In the last six to twelve months, it feels like every day that I have seen another shocking and sad story of a man falling from grace thanks to inappropriate behavior towards women in his past.
And like everyone, I am experiencing so many emotions around this topic. From anger, to frustration and sadness, to an awakening to the fact that my entire career has existed within a corporate system that was designed by men, for men, inherently causing women to think it was normal to change ourselves to fit within that system.
It has really hit me in the last few weeks, thanks to the conversations I am having with many ambitious young #GirlBosses around me, how freeking discouraging it all feels right now. Not surprisingly these stories are leading to a growing fear for young women that they are entering a work world where the cards are stacked against them.
All this has caused me to reflect on my twenty-five years in the corporate world, and to realize that there IS a very hopeful story to be told. The era that I grew up in was one where the sheer lack of women at the top meant that my only bosses and mentors were men. I am proud to say that I have a career that happened BECAUSE of the extraordinary mentoring, support, and championing from some of the most amazing men I know. Whether I was working for them, with them, or they were working on the teams I led – they all took actions that undoubtedly propelled my career forward.
As we enter into a new era of leadership that includes seats at the table for all genders, backgrounds, and perspectives, I want to share their approaches that I observed, so we can all learn from them and breathe confidence and belief into our next generation of #GirlBosses!
1. When you see a woman with drive and raw potential – bet on her!
The reason I am living in the United States today is because two very special men, Norm Thompson and Tony Marks, saw something in me. When I was twenty-three years old, they took a chance and moved me from my sheep-infested island of New Zealand to the giant city of Los Angeles to take on a bigger role at the airline where I was working. When I think about it, there are SO MANY THINGS that could have back-fired for them in this decision. I was young, immature, I didn’t dress terribly professionally, I had never lived away from my family and friends, and my perception of life in Los Angeles was what I had been watching on weekly episodes of Beverly Hills 90210.
Yet – behind all of that naivety was a FIERCE ambition and desire to explore the world and succeed in this job. I had demonstrated to them from my first three years at the company that I was willing to out-work anyone around me for an opportunity like this, and would go out of my way to over deliver on anything I was asked to do.
Some studies have found that, given the opportunity, women will work harder and longer than their male counterparts. There are plenty of women who come to the table with a built-in drive to succeed – and when they cross your path, make sure you don’t let them pass you by.
2. When she fails, don’t let her give into her greatest fears – challenge her to come back stronger.
I spend a lot of time talking to women’s groups about risk taking, and the general deep-rooted fear of failure that seems to permeate the young female mind. And I am quite sure this comes from decades of cultural pressures placed on women to be the “perfect good girl,” and to keep risks to a minimum. In a world where women’s efforts have had to be significantly more to achieve a fraction of what men do, failure historically could have meant losing it all. But if women are going to achieve their full potential, they are going to have to try, fail and keep trying again to learn what they can be at their very best.
I have been very open about the period in my career when I was fired twice and felt that there was simply no hope for me going forward. I called it my “canyon of career despair”! I was literally about to pack my bags, give up on my great American dream, and return home to New Zealand for good.
To this day, I will never forget the encouragement from my dear friend Mark D’Arcy of Facebook. He sat me down and told me that there was absolutely no reason for me to go home, and that I had every opportunity to continue building the life and career I was dreaming of. For years he has been in my corner, cheering me on when the going gets tough. He is that wise voice telling me I need to fight harder for myself, sparring with me to negotiate like a dude and ask for more, and pushing me to believe I can be more and just go for it.
So dudes out there: when you see a woman losing her confidence, remember that she is probably fighting to overcome more natural internal negative self talk headwinds. Instead of echoing her fears, you can make a HUGE difference by encouraging her to brush it off and DRIVE ON!
3. You don’t have to be her boss to champion her to reach her potential.
After I had been fired twice in my twenties, the next job I landed in was at my dream company, Nike. It was a fairly daunting experience to land a job there coming off the back of such a terrible period of epic fails in my career, but I had longed to get in the door there since I had studied marketing in college.
I remember being utterly intimidated in my first few months on the job. I was completely new to the sports industry, and being a woman raised in New Zealand, I knew almost nothing about basketball, football and the major American sports that were driving the business. So my team had every reason to doubt me, and to question my direction when it was different than what had been done before.
Yet, to this day, I will always be deeply grateful to my friend and colleague Jason Cohn, for the fact that he actively chose to step up and be my “first follower” within days of me joining the team. Every leader knows what it is like when you start a new role, and you need to find someone in the team to actively show they believe in you. In my case – it was Jason. He had so much tenure and credibility within the company and in our small team, that it didn’t take long before the others in our group showed their support and encouragement for me too.
Jason wasn’t my boss or my “mentor” when we first began working together, but he is responsible for taking the first steps that helped me rebuild my confidence. That is something we all can do when we look at the colleagues and teammates we work with and for.
So, reflecting on all of this, I wanted to take a moment to thank ALL of the awesome men that have helped me. These are just a few examples of the many stories of fantastic men in my career that took the steps to really champion me, without being asked to do so. They helped me to believe in myself and my potential, and showed me how to do the same for other rising women leaders. When women feel confident to take on new opportunities, face risks, and voice their opinions, we all win. So next time you are feeling unsure how to combat the stories you are hearing from the #MeToo movement – JUMP in and mentor a great woman. She will not disappoint you!
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