Last fall I attended the Leadership Lab for Women in STEM, and a month or so ago I got an email from the University Administration saying that they had reserved a table at the Woman of Power Conference and some of us would be able to go; I replied right away that I was interested and so… yesterday, off I went!
Very grateful to have the opportunity! I was nervous about parking downtown and rush hour traffic… also I was still recovering from a bad night sleep on Sunday so not in the most receptive mood. Fortunately the automotive gods smiled upon me! Traffic was busy, but steady and right when I turned off of the Freeway on East 9th I saw the Willard Park Garage, $8 all day earlybird special. BAM! In I went, found a spot! Easy walking distance to the hotel. Hardest part of the morning commute was finding the entrance into the hotel, heh, I approached from the back, apparently, and had to circle the building until I found the way in.
Debbie Fatica was there, which was great, very good to see some of my friends from the Leadership Lab there. There were some really great speakers. Key Bank was well represented by their executives; Barb Smith SVP gave a great speech in the morning and the Keynote was given by Trina Evans, Chief of Staff and Director Corporate Center, KeyCorp. She was really inspirational! A lot of good humor and good advice, the sort of woman you dream of having for a boss!
I enjoyed the talk by Ebony Yeboah-Amankwah from FirstEnergy, she really called us all to task. It doesn’t matter how many times you say you have a commitment to advancing women and minorities if there are no results. She extolled us to not be afraid to say diversity was a factor in a hiring decision. It is a legitimate thing to look for that helps your business, own it. My thought was that yeah, they’re going to assume it was a factor anyway, why not own it and be honest. Yes, we did pick this candidate because, outside their other qualifications, they enhanced our diversity. Enhancing our diversity is a proven tactic to enhance our business. Studies show diverse populations are more productive and more creative. Why wouldn’t we want that??
In the “Getting it Done” Panel discussion, I really liked Jackie Dalton’s statements. My notes are a bit fuzzy at this point, I was taking notes on the pages in the program for note taking… alas they went with a glossy full color print so the paper wasn’t taking pen so well. I did switch to a regular notebook for the rest (Glad I brought one!) “We set internal expectations that may not exist externally” and “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough!” In other words; you are going to fail, embrace it. Failure is a part of the process.
In the first break-out session I chose the “Be Bold” track, and I boldly sat in the front row, hee. It was good I did get a spot right away, the room filled up fast and was SRO! I liked all three speakers, though perhaps especially Katherine Brandt who spoke about “Leading in a Male Dominated Industry” could have easily listened to her for another hour. One quote I liked from her at the beginning of the session was “There are good things that come from playing with the boys” She had a lot of frank and straightforward advice. “Gender is not a characteristic of effective leadership” She talked about the attributes of an effective leader and how to develop trust, and talked about the challenges honestly. One of her specific tips was to sit down and listen to your staff. She said it was a very powerful tool. When she took on a new leadership role she met with all of the staff and asked them individually about their position and their job satisfaction. And for the ones who were less than satisfied, she followed up. Just listening and demonstrating that you care is a powerful tool of leadership.
Diane Fusco talked about “Finding your voice” she mentioned the phrases not to use, I think I’m going to make a list for myself. Things like “Just” “actually” “sorry, but” “I could be wrong, but” “does that make sense?”
and Kathleen Buse finished the track talking about “Believing and Achieving” which focused on self-efficacy; a repeat of a lot of what I got in the STEM Leadership Lab, but it was a great refresher and such important information! She listed four ways to develop self-efficacy, two internal: tracking your accomplishments and taking time to renew yourself, and two external: Positive words and Role models. She was right, I do have a need to hear positive feedback… probably more than my male coworkers. I should communicate that to my supervisor.
One quote from the question and answer session I’m taking to heart “Don’t get stopped by one person” They’re just one person. Find another way around.
Lunch was lovely, though I regretted choosing a chair with my back to the stage (I have this thing about not sitting with my back to the door) so I had to turn around away from my food to hear, heh. The food was lovely though, and I devoured it quickly to spend more time listening to the fascinating Trina Evans.
In the afternoon session I chose the “Be the Change” track which started with Roxanne Kaufman Elliott talking about “How to build a rapport with senior managers” Good stuff, but generally not something I was in need of. I think I’m pretty good at building a rapport with people already. For me the secret is just remembering they are also humans like you 😉 Then Ramona Hood talked about “Mastering Tough Conversations” which was the bit I was particularly interested in. She gave some clear tips on setting the groundwork and preparing to have a successful conversation. Listen, be open. “Be able to be curious” Acknowledge their point of view and find something you can connect with in what they say. Keep things neutral, instead of saying “You spoke over me in the meeting” say “I felt that my opinion wasn’t being respected in the meeting when you kept talking” keep the focus on you, not them, so they don’t get defensive. Finally Jeff Barlow presented “Fine Tune Your Voice with Resources and Protection,” he did start with a joke about how it was the first convention he’d ever been at where there was no line for the bathroom at all. We laughed, mad props to him for engaging a room full of women so well and winning our trust as he talked about avenues to get help when things don’t go well. It was a bit dry, HR procedural type talk, but important information.
It was hard to choose the two breakout sessions I would attend and what four I would miss. Other tracks included Win-Win Negotiating, Carry as You Climb, How to be a Mentor, Intentional Career Development, etc.
The closing keynote was by John Skory, President of The Illuminating Company, and it was excellent. He admitted the faults in his company’s demographics and emphasized the importance of moving forward and what they were doing to improve it. He also talked about strategy and that all the well crafted mission statements or vision statements in the world are meaningless if you don’t have action. He called it alignment, that everyone in the organization understands how they contribute to the strategy. It needs to be visible, you need to be agile, accountable and collaborate. The vision should start with the leader, but then the strategy comes from below and the tactical plan should be made by the people who do the work, and they can only make that plan if they understand the vision. Keep everyone informed and involved. He emphasized cadence and pace as more important than a tidy document with well branded templates. He also talked glowingly of the women he’d mentored in the company and the fact that women will not apply for a position if they have 8 out of 10 skills required, while a man may apply if they have 2 or 3 out of ten. I asked him about how to ferret out women candidates for mentorship, promotion and training when women are notoriously bad about asking for such things. He said they don’t wait for them to ask. “We track for high performing women and minorities and we ask them, not the other way around.” which was good to hear. Sounds like he’s got his head screwed on right, as it were.
Outside of the speeches and sessions I had some great conversations, one with a young professional named Victoria about creating common ground with male superiors and coworkers. As she said “The guys can all talk to him about football… I’m the only one he can talk to about gardening, that gives me an advantage.” We also talked about problems with communication and non-verbal communication and simulation and VR. Was a great talk. 🙂
At the end of the day the sun was shining, and crowds dispersed… I kind of wanted to walk around downtown and enjoy the sunshine and architecture, but fear of rush hour traffic took me back to my car and on the road home. I did indeed beat the traffic and got home safe and sound. Also tired and feeling hopeful.