You know you’ve struck a chord when 300+ women (and a bunch of men) stick around all day to hear powerful women talk about leadership, growing your career and getting and wielding power. It was standing room only for most of the day with an overflow room that was overflowing too.
That’s what happened at Politico’s 2018 Women Rule Summit this week, where women leaders of all ages, ethnicities and industries – from Congress to Corporate America, and from entertainment and entrepreneurship to the global arena – shared stories and lessons learned.
At so many conferences I attend, they revere the rags-to-riches stories, emphasizing the person’s humble beginnings and glamourous accomplishments. These usually leave me annoyed, because they gloss over the messiness of real life.
Refreshingly, the women on these Women Rule panels peeled back the curtain a bit and we heard usable insights and tips. (I wish I’d heard some of it years ago.) Here are some that rose to the surface for me, especially for women in STEM careers, science, technology, engineering and math:
- Don’t take it personally – Gazelle Hashemian – a technology entrepreneur, former telecom executive, trained engineer and investor – said that, when people make condescending or patronizing remarks to you (even in an investor meeting), let it roll off your back. Focus on why you’re there. Don’t give up.
- Be an original – Chevron Vice President of Drilling and Completions, Kimberly McHugh shared her ups and downs of climbing the ladder in the hugely male-dominated energy sector, where she was the only woman in the room and often asked to get coffee or take notes, even when she was a leader. She suggested we each “do” leadership our own way, quoting author John Mason’s, “you were born an original, don’t die a copy.”
3. If you were selected because you’re a woman, own it: McHugh told the story of being challenged by a guy for landing her top leadership role. Her response is a line any woman can borrow: “I may have been selected because I’m a woman, but I stay because I’m good.”
4. “There’s a difference between being reckless and taking a risk,” one of the women on the panel about “Taking Risks, Changing the Narrative” said (I didn’t catch who said it). They suggested a strategy for making a complicated decision that I recommend to my clients too: list the pros and cons (including the intangibles), then weight each one, which gives you a kind of score. Then, think about it and follow your intuition. Oprah has called intuition our “emotional GPS.”
5. “We have to be allowed to fail,” Rhonda Foxx, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC) said. She pointed out that women tend to be dismissed when there is one setback, whereas men seem to be given more chances to get it right. Success is built on a series of failures, and everyone needs permission for trial and error in order to grow.
6. “Progress not perfection,” Foxx added. One of the things that hold women back is trying to be “perfect,” when you need to focus on getting it done the best you can at the moment. Make progress.
7. Wait for results to show up: Valerie Camillo, Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club, who achieved success in part by improving their technology and data analytics, said to not leave your job or initiative too soon, but to wait for results to come in so you can prove your success. She suggested staying at least four or five years in a job. (She’s leaving to become President of Operations for the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center, after five years with the Nationals.
8. Be prepared: Hashemian stressed one of my favorite points, that when you are well-prepared, you perform better, even if you don’t “need” everything you prepared. I find it builds confidence, which is worth its weight in gold because of how it improves your performance. Your presence is stronger, your responses are more clear and definitive and you own your space more effectively.
9. Take control of your finances, one step at a time: Alli McCartney – Managing Director, Private Wealth Management Alignment Partners at UBS Financial Services – said “women abdicate responsibility for their finances” until it’s too late. Women need to step up and own their finances and their worth today, with discipline, “before there’s a necessity.” She suggested doing one thing every month that makes you more comfortable with your finances.
- Build a board of directors for your career: Freda Lewis-Hall, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Pfizer (pharmaceutical giant) suggested you build this board “deliberately” and that you help them help you. It consists of: (1) mentors, “who know your heart” and can help you make decisions for your life, not just your career; (2) sponsors “who will put their name on the line for you” and pitch you for specific opportunities; (3) coaches who will “help you close specific gaps” in your people and technical skills; and (4) role models, who you choose to emulate, but may not know personally.
McCartney of UBS stressed that women need to help each other, getting measurable value from leveraging community (this Summit called breaks “Community Building Breaks”). She said women need to help each other more and do so in a “specific, transparent and tactical way.” Hashemian said it succinctly, “Ask for help and offer help.”
These sessions were more appealing than the usual conference model of hyper-successful people spewing platitudes. Because these sessions addressed real life, the messy moments most people don’t like to talk about – but that can make all the difference.