We’ve all seen the stats: Only 5% of all Fortune 500 companies are run by women. There are now ‘more women than ever’ in Congress, but that still means only 23% of the House; 25% of the Senate.
All the numbers, every single datapoint all boil down to one thing: There are too few visible female leaders.
That’s what makes the IAB Women’s Visionaries conference, which took place on April 2nd in Manhattan, so special. It’s designed for executive-level female leaders to take center stage to share their stories with women climbing the ranks in their professional careers.
This daylong conference is mix of “lessons learned,” “paying it forward,” and a little bit “badass boss lady” wrapped up into one.
Above all else, it’s about the power of representation, and the importance of seeing someone that looks like you in the power seat. As Shelley Zalis from The Female Quotient likes to champion, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’
So, needless to say, when Ad Council President & CEO Lisa Sherman (far right in the photo above) sat down with Stacey Hawes, President, Data Practice at Epsilon (far left) and Nicolle Pangis, CEO at NCC Media (center) for a panel on “Lessons in Leadership,” I was all in.
The three shared each of their unique approaches to leadership and lessons learned along the way.
Here are a few insights on how you can be a more effective and empowering leader:
1) Determine what authentic leadership means for you.
One of the recurring themes of the ‘Lessons in Leadership’ panel was the idea of ‘authentic leadership.’ What is authentic leadership? Put simply, it’s adjusting the idea of leadership to fit you and your ideals — and not the other way around. If you’re like Nicolle Pangis, then maybe you grew up thinking of a leadership in a certain way — maybe it’s a white male in a dark suit. If you’re anything like me, then that likely doesn’t jive with how you might want to approach your own leadership style.
So then, what does one do? Well, it goes back to the advice you received in middle school — be yourself. Afterall, the crux of any effective leader is getting the most out of yourself and your team, right? If we can agree on that, well, then the rest is likely just irrelevant details. So wear t-shirts to the office, don’t be afraid to tell your colleagues that you’re feeling under the weather and might not be your ‘best self’ on a given day. Don’t hide. Afterall, if you’re not able to be yourself at work, how can you be expected to be effective? And if they’re not comfortable, how can you expect your team to be effective? You see the endless cycle you’ve started, yes? The long and the short of it is: Be like Nicolle Pangis — Ditch the suit, wear your Chuck Taylors. Be yourself — and don’t be afraid to share it with others.
2) Don’t forget to empower the women around you.
Above all else, it’s important to pay it forward. Each one of the women on stage cited the importance of empowering the women around them. Stacey even brought it to Epsilon as part of a ‘Women in Leadership’ Initiative. To date, more than 1,500 female employees have grown through the program, which focuses on a mix of networking events and content focused on emotional intelligence, defining your leadership brand, and how to have difficult conversations.
3) …but remember support from up top is necessary.
No matter how determined you are to change a company’s culture or to enhance the experience for the women in your office, nothing is possible without executive support and buy-in. Culture starts from the top. Above all else, employees are engaged in knowing who a leader is outside of work — what causes they’re involved in and what company initiatives are a priority out of their core business. More than ever, employees want to know what matters most to their CEO and if a CEO is willing to stand up for certain causes. More than anything else, what you stand for as a leader matters immensely to employees, so remember to stand up for that which is going to inspire and impact the people in your company who need to be heard most.
Above all these, the key takeaway from Lisa, Nicolle, and Stacey at the “Lessons in Leadership” panel is that authenticity is the most important quality a leader can bring to the table.
So, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Share a bit of your life with your team. What’s the best way to do that? Start off by highlighting your values in what you do. Don’t let them sit off to the sideline. Bring your full self to work; doing so will empower others to do the same.