jessica Keiser, Senior Vice President, ES&H Targa Resources Corp.; and Mary-Olga Lovett, Trial Lawyer and Chair of the Board at Greenberg Taurig.
According to the panel, the biggest challenge for the next generation of female leaders in their professions is attracting and retaining women leaders. “There is still a lack of women leaders at the top,” noted Keiser. Clifton agreed, adding, “It’s difficult to attract women to my profession and especially my leadership position because of the sacrifices that need to be made, especially since it’s not a Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. commitment.”
According to Lovett, the conversation needs to be broadened beyond typical gender roles. “The next generation of leaders will be raised by working moms. We should broaden the conversation to topics like flextime for men – looking at everyone in an organization and not putting them into a demographic.”
On the issues of power and influence, the panelists shared experiences from their own professional journeys. Keiser said, “The biggest ‘aha’ moment in my career was when a career coach helped me realize that I was acting like the daughter of the organization and treating my male colleagues like a father. I did not assert my position even though they opened the door. I had been leaving my power on the table, and I realized that I did not have to act so timid anymore.”
Clifton offered advice especially for women, “Don’t take the easy route. You have to pay your dues at every step of the way. That’s how you’re going to get the respect of your peers.”
Lovett shared two situations – one in which a male colleague refused to shake her hand, and another in which a male colleague dropped her name in recognition that she was more influential than others. “The challenge for you and me is to figure how you use it (power) – either way. There is that possibility in all of you,” she advised.
The panelists were also asked to share the most significant barriers to leadership they have experienced as a woman that a man might not have encountered. Keiser noted that she and her husband work in the same profession, and her challenges are different. “You reach a point in your career when being the best at what you do doesn’t get you to the next level. It’s a quiet barrier,” she noted. Clifton added, ”I don’t think we have adequate role models in our careers. There has never been a woman in my position.” Lovett shared an experience that made her realize that women often “gloss over” discriminatory behavior. “That tells you how much you are willing to put up with,” she noted.
After the panel dialogue, Deer opened up the discussion to the 100 women leaders in attendance. The audience raised questions relating to the resources available for women, ways to build confidence and how to change the conversation – including how to answer questions that are not typically asked of male professionals.
“Practice a response like, ‘That is a very interesting question, and I am here to talk with you about…’ and then steer it back to the important issues,” was the advice given by the panel.
Lovett noted, “I don’t want to be recognized in my profession with an asterisk. Like my male counterparts, I will miss a ballgame or party for my kid. It’s part of the sacrifice. However, the best advice that I got as a woman is to hire as much help as you can afford. It is not being snobby or lazy…It is life.”
Clifton advised, “You market you. Don’t ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ Talk yourself into your success. Your biggest fan should be you.”
At the conclusion of the event, Deer offered simple ways that women can support each other.
“Help other women negotiate fair pay. Walking in as a woman and negotiating your pay is difficult,“ she noted. “When writing letters of recommendations or support, be careful about only using terms like ‘kind,’ and other softer terms often used to describe women, and replace it with ‘smart.’ And finally, avoid criticizing other women based on their appearance like size or weight.”
“Together, we can change the larger conversation about helping women succeed throughout the business community and the broader workforce,” Deer concluded.
As a member of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Mays Business School is committed to efforts to expand opportunities for women business leaders. The Mays Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is a series of seminars and networking events that seeks to connect women leaders and equip them with the tools for continued success.The next event will be held in October 2016.