Are you your sister’s keeper?
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Tara Frank
I had the pleasure of speaking at the NAFE 2014 Leadership
Summit. Of the many stimulating conversations we had throughout the day, the
one that really stuck with me was whether and how women help each other
succeed in the workplace.
We talked a great deal about mentors vs. sponsors, when to
seek support and when to be sought, and how to ready yourself for the next level
by being clear about what you want to do, why you want to do it and how you are
uniquely skilled to contribute.
I found myself nodding my head through most of this ongoing
dialogue. There were countless insightful comments made, and I agreed with most
of what was shared. But this notion of whether women adequately support each
other at work left me a bit restless. I still can’t quite shake it.
Related: "The 5 mistakes women make when communicating"
I don’t know about you, but most (if not all) of my
breakthrough opportunities were thoughtfully orchestrated by leaders who
stepped up to advocate for me. They weren’t all women, and the role of men as
sponsors can't be underestimated. That said, as a female who is acutely aware of
the unique complexities inherent in our climb, I feel strongly that it’s not
only my responsibility to help other women thrive at work, it’s also my
Because Hallmark Cards Inc. is in the relationship business, it
makes sense that we would enjoy a disproportionate number of women in
leadership positions. This makes our culture very supportive for the most part,
but I’m increasingly conscious of the role I must play in raising my own
"sister’s keeper” high bar. How can I help women with an unusual spark of
talent, intelligence and passion chart their course through what can seem like
an unknowable maze of choices and opportunities? For bright, talented women,
succeeding at work shouldn’t feel like a labyrinth. And if we want more
balanced decision-making at the top, those of us who can help open doors should
be more than happy to hang proverbial traffic signs on the walls when we can.
If you’re a female executive in a company that could use
more women in senior positions, I hope you will take this as a personal
challenge. I realize you can’t sponsor everyone, but I’m confident there is a
woman in your organization who has incredible gifts to give, and just hasn’t
"been found” by an advocate who can help maximize her potential. If you need
help building a case for the benefits of more women in leadership positions, I
encourage you to pick up The Female Vision by Sally Helgeson and Julie
Johnson — a quick read that clearly explains the long-term advantage of the
female approach to vision and strategy and outlines how that approach brings
needed balance to male-dominated cultures.
On being "kept”
If you need a sponsor and want to know how to get "in
position," consider the advice of the wonderful senior women
from 3M, Cargill, Boston Scientific, Allianz Life Insurance Company and
General Mills, who had this to say (paraphrased) during the NAFE executive
- Focus on consistently strong performance. Translation: Be
excellent in all things, at all times.
- Take full advantage of "springboard” moments. Recognize
when a presentation, a project or a simple assignment can provide the
treasured opportunity to demonstrate your leadership in profound ways to people
who need to know you. Take no chances. Swing for the fences.
- Know and represent yourself well. According to NAFE President Betty Spence, you should be able to convey your vision, your professional
aspirations and your differentiated value in two minutes. If you can’t do that
yet, congratulations — you are the lucky winner of a homework assignment.
- Raise your hand. I added this one. Is there a special
initiative under way? Employee resource group leadership position available? Business problem that
needs to be solved, but hasn't been owned yet? The best way to reach the top is
to lead your way there, before you’re even asked.
Some women have had negative experiences with other women
leaders. One young professional at the conference asked why established women
leaders are so threatened by emerging women leaders in the workplace. She went
on to explain that she’s received more support from men than women and her
experiences left her with a definite impression of the risks and benefits of
reliance on one or the other.
I realize this dynamic still exists, but there are increasingly more women
who are ready and willing to help others along, and the ones who aren’t should
be seen as individuals who have other priorities, rather than symbols of
systemic non-support. Believing other women don’t want to help you is more
unhelpful than the unhelpful women themselves! This belief will isolate you,
and prevent you from forming relationships with people who can nurture you,
guide you and stand up for you when the time is right.
We need each other. Our businesses need us, too — and not just because "it’s
the right thing to do.”
As vice president,
multicultural strategy for Hallmark Cards Inc., Tara Jaye Frank is responsible
for partnering across product development, marketing and retail to drive growth
with an increasingly diverse consumer base. She was the youngest person in
Hallmark’s history to be promoted into executive management and its first
African American female vice president.
Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those
of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of
Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.
Your Career blogs