During the financial crisis facing the United States, Sheila Bair, as Chairman of the FDIC, was often the only woman in the room when critical decisions about the future of our country were made. Listen to her recounting aspects of this troubling time on the October 1, 2012 Tavis Smiley PBS Show where she was pitching her new book: Bull by the Horns, Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself.
“You never know if it’s about gender or about something else. Throughout the crisis, I was always being invited to a meeting where the real meeting had already been held. And they’d kind of already made the decision of what they were going to do and this meeting was about convincing me not about having an interactive conversation with me.”
I don’t know about you, but I could really relate as she shared this experience with Tavis. I can’t count the number of times my presence at meetings seemed more about political correctness than as a significant contributor. You’ve probably experienced similar situations yourself.
How did Sheila urge women to respond?
“Young women ask me about this because they have this same sense too: ‘Why are they being excluded?’ You kind of drive yourself crazy wondering if it is about gender or not. I think just accept it as a fact of life. And understand, you’re going to have to work harder and be better prepared and hone your arguments, but don’t give up.
This response was disappointing. Work harder, be better prepared and hone your arguments. How often have we women been told this through the years? I don’t want to sound cynical, but really, where did that advice get us?
No! We don’t have to work harder. Yes! We need to understand the rules of business and often women misinterpret them to the harm of their careers. No! We don’t have to be better prepared. Often this very mindset of working harder and doing more actually harms our career advancement. That is the focus of a ‘doer’ not a leader. It isn’t always easy being a woman in corporate America, but it sure is a heck of a lot of fun when we crack the code. Don’t give up is great advice.
Sheila goes on to say: “You have the right to be heard. You have a right to be part of the decision making. Just keep going back at them.”
Hallelujah! Yes, keep going back at them! But please, don’t do it the same old way. You know the saying: If you always do something the same way you’ve always done it, you’re going to achieve the same results.
Women, the season is here to reinvent ourselves. Stop buying into the unproductive advice that has us changing into something we’re not. Imitators are never as powerful as the real thing. Start believing we’re enough. Thinking we have to be more limits our career options by leaving us focused on what holds us small rather than on what has us being the leaders we truly are. Change not because the world tells us to, but because we choose to impact the future of business as fully empowered, fully realized leaders. Let’s start using our femininity as our pathway to success not as a barrier.
And no matter what you choose to do, don’t stop finding the way to leadership within your company.
Corporate America needs each and every one of us and our unique gifts—including our feminine approach to issues.