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What Buzz Are You Creating? Mastering Your Personal Brand

Picture yourself in a meeting with one other person you have never met before. You were each selected from different offices and departments to co-chair a committee at your company. After an hour of intense dialogue with this “new to you” colleague, you each return to your respective locations. Eager to share the experience of the meeting with you, your co-chair takes a moment to talk about you with two of your mutual colleagues. How do you think your new co-chair would describe you in three to five adjectives? Would the first thing that comes to your co-chair’s mind be your strategic thinking ability, your easy collaboration style, being knowledgeable about building high-performance teams, or…?

There is no right or wrong answer to this exercise, but ask yourself this: is the impression I am creating with my daily interactions the one I want to create? It’s important to think about this carefully since each day and with every interaction, you are either intentionally or inadvertently sowing the seeds for a trickle-down “buzz” about you that in essence becomes your personal brand. These conversations about you happen in all kinds of key forums that can influence your career success, from executive conversations and talent reviews to presentations, job interviews, speaking engagements, panels, emails, and social media. That’s a lot of potential influence, so you don’t want to leave it to chance.

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Cracking the Code on Gender Equity

Why have so many companies failed to make much progress when it comes to achieving gender parity in their senior ranks? Perhaps even more important than looking back, what really needs to happen next to grow the pool of female talent at the executive ranks, so that we can finally achieve gender equity at the C-level and in our boardrooms?

I get asked these questions in almost every meeting I have with SHAMBAUGH’s clients when it comes to strategizing about how to improve gender equity in their company. While the solution isn’t simple, this quote from Albert Einstein can guide us in the right direction: “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

With this wisdom in mind, it’s time that we crack the ceiling of only around one-third of women—34 percent—in senior management roles, and in the tech industry in particular that reportedly has only 11 percent of women execs at Fortune 500 companies. (Some tech firms are pushing hard to do better than this—I just learned that SAP reached its goal to have one in four management positions at the company filled by women—yet we still have a long way to go.)

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Changing the Narrative on Women in Leadership

It’s often said that the dearth of women at the C-level is due to a pipeline problem. But according to a recent New York Times article, “Why Women Aren’t C.E.O.s, According to Women Who Almost Were,” the pipeline isn’t the issue.

In the piece, author Susan Chira emphasizes how women who aspire to reach the senior ranks in corporations or institutions continue to experience resistance despite their clear capabilities and proven capacity to get results. After interviewing dozens of female CEOs, would-be chief execs, and other professionals, Chira finds that “many senior women in business are concluding that the barriers are more deeply rooted and persistent than they wanted to believe.” In other words, old narratives are at least partly to blame.

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Women’s Events Spark Shared Solutions for Gender Equality

Last week saw the latest in action-oriented events in what I and many others globally have dubbed the Year of the Woman. Like last January’s Women’s March, the International Women’s Day and “A Day Without a Woman” events (both held on March 8) played a vital role in galvanizing women and giving them a collective voice to raise issues of gender balance and inclusion.

Hand in hand with these initiatives, though, we need both female and male leaders who are willing to strategically build on the momentum of these important efforts. At SHAMBAUGH, in light of the issues that these women’s events continue to raise, we’re putting extra emphasis on encouraging women to focus on being bold, rising up, and stepping into leadership.

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How Organizations Can Engage Men in Advancing Women’s Leadership

When confronting the frustrating challenge of the dearth of women at the executive ranks, it’s tempting to point to men as the problem. Yet the model of Integrated Leadership shows that on the contrary, when properly engaged by their companies, men can play an important role in the solution.

Interestingly, while men as a group have spent the most time in senior leadership and comprise close to 80 percent of the executive ranks, companies typically don’t see the potential of harnessing men’s experience to help advance their female leaders. Many organizations have invested plenty of time, money, and resources into diversity initiatives and women’s leadership/networking programs, yet this hasn’t truly moved the needle at the rate that is needed for the 21st century. HR generally has sole accountability for these efforts and results, rather than considering the significant role that men—who, in most cases, constitute the most powerful stakeholder group in large corporations—could play if working in partnership with women and organizations.

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Why More Women Don’t Advance to Senior Leadership, and What to Do About It

While writing my books Make Room For Her and It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor as well as serving as a leadership development coach, I have met hundreds of high-potential women who are eager to take on more leadership responsibility. These bright, hardworking professionals exhibit many of the characteristics of high achievement that companies seek in leaders. What’s more, many organizations have developed a robust pipeline of competent women with clear leadership ability, after investing in training and development for these potential female candidates.
 
Despite this optimistic scenario, I’ve noticed that when women reach this moment of truth that holds the key to their advancement to higher-level leadership, something happens. Maybe they decide not to apply for the job, receive the responsibility but not the executive title, or just get passed over. What exactly is going on that is keeping women from moving up?

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Women Helping Women

This fall, I spoke at a leadership conference in San Francisco and was fortunate while I was there, to reconnect with a dear friend, Nancy Hayes. Nancy served as an executive in IBM for many years and is now the co-founder of MoolaHoop (www.moola-hoop.com) – a company whose mission is to help women owned businesses and entrepreneurs gain the tools and resources they need to grow their businesses. Nancy’s efforts are not only purposeful but they are also timely. Women owned businesses represent 30% of all new businesses in the US each year and they are growing at twice the rate of male owned businesses. Yet, when you look at funding, they get only 5% of venture capital funds and 12% of investment banking.

I asked Nancy how she and her partner actually help their female clients and she said, “I think we help women have a breakthrough by helping them figure out how to talk about their business/goal/mission in a way that others can relate to and then we show them how to build a community of following (social media/customer set) that will help grow their business. Helping people to clearly communicate is one of the biggest advantages you can give them.”

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Gender Balance ≠ Gender Equity

In my work with organizations across the country, I find there is a common misconception that having a gender-balanced workforce automatically leads to gender equity. The reality is that simply having a balance of men and women within an organization or on a leadership team does not mean that their strengths and skills are being equally utilized.

Harvard Business School discovered this same reality, as described in a recent article in the New York Times titled “Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity.” Despite solid numbers of female students and faculty, Harvard found these women were not performing at a level commensurate with their potential. Female students entered the program with similar test scores and grades as men, but then consistently underperformed their male counterparts in classes where participation accounted for close to 50 percent of their grade. Administrators found that because the women tended to be less assertive in class than the men, professors had an unintentional gender bias that was reflected in the grades. Similarly, these unintentional gender biases had a negative impact on tenure among junior female professors. Students commonly perceived female professors to be less knowledgeable, experienced and authoritative than their male counterparts.

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