What are we celebrating?
On August 26th, we celebrate ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting women the right to vote. And, since 1971 when the U.S. Congress designated that day as “Women’s Equality Day,” people across the country gather for special activities, lunches, speeches and programs ranging from the silly to the somber to recognize this achievement.
It is appropriate to recognize, celebrate and remember the sacrifices and hard work resulting in the 19th Amendment. The right to vote opened the door to women’s participation in the political process, and other civic activities, leaving their mark on legislation at local, state and federal levels. We even came within a hair of moving into the White House.
But, as we celebrate this major achievement for women’s equality, let’s also remember that while we’ve made undeniable strides in the world of politics, in other sectors – particularly the business world – women have not fared as well.
Today, women run 27 of the S&P 500 companies (about 5.4% of the total) according to research group Catalyst. And, while the proportion of women-led Fortune 500 companies reached its highest level in the history of the Fortune 500 list in June 2016, it represented only 6.4% of the total. When Marissa Mayer left Yahoo, it dipped to 6.2%. The recent departures of Mondelez International, Inc. chief Irene Rosenfeld and Avon Products, Inc.’s Sherri McCoy shrinks the slim ranks of women in command of the biggest U.S. businesses even more.
Certain business sectors, especially those working in the STEM arena, are experiencing particular difficulty finding, mentoring, and promoting women to leadership positions.
Google is currently undergoing an investigation into alleged gender pay inequality and it is not alone. The tech sector has been the focus of numerous media reports focusing on the lack of gender balance in hiring and promoting practices.
How do we turn this around, not just in STEM-focused businesses, but in the wider workplace universe as well?
As women, let’s begin by supporting, not undercutting each other. Let’s stop being the woman who made it but doesn’t see the need or responsibility to support those women who are coming up in the ranks; or the “ boss” unreasonably piling on the work and then complaining about the resulting work product; or the executive demeaning the efforts of and cutting down other women who they might see as competitors; or the “catty colleague” complaining about other women to executive colleagues.
Oh yes, these “types” exist and, in my experience, are more numerous than you might want to believe.
What can we do to move past these roadblocks to workplace gender balance?
First, let’s recognize that women need to play a more positive and aggressive role in recognizing, mentoring, sponsoring and when possible, moving potential women leaders forward in their organizations.
Then, let’s work with our male executive colleagues to ensure that our HR policies and practices encourage gender balance. We need to pay particular attention to hiring and training practices, and work-life balance issues. We should also speak up for the establishment of formal mentoring and sponsorship programs and pay equity policies.
In fact, it’s a good idea for organizations to review their hiring and promotion policies routinely. Are they gender neutral? Is gender diversity ingrained in all corporate practices and cultures? Does merit drive hiring and promotion decisions? Is talent being developed properly? Are gender gaps in corporate culture and mindsets being addressed with inclusiveness programs? Are senior staffs encouraged (even incentivized) to mentor and sponsor promising executives…especially women?
Not only is this way of thinking good common sense, it also makes good business sense.
According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, companies with the highest gender diversity, as compared to the industry average, see a much greater return on equity (10%), a higher operating result (48%), and a stronger stock price growth (70%) when women are in senior executive positions, or on boards. In addition, having at least one woman on the board decreases bankruptcy by a full 20%.
While we recognize the good start we’ve made on our journey toward workplace gender balance, women still make 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. By 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the U.S. and only 61% of those openings will be filled-and women will fill only 29 percent.
So yes, we have a lot of work to do and a long way to go before workplace equality is fully achieved, and we all need to work towards gender equity in the workplace. No one person or group will break the glass ceiling for good, but it is imperative that top executives make it a primary concern in order to make a real difference in closing the gap.
Mentoring other women to succeed
Let's make the "Sisterhood" work!
You’ve made it to the top. You’ve paid your dues, put in the time and suffered the disappointments and frustrations that come with climbing the career ladder as a woman. And it has finally paid off.
Your peers recognize you as a role model; your family and friends applaud you for being a savvy and smart businesswoman. You are a recognized SUCCESS.
Reflect for a moment on how you came to be in this position. Of course, you worked your butt off and made the kinds of personal sacrifices that high-achieving women still have to make to get to the top. But, if you’re really honest with yourself, you know that you didn’t make it on your own…you had some help along the way.
Whether it came formally through a mentor or sponsor providing guidance and advocating for you when promotions and key assignments were handed out, or informally from a colleague in a more senior position or at another organization helping you navigate professional landmines or internal politics, you probably had help and support.
Now, you’re in a position to help other women trying to climb the career ladder. What will you do for them? If you think “not much,” you’re not alone. Research shows that many successful women – maybe even most – pull up the ladder after they break through the glass ceiling. Maybe that’s why, while the percentage of women in the workforce has grown tremendously over the last decade, their representation in the c-suite and boardroom hasn’t kept pace…not even close.
A major reason, according to a number of studies, is women’s reluctance to help other women.
Read the rest of Aspire Ascend's article at Thrive Global
Courtesy of "Mad Men" AMC series
In the Wall Street Journal today, Index-fund giant State Street Global Advisors, which oversees more than $2.5 trillion in assets, found of the 468 companies it owns shares of in the U.S. lacked a single female board member. Of that group, about 400 companies failed to address gender diversity in any meaningful way. State Street Global Advisors then voted against the re-election of directors charged with nominating new board members at each of these companies.
Progress has been slow. Nearly a quarter of the companies in the Russell 3000 index lack a female director, according to ISS Analytics, a unit of Institutional Shareholder Services.
Health-care companies were the worst performing group, accounting for about a quarter of those with no women on their boards.
Companies may talk a "big game" about gender diversity, but there is little follow through.
Boards have been slow to add women for various reasons, including their infrequent turnover and preference for experienced chief executives. But there also has been limited pressure from big institutional investors.
Get smarter and prepare with Corporate Board Development through Aspire Ascend. This is a highly customized one-on-one approach to Corporate Board Training. Hone your skills crafting and delivering your value proposition for a board seat, learn how to utilize your network, develop a board bio and pitch, and gain the skills and practical tools that will help you on the path to the boardroom.
Read the rest of the Wall Street Journal article here.
Happy summer and welcome to Aspire Ascend’s newsletter, Aspirations.
As the weather gets warmer, we close out a very exciting season of Aspire Ascend events and activities, highlighted by our 4 speaking and networking events. Held in the fabulous National Restaurant Association (NRA) headquarters in Washington, DC, all of these events – Remarkable Woman and Wine, Women and Knowledge Series – were completely sold-out. Thank you National Restaurant Association for your continuing support of Aspire Ascend and for promoting women’s leadership.
We are currently promoting our Fall programs which will begin in September 20, 2017 with our Remarkable Woman lunch series. Cathy Merrill Williams, President and Publisher of Washingtonian Media will be our featured interview. Aspire Ascend events are open to both members and non-members. Members, of course, receive a significant registration discount. In June, Aspire Ascend celebrates the first anniversary of its newly designed website.
We are also happy to let you know that our membership rolls are growing significantly and that means a broader network for all members. We are increasing our partnerships with individual coaches, enhancing our relationships with complimentary organizations to provide our members with the best career development guidance, resources and inspiration available, and providing on-site leadership training to organizations.
Aspirations is designed to support members’ networking efforts, offer guidance from our coaches, and share the Aspire Ascend vision: to increase the confidence and guide the success of women who are currently in leadership positions. We offer career advancement advice, “Women to Know,” and links to blogs, webinars and other resources to provide the tools and inspiration executive women need to move their careers forward.
I invite you to visit Aspire Ascend’s website and sign up for the newsletter. When you visit the website, please review our member benefits and check out our upcoming programs. You can also find photos of our Remarkable Woman andWine, Women and Knowledge events. We expect another successful year for these events in 2017. You can register for them here. All executive-level women are welcome at these events and Aspire Ascend members enjoy reduced registration fees.
I look forward to seeing you at future events and welcoming you into the Aspire Ascend community.
You became the President & CEO of Rebuilding Together in January 2016. What motivated you to take the role of CEO with a nonprofit after 30 years as an attorney and finance expert?
After a long career in banking and law, I decided that it was time to use what I had learned about business to “do good.” It was suggested that I run a national non-profit with affiliates across the country that was having some struggles. I felt that the difficulties the organization was facing could be solved with energy, enthusiasm and diplomacy, skills and talents that I felt I could offer. After just 12 months, the organization is financially sound with an increased capacity and desire to continue its mission.
What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
In developing my career, one of the most important lessons learned was to surround myself with smart, talented and funny women, in and outside of my chosen career. I relied on these women to give me candid advice, help me think through problems and hone my relationship skills.
What do women do differently from men as they move forward in an executive career? Is that good or bad?
I think men and women behave differently as we try to achieve success. In my experience, women tend to lean on and depend on teamwork to get things done in order to shine. Men tend to pursue opportunities that require more solo performance. I also think that men are much better about articulating their own professional strengths as women are about their challenges.
What is the best and most challenging decision you’ve ever made?
The best decision I ever made was the most financially risky one as well. I decided to leave the practice of law and pursue banking, a field to which I was new. I took a large base salary cut and bet on getting most of my compensation from a yearend merit based bonus. It was my best year in terms of compensation ever! It also was my most challenging – I had to learn quickly on the job. I made mistakes, but I had a great mentor/teacher/coach/boss (a woman, of course) who made it all possible. After twenty years in the same industry, I count her as one of my closest advisors.
What advice do you have for women aiming for a senior leadership position?
I would advise women who are striving for leadership positions to take steps outside of the workplace to learn about leadership. I encourage women to join organizations, nonprofits, and speaking groups and PARTICIPATE. Take the time to shine in these alternative settings because it is possible to gain confidence, build skills and learn about the politics of an organization in environments that are not directly related to the career path. Self-confidence, backed by “trying on” the skills of leading a project, a board, a meeting, is the key to success.
Why did you decide to join Aspire Ascend and the Executive Edge? How does Aspire Ascend support your career and/or personal goals?
I decided to join Aspire Ascend to continue learning from other successful and talented women. I hope to expand my network and continue to receive and give good counsel and advice as I grow into my new nonprofit leadership career. I signed up for the Executive Edge membership in order to prepare for corporate board service. I like the idea of a one-on-one mentor to help me identify what I have to bring to a corporate board and then how to best package my message.
President & CEO
Reston Limousine Service, Inc
Chief Executive Officer
"The mission of AAUW is very personal to me. In my household growing up, neither of my parents were able to graduate from college, but they instilled in me that I could be and do anything I wanted to in life. I know all of us agree education is a terrific tool towards eliminating inequality, but as we’ve seen from AAUW research and other studies, the path to career success, and equity in general, is still not an easy one. I’m excited to join AAUW at this moment, because of the opportunity to help shape our world. The time to find practical solutions to gender equity in our nation is right now."
President & CEO
The National Restaurant Association
Mary Beth Parks
September 20, 2017 - 12:00 pm-2:00 pm EST
Catherine Merrill Williams
President & Publisher
Catherine Merrill Williams is President and Publisher of Washingtonian Media, a media conglomerate that includes the flagship 50-year-old magazine, Washingtonian.
Meet this savvy women media executive who grew a media enterprise out of guts, and determination.
The National Restaurant Association
2055 L St. NW, Washington, DC
Seating is limited, Register here.
Why are we so afraid of it!
I recently heard a comment by actress Helen Mirren in a commencement address to Tulane University that made me sit up and say, “I am a feminist, too!”
“I didn’t define myself as a feminist until quite recently, but I had always lived like a feminist and believed in the obvious; that women were as capable and as energetic and as inspiring as men,” Helen Mirren said. She went on to say that feminism is a necessity “if we –and really by ‘we’, I mean you guys- are to move us forward.”
And that’s when I realized that I have been a feminist most of my life but had shied away from being labeled as a “feminist” as it might interfere with my career. Early in my professional life, we women (the few that were on the management track) didn’t realize the extraordinary value and power of supporting other women—not just on face value- but really getting in there and fighting for the advancement of women in every aspect of life.
Read the rest of Aspire Ascend's article at Huff Post
The “Mad Men” era is still with us!
Put your hand up if you have been subjected to sexism in the workplace. Yes we all have in one form or another, but most women don’t even recognize it. Take, for example, the latest female chief executive who was blamed when things went wrong at the company (think Marissa Mayer) and was promptly replaced by a male who was paid twice as much as her. Was that just a poor performing CEO being replaced or really sexism?
When you think of workplace sexism, what does it look like? Is it a male executive who expects more from his female staff and is constantly moving the goal post? While that certainly is an example of sexism and one we may believe has long since died off, far more insidious forms of sexism are alive and well in the American workplace.
They come into play when women, particularly those highly-capable women headed for the c-suite, exhibit what used to be considered male attributes, such as competence, assertiveness, decisiveness, rationality, and objectivity.
Not so long ago, overt gender bias was a perfectly acceptable office practice. (Think every single episode of Mad Men.) That sort of in-your-face sexism is not as prevalent in today’s work environment. But remember it was driven away by fear of lawsuits, not good business practice. Today we are given the false impression it no longer exists.
I remember early in my professional life having to justify why I should even interview for a leadership role over my male counterparts. As I moved up the career ladder, it became apparent that there were two sets of rules; one for men, another for women. Even as a senior executive, I knew when I needed to take a male partner with me to close the business deal, and even let them take the “lead” in the eyes of the client.
There has been behavioral evidence compiled over the past three decades that continues to suggest workplace gender bias not only persists but also thrives in ways many of us don’t even realize, particularly for women in male-dominated professions.
You remember watching Anita Hill describe what it was like to be sexually harassed by her superior? We watched Hill’s testimony in front of an all-male Senate committee; we came to understand implicitly that this was what lay ahead of us in the work world. It was clearly shocking at the time but has it really ever gone away?
So when I asked if sexism had affected women’s careers, many of my female colleagues shared stories of harassment, as though anything less than being openly ogled or physically groped didn’t count. The most insidious kind of sexism is also the hardest to identify—the small “micro-aggressions” that are evident in the meetings and interactions that make up our workdays. Some of the women I spoke to said they had encountered some kind of sexism in their career but the vast majority of them believed that it didn't directly impede their advancement—and all of them said they had expected to experience some sexism over the years. Expected! Think about that a moment
One of my friends and colleague in the TV business has her body scrutinized daily by her male boss, with remarks about her being a “hot Latina!” That same friend was passed over for a promotion in favor of a less-accomplished male colleague and then passed over a second time for no apparent reason. She left the company and a culture that didn’t value her. Another friend of mine who is a lawyer and partner in a major law firm was told to “hold off pregnancy” for awhile, and another corporate colleague routinely was asked when she was “leaving to have babies.”
Overt workplace sexism may generate higher visibility, and the occasional harassment lawsuit, it’s the sexist jokes and comments around the office that can do real damage to a woman’s path to success. When a woman is labeled “tough, strong, decisive, or aggressive.”
I feel guilty admitting I was disappointed that these women who chose to leave the promotions they worked so hard to achieve, and then I thought: Even if you are qualified, maybe even are the smartest, best, and hardest-working employee at your company or within your department, why would you want to stay in an environment that doesn’t value you as a leader and employee. The upside is that these colleagues just didn’t accept sexism or condone the sexual harassment that is still the norm for far too many men in power today.
So, how do we fight sexism in the workplace?
To their credit, some organizations try to combat workplace sexism through training programs and policies that favor gender equality in the workplace. But, the jury is still out on the long-term effectiveness of such initiatives.
Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor, conducted a survey finding that diversity sensitivity and training may be a good first step but, according to her research, “This awareness…can help people reflect on how to redesign processes so they more effectively counter biases. But others’ research shows that diversity training alone is ineffective in countering biases that taint decisions in organizations.”
It is becoming more evident that sexism in the workplace is getting the attention of corporate America and top management and boards, particularly in more progressive organizations. But the move toward eradicating, or at least significantly reducing, gender bias in its most insidious form is slow. In the meantime, what can we women do to counter its effects on them?
Of course, report egregious examples of workplace sexism to Human Resources and leadership. But, not all examples will rise to that level. When those are encountered, they should not go unaddressed either.
At the very least, they can be treated as infantile remarks – the kind an 8 year-old nephew makes when he sees a nude photograph – with a rolling of the eyes and “really?” or “I can’t believe you just said” comment.
When someone remarks that you or a female colleague is being “emotional,” you might remind him that your colleague is “passionate” about the subject, contrasting it with his rather passive interest…perhaps he should not be included among those working on the project, presentation or strategy development.
One very effective way to call out someone making an offensive, sexist statement is to make him explain to those present what he means by it.
These are, of course short-term fixes at best. How can women both raise management consciousness and combat gender bias and sexism in the workplace? There are at least two ways in which women can “fight back.”
First, “e pluribus unum (out of many, one).” This is a collective way to support those on the receiving end of sexism, and to offer potential organizational ways to identify and combat it.
By coming together, women can support each other and present a clear, unified voice to guide management in an unthreatening manner. It is a way to recognize sexism when you see it and formulate recommended corrective measures to management.
But, it isn’t just a matter of coming together in a “bitching session.” It is a place to share experiences and formulate a way to identify sexist situations and present these examples to the organization…even present potential ways to address this challenge (have you read the book or seen the movie “Hidden Figures”?).
The second approach is an individual one that each woman has to develop for herself.
Keep in touch with colleagues from other organizations, even former classmates. And, don’t forget social media. Membership in LinkedIn groups and other forums will let you know you are not alone and may even provide insights into what other organizations are doing.
I have written before about, and strongly believe in the necessity of, finding a sponsor who can guide, critique, and help move a career in the right direction for leadership and career success.
What both mentors and sponsors have to do with addressing workplace sexism cannot be underestimated and should be embraced as important mechanisms for both combatting this problem and moving a woman’s career ahead.
What I find fascinating is that this current generation of women is feeling empowered to stand up and shout about sexism and gender bias. But I can’t stop thinking just how much those women would have achieved if they hadn’t been told that their job “was always intended to be performed by a man”.
There is a reason Hidden Figures has been one of the top-grossing films and Academy Award nominee: beyond great performances, this is a story of empowerment, of black women overcoming the double barriers of race and gender.
The entire movie sends a clear message: when it comes to driving for success, neither skin color nor gender should matter. The only thing that can make a difference is performance, the great equalizer!
Join us on March 9, 2017 for the season premiere of Aspire Ascend's Wine, Women, & Knowledge Networking Event celebrating National Women’s History month. This event will feature a dynamic panel led by three successful, accomplished women:
Barbara McCormack, Vice President of Education at the Newseum, Suzanne Turner, CEO Turner4D an innovative public affairs firm, and Nicole Quiroga, General Manager Telemundo TV. They will lead the discussion on the state of women in leadership.
Wine, Women & Knowledge is a valuable networking program that also provides opportunity to connect with other Aspire Ascend women who live or work in the Greater Washington metropolitan area– and enjoy some great wines and amazing hors d'oeuvres while you're at it.
Join us to celebrate National Women's History month and the role women have played in the workforce as well as the path they paved for women in leadership today.
-Tickets are limited. For more information, click here
“If you think it’s hard to start a business, try it as a woman!”
While women are a growing force in American entrepreneurship, they still face daunting obstacles to success, many unique to women. Once considered a man’s domain the tide has shifted: more than 9 million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly 8 million people and generating $1.8+ trillion in sales, according to 2016 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
Think about these numbers for a moment. Yet in spite of these impressive numbers, women often face unique challenges not typically shared by their male counterparts. Issues such as: sex discrimination in lending or attracting investors, juggling the demands of running both a business and a household; lack of equal opportunities in certain industries; and many times the lack of a support network.
Most women I have counseled who want to begin their own business look first to their own savings to fund that enterprise. Men tend to look for investors or other forms of “external” funding.
Why don’t women begin the search for capital by looking beyond their own checkbooks?
The response I most frequently hear is that they don’t go to outside sources because they believe a woman will be turned down or not be taken seriously by the (mostly) men who are making the funding decisions. That feeling is also shared by members of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) who, in a recent survey, said the first place its members look for business capital is their personal savings. They believe they will be denied credit or other funding access because of their gender.
Here’s a tip that may help you find funding. Look for funding where you may already have a network you’re not aware of. For instance, check the alumni directory of your college (or other directory of an organization you belong to). Is there someone there who can open a door for you or, better yet, is in the business of funding start-ups?
Some women entrepreneurs I’ve coached and worked with exhibit the “superwoman syndrome.” They try to do it all. I’ve worked with a few of these “superwomen”, and some of them can actually pull off that high-wire act. …..for a while.
Then something gives.
A friend of mine, a senior-level executive at a major technology firm, was on the “superwoman” track…very successful in business with an equally successful husband. The couple made a joint decision to not have children. Instead they poured their passion into their careers.
Highly regarded in her field and travelling around the world, she and her husband met the highest-level executives and government leaders. They attended and hosted the best events. When they were in the same town at the same time, they even attended them together!
The stress of staying on that treadmill finally got to her…most likely to both of them. They’re now divorced. When I see her, she is unhappy and filled with self-doubt.
The sad truth is. No one can be all things to all people in their lives and do it all successfully. That doesn’t make you a top performer in all or maybe any of your roles. So don’t try. It doesn’t make you a successful business owner (or executive). The fact is, trying to do it all only increases your stress level and affects your health.
Although the number of women business owners is growing, there aren’t enough of them to serve as role models and business mentors for other women with the same aspirations. This lack of a business advisor or mentoring network is a big difference between male and female entrepreneurs.
Inc. Magazine reports that 48% of women founders report that a lack of available advisors and mentors limits their professional growth.
The woman who aspires to own her own business must seek out mentors and role models with whom to build relationships and get guidance. So, where does a businesswoman look?
Social media is a good place to begin. There are a growing number of online “communities” that offer guidance, opportunities to build networks, even potential funding sources. And, of course, they can be an excellent source of inspirational success stories to model.
Find other women with the same aspirations and facing the same issues. Join professional associations and make the time to attend professional networking functions for senior-level women and entrepreneurs. Building that strong business will help you through the inevitable tough times.
According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, fear of failure is at the top of the list of women who start businesses. But – here come those role models – you will find that most successful entrepreneurs (and this goes for men as well as women) have failed it least once, and probably numerous times before they achieve success. Ask any successful entrepreneur and they will tell you about their failures and how it made them what they are today
You will make mistakes. We all do. Yes, I make mistakes as well. The real question is how you will respond. Learning from the mistake, making the course correction and moving on is a good deal healthier and more productive than beating yourself up and letting self-doubt begin to occupy your thinking.
Stay healthy. Try to build a routine that balances work with appropriate exercise nutrition and sleep and interaction with others in your life not directly involved in your business.
And, remember: building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Set reasonable and achievable expectations for yourself and your funders. Put measurements in place to see how you’re doing and don’t be afraid to make the necessary adjustments if you begin to stray off course. And try to remember the reason you wanted to run your own business in the first place.
So, build a network you can depend on for ideas, guidance and support; stay focused and positive; make a healthy lifestyle a priority.
All of this will help you build and sustain the confidence, contacts and collateral needed to ride the entrepreneurial experience to a successful business.
Join us on February 22, 2017 for the season premiere of Aspire Ascend's Remarkable Woman program and get up close and personal with Nancy Roman, President & CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. The series is designed to profile a “remarkable woman” who has achieved success, influenced others or left an indelible mark on society for other women.
Nancy Roman, who is one of the 2016 "Women Who Mean Business" honorees, has had an international career that has spanned journalism, business, U.S. government, Wall Street and the United Nations-- all of which has prepared her for the Food Bank. Her most recent past position was on the leadership team of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. During her time there, Nancy helped create flagship partnerships with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and many others. Bringing that entrepreneurial spirit to the Food Bank, Nancy has continued to build public and private partnerships since she became CEO in 2013.
This is a truly remarkable opportunity to meet this accomplished woman executive who is making a difference for over half a million people each year in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area.
-Tickets are limited. For more information, click here
"Stress, Your Business Partner"
My recently posted story in Thrive Global
You finally made it to the c-suite. It’s the job you’ve been seeking your entire career. It gives you the authority to get things done, it’s validation that you are making a difference, it rewards your belief in your values, and it is awfully nice to have the perquisites that go with the office.
But, there are other, negative, perks that seem to come with the territory as well.
The workload you felt at times was crushing on the way to the c-suite has increased now that you’ve arrived. There is no “honeymoon period!” The little time you thought you had before is now completely gone. And, the political minefields you carefully had to navigate on the journey to the corner office now extend over the horizon.
A lot is riding on your shoulders. Mistakes are now magnified with consequences far greater for the organization and they touch more careers than before.
Waiting for you in your new c-suite office among the congratulatory messages and bouquets is another “gift.” STRESS. Welcome to the CEO suite and the loneliest job in the business!
There is no c-suite “owners’ manual,” but there are things you can do to recognize and deal with the additional stress executive leaders experience. And, make no mistake, that stress is heightened if you are a woman. Stress can take a tremendous toll and lead to illness, depression and, in extreme cases even lead to suicide
Many female CEOs experience stressful work situations because of a constant sense of having their confidence undermined by men and are put in situations where they have to continuously prove themselves in the workplace. Women have also taken on more responsibilities at work while also retaining their responsibilities at home. That doubling of things on women’s plates is a huge stress accelerator.
Whether your stress is due to daily organizational or financial matters, communications challenges, time-management and c-suite obligations, or work-life balance issues, identifying and addressing it (or them) will help you successfully get through the day, meet your obligations and maintain your health — mental and physical.
Stress and its partner, burn out, do not occur overnight and their warning signs can be subtle, so you have to be self-aware and pay close attention to potential “red flags.”
Here are a few things you can check that will help you identify your level of stress and whether you are burning out.
It is not difficult to understand why leaders can feel isolated. There are few people they can trust to “speak truth to power.” It generally is not someone in their organization or on their management team, who might believe his/her career progression could be affected by such action. But, finding someone with whom you can speak honestly and who will provide honest feedback — a former c-suite executive who has worked in a similar organization or who sits on a comparable board, or an executive coach, is important in combatting isolation.
There are also some practical things we all can do to relieve stress and defeat burnout.
Face it head on. “If the source of the stress is something that’s being ignored, deal with directly, “ says Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Stress primarily comes from not taking action over something that you can have some control over. As soon as you can identify it and do whatever it is that you are going to do to start to address that situation (make the phone call or send off an e-mail) — even if it’s not solved — the fact that you’re addressing it dramatically reduces some of the stress that might come from it.
Find A Quiet Place. When you are feeling overwhelmed, go to a quiet place… some corporations now have “meditation” rooms and if all else fails, maybe a bathroom. You’re the CEO; you have your own bathroom. Hey, it works for Oprah!
Take a Break and Move Away From the Desk. Sometimes, stepping away and taking a break is the best strategy. You just might see things differently and in a new light…and you just might come away with new insights.
Get Your Sleep. I can’t tell you enough how sleep or the lack of sleep can make a difference in your day! Sleep and productivity are linked and you need to make it a priority.
Create a list of priorities and plan ahead. Identify the most important things you have to accomplish in a given day and focus your activities on those priorities.
Promote Open Communications. Make sure you’re engaging in a dialog with your employees; facilitate flexibility in workplace policies so your people don’t burn out. It’s bad for your company, and just plain bad for everyone!
Delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself. Delegating is also a way you can identify future organizational leaders and maybe come up with new ways to meet old challenges.
Be mindful of work-life balance. Carve out time away from work to maintain that balance. If you don’t have a management team that can support an occasional time out for you, you may have other organizational issues to address.
Build in time to exercise. Give stress physical release or find other ways to maintain your health and diminish stress. Walk to meetings instead of taking an elevator, take a few “power naps” during the day or find something else that works for you.
Understand that every business — and every life — has its ups and downs, its good days and bad. But that doesn’t mean it gets to take over your life. When handled correctly, stress can be contained, minimized and conquered.
By better managing the daily c-suite stresses, you will become more productive, build better relationships, balance work and life, and become a better leader. It might also help you enjoy life more.