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Women leaders battle strong career headwinds

Wednesday, July 27, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Dorria Ball of Global Ballance Group, Sabrina Wiewel of Hallmark, Nicole Wright of Acosta, Valerie Oswalt of  Mondelēz International, Peggy Hazard of Korn Ferry and Marie Quintana discussed overcoming career hurdles.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CALIFORNIA -- Women face strong career headwinds, but they can accelerate progress toward gender equality by having difficult conversations and boldly supporting each other’s ambitions, four female executives told attendees at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 27, 2016.

NEW Board member Dorria Ball, president and founder of Global Ballance Group; Valerie Oswalt, president, U.S. Sales for Mondelēz International; Marie Quintana, president of Velocity Group; Sabrina Wiewel, senior vice president, chief customer officer of Hallmark Greetings at Hallmark Cards Inc.; and Nicole Wright, mandate market manager, Acosta, shared the career barriers they've faced at "Stand Together: Why Women Must Support Women.” The discussion was facilitated by Peggy Hazard, associate client partner at Korn Ferry.

"As women, we face similar career headwinds, but we also face headwinds of race, sexual orientation, culture and other [groups] and individual headwinds,” Hazard said.

The diverse panel of women shared their stories and advice for overcoming headwinds that hold women back.

The career headwinds they face

Dorria Ball: “One of the main challenges is getting real feedback. As a woman of color, this can be especially more difficult to overcome. It’s important to know the narrative about you, whether it is credible or not. If you have no idea what people are really saying about you, you can’t begin to address it. We often receive feedback about technical skills and competencies, but the real truths about the things that are holding us back are not typically the technical competencies — they are usually the style and ‘fit’ things typically associated with the nuances of diversity. Getting someone who you have a lot in common with to share honest, stripped down feedback is difficult. Layering in culture race, age, gender or sexual orientation and it’s even more complicated to get to truthful feedback.”

Valerie Oswalt: "The challenge for many women is managing relocation in a dual-career household with kids. Opportunities that don’t require relocation become less available as you advance in your career. I’ve had seven moves, some driven by my career, others driven by my husband. I’ve been open to taking positions cross functionally and roles others weren’t willing to take on, while being present as a mother and wife of a working spouse. I’ve also been in the position to say, ‘Thanks for the opportunity, but it’s not right for me and my family right now. My current situation will change, so let’s continue to have this conversation as time progresses and other opportunities arise.’”

Sabrina Wiewel: "As an Asian American, people judge you and think you have a lot of skills, just because you’re Asian. I must be great at math! Well, not so much. When I broke into the c-suite, I knew I had to become best friends with the CFO, fast. He became an advocate and spent hours teaching me how to talk to the Board and prepare for meetings. [My message is] get to know people and don’t prejudge them and assume they have skills they don’t.”

Nicole Wright: "Speaking as a millennial and woman of color, my obstacles have been a lack of leadership awareness and visibility. I’ve had great managers who have taught me the business, but that doesn’t’ make them great leaders necessarily. Millennials want to be motivated, engaged and challenged. We want to go to work and be excited every day. We want to share our thoughts and be encouraged to think outside the box. But sometimes, I feel that not everyone in management positions understands the importance of also being a great leader, and in these instances we need others to champion for us to get to the next rung on the ladder.”

Marie Quintana: "As a Latina, I see the pressure to conform and not being encouraged to be authentic. Latinas often feel that being Latina is somehow a negative and to succeed they need to fully assimilate. While many Latinas are comfortable talking about leadership skills, many more are uncomfortable about having authentic conversations about the cultural traits that helped them become successful. Not being able to express yourself or having an equal voice as others in the room is a headwind.” 

What we can all do to diminish headwinds

Ball: “When you talk about the power of diversity and getting unique insights and the benefit of experiences others may not have, the opportunity is to ensure that there is a respectful space created for those insights to emerge, exist and for the uniqueness of the differences in all to be nurtured and not forced into conformity.”

Oswalt: “If there is a discussion about someone not in the room about something that is holding that person back, what are we doing to get that issue on the table and help this person [get the development they need]?”

Wiewel: "I’m determined to change the course. I model being a mother and I’m as open as I can be about spending time with my family. I actively mentor 27 people – 20 are women and seven are diverse, from a male member of the LGBT community, a veteran, millennials. But I see it as a reverse mentorship – I ask them to help make me a better leader. Another issue is we don’t often have the right people in our executive meetings. The majority of meetings we do not have representation from millennials or other groups present. We need to get people who are not at the same pay grade or senior level in those meetings. It’s been disruptive, but powerful.”

Wright: "Leaders should get to know millennials on a personal level in order to advocate and support them because many times, managers just focus on the day-to-day business.”

Quintana: “We need to rethink how we mentor, how we build relationships inside and outside our companies. Start by understanding what beliefs others have and how we influence others. It’s important to improve the visibility of Latina managers in our organizations and across the industry.”


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