Leadership Recommendation….MOOCs

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This is an unpaid, unsolicited, yet passionate recommendation for a leadership tool I suggest for all leaders looking to improve their skills at work, in the community and at home. The tool is a MOOC, or a “massive open online course”. More details on these below.

There is one particular course I would like to draw to your attention. That is:

Women In Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change

from Professor Bilimoria of Case Western Reserve. This is a course all leaders, women and men should investigate. Today. Here is the link:

https://www.coursera.org/learn/women-in-leadership/home/welcome

In this course, Professor Bilimoria does an extraordinary job of traversing the many aspects of women in leadership. The course is divided into 5 weeks of work, each week covering a different topic in leadership. For each week, there are videos (lectures), readings (incredible – worth checking out just for this), and discussion prompts. Throughout the lessons, the professor also encourages reflection exercises and homework assignments designed to inspire you to look within and internalize the lesson. There is also a quiz for each week – this is not available unless you pay the fee for the certificate. I found that I lost nothing by skipping these quizzes.

 

The entire course is worthwhile to all leaders, regardless of gender, but I’d like to point out just a few topics that are important for men and women to consider.

In Week 2, Professor Bilimoria discusses the current state of women in leadership. She discusses the different barriers that women face in the workplace, including organizational, interpersonal, and individual barriers. All of this is thoroughly and thoughtfully researched, yet I would expect that some people would be surprised by what they hear! She discusses the difference between 1st generation bias (overt sexism, harassment, things you can clearly identify as bias) and 2nd generation bias (lack of access to networks, gendered work and career paths, and the ‘double bind’ women face). It is critical that we all become aware of these barriers in our workplaces as this awareness is the first critical step to rectifying it.

In Week 4, the topic is Leadership Tools for Women, and here the professor gives important information and advice on negotiation. While I believe in the statistic that shows that women do not negotiate at the same level as men, I also believe that there are plenty of men who could make use of this advice.

I want to encourage anyone and everyone to take a look at this course. Listen to a few of the lectures. If you are feeling motivated, answer some of the discussion prompts. If you are an over-achiever, answer some of the reflection questions she asks. All of this information is important for both men and women to hear, to think about, and to discuss with others. I hope you will take a look, and then share with others.

A bit about MOOCs:

If you have not come across these before, you need to go check them out. Right now. MOOCs offer college-level courses from major universities (Princeton, Stanford, etc.), covering an unimaginable number of topics. And the best part is they are free! Most of the websites offer paid options – you can earn a certificate for a small fee, sign up for a program of classes for a larger fee, or even earn an online degree for a much more substantial fee. In most cases, however, the classes can be audited for no charge.

I have found every course I have taken to be of extremely high quality, and in each case I got out of the class exactly what I put into it. If the subject matter was not of intense interest to me, I watched the videos until I got what I needed, and then moved on – no problem.

Here are links to the two sites I have used and highly endorse:

Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/

edX: https://www.edx.org/

Take a look – you may learn something new!

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Thursday!

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“I’m just too….” (subtle, inherent, insidious bias)

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Of late, I have been interviewing successful female leaders in the Financial Services industry. I have asked them to share their journeys as they have navigated their careers, both within the Financial Services industry, and outside. This has been an exciting project, and I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing women. The leaders I spoke with hold positions at all levels of the organization from manager to Executive Vice President. They have careers spanning everything from 2 years to 35 years. They have worked for over 35 different companies. They are highly educated, highly intelligent, driven, and by all standards, exceptionally successful.

My main focus in talking with them was to understand what barriers and supports these women might have encountered as they climbed the corporate ladder. What I came away with were hours and hours of amazing stories, and some lessons I’d love to share. I do not have explicit permission to share the stories (I was collecting them for a different project), so I will speak in general terms, and will do all I can to protect their identities. The plan is a series of posts, each dedicated to a lesson I learned from these generous, brave, inspirational women.

Trend #1: I am just too….

As I spoke with these women about challenges in the workplace, the conversation would invariably turn to failures. These failures covered everything from a missed promotion, to a project failure to a simple meeting gone awry. Each time one of these perceived failures came up, we would dive into the why. Why had we failed? What was the true cause of the lack of success? The answers were, as you might imagine, as diverse as the women themselves. Many of these will be the subject of future blog posts.

Some mentioned politics. Others mentioned a lack of resources, whether it was human or material. Some mentioned ambiguous requirements and expectations. Most of the time, it was a combination of all of it. We are complex beings!

What came up, however, in every single conversation, was an inherent personality characteristic of the woman herself. Sometimes the women ascribed this characteristic to herself (‘I was just too___’) and sometimes she related that others had ascribed this to her (‘He/she said I was just too ___’). It was the rarely the single root cause of the perceived failure and most women would probably not have attributed much significance to it.

I might have seen little significance in it myself, and instead simply seen it as the individual woman bucking normal stereotypes, had it not come up so. darn. frequently. And had the qualities not been so similar. The list of these characteristics is extraordinary, and I offer them here as direct quotes:

“I’m too aggressive”

“I was too outspoken”

“I’m too bold”

“I am too direct”

“I was too honest”

“I’m just too impatient”

“I’m too perky”

“I’m too rude”

“I am too stubborn”

This is just a sampling…the list goes on and on. In a vacuum, these words are powerful and most are the mark of a successful leader. In each case, however, the women were using these words to describe the reason for a failure. This is not good!

A true leader is bold, is direct, is honest, and yes, sometimes even aggressive and impatient and rude too! A leader needs to be strong in order to lead! The more we ascribe negative connotations to these words when talking about women, the more we impede her ability to lead effectively!

My ask is this: If you ever hear your inner voice say something like “I’m just too….” or “She is just too….” STOP. Stop and ask yourself if you are ascribing a stereotype that is just not appropriate in the situation.

Inherent bias, biases we don’t even know we have, are exceedingly hard to detect. The more conscious we are of them, the better the chance we have of eliminating them!

Stay positive and smile! And have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend!

Back to School…Finding the balance?

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I have a question: How do they do it? How do all of these families manage to get their kids involved in activities like, say, after-school enrichment that requires pick-up by 3:15? Or soccer practice that begins at 5:30?  Or the game starts at 6pm on the other side of town?

I’ve done some thinking on this issue, and it comes back to the idea of balance.  Or a better word – prioritization. Sometimes you can leave work early. Sometimes you cannot. Sometimes making the choice is extraordinarily difficult. Then there are the times where the decision is not so clear, and it is those moments we have to look at how we balance and prioritize our lives.

It is that time of year. The kids are back in school and the newness of starting a fresh year has worn off. The bus schedules have been deciphered, the noise of the alarm clock is now familiar (not that we got the summer off, but hearing it go off that early?). Homework has begun in earnest.

Along with all of that the evening activities have begun.  For us, that means soccer practice two times each week for two of the kids, play practice, drum lessons, saxophone lessons, voice lessons, gymnastics, freestyle gymnastics, running club…. Even with all of this, I am still wracked with guilt over the idea that I am not doing enough to expose my children to what they need to be successful in life.

On top of all of this, my husband and I have our lives, and we are still living them. We both have demanding careers. I sit on the board of the local Zonta Club, I serve on the steering committee (and a few other committees)  of a leadership giving circle for the local United Way, my husband is a semi-active member of the local guitar scene, and we are working on forming a family band.

As if that is not enough, I am back in school myself.

So the idea of balance is a funny word in this context. We, like a large number of families especially at this time of year are too busy to worry about balance. We just keep moving forward, on to the next activity, coordinating on the fly. This is not the ideal way to live, but there is not a single ball we are willing to drop. In fact, we keep looking for more.

But the lesson is to look for those opportunities where you have a choice. Do I really need to work late tonight? Does my son really need to participate in that activity? Be intentional about how you spend those moments, and then learn a lesson from me – let go of the guilt. Guilt is not a productive emotion, and should be relegated to the trash heap. Cherish every moment, both at work and at home, and cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. This is how you attain “balance.”

And keep it positive and smile!

Happy Friday!

Diversity must be intentional

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In the last few days, the Wall Street Journal has published three articles on diversity that have caught my attention. These types of stories are becoming more and more common as we all become more comfortable talking about diversity out loud and in normal conversation. This is encouraging! We need to keep it going.

The first article, Some Firms Push for Gender Parity at Board Level, published in Tuesday’s business section (8.16.16), talks about the steps some firms have taken to recruit and place more women and other minorities on their boards. The author of the article takes a positive position on this and highlights several companies who have implemented specific strategies to increase diversity on their boards. Some of these tactics might be a bit controversial, but the reason for the effort is not – they want their boards to mirror their customer base.

The most important sentence to highlight is this, a quote from Karen Horn, chairman of the National Association of Corporate Directors, “The system produces white male candidates unless board directors deliberately do something different,“(emphasis added). Diversity must be intentional.

The second article, published yesterday  (8.17.16), is entitled Facebook’s Point System Fails to Close Diversity Gap. This article discusses the attempt by Facebook to hire minorities in an effort to better reflect their user base. Despite the fact that their current strategy does not seem to be working well, what they do recognize is this: doing things the way they always have will not yield results, and diversity requires intentional actions.

The last article I want to mention may seem out of place, but I love the way it shows the universal need for diversity. This article was also published on August 17th and is titled “Genetic Studies’ Lack of Diversity May Lead to Misdiagnoses, Researchers Say.” This article points out that genetic studies must use subjects that accurately represent the public or risk causing harm to certain populations. In this case, diversity must be intentional.

One final note on all this. As with any online article there are comments. For some reason, with articles on diversity these comments take on a tone that can be highly unpleasant. The main argument, when you can find it, is that we should always always pick the best candidate for the job. Sounds great, right? I don’t think you could find anyone who would argue with that! If only it were that easy.

For one reason or another, and a topic for another day, the best minority candidates are not being considered for top jobs along with the traditional white male candidates. I take severe issue with the idea that insisting on including women (or other minorities) in the interview/hiring process somehow means that the best candidate will not be chosen. We just need to be intentional about giving her the chance!

Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!