Women Help Each Other. What Is This Unicorn They Speak Of?

You are a woman that has fought her way to the top. Your day started once the kids were asleep when you finally had a few hours to work. You spent hours manipulating your schedule to ensure you were at PTA and home by 6:00 PM for dinner. All this while blowing them away in the board room. It hasn’t been easy but you kept powering through. Finally, you have earned your seat at the table. You go girl!

All of a sudden another women makes headway and instead of showing her the ropes, you turn into a high school sophomore during lunch period. She wanders over to sit at your table and you reply with, “So sorry sweetie but losers sit at that table.” Manipulation, degradation and backstabbing are your hindrances of choice. Whether that be in the form of not championing a maternal leave policy or dismissing her ideas at a meeting, you have no desire to see this woman succeed.

Unfortunately, there are more out there just like you, a lot more. According to a 2010 Workplace Bullying Survey 80% of women that bully in the workplace are bullying other women. A 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute survey reports that female bullies are repeatedly involved subtle forms of bullying like sabotage (53.7 percent of female vs. 39.9 percent of male bullies) and abuse of authority (50.2 percent vs. 44.7 percent).

Take a moment and let those numbers settle in…

I have run across my fair share of Queen Bees in the workforce. The fact that I am a millennial woman seems to make the encounters even more frequent. According to a Unison Trade Union survey, young women are particularly at risk of bullying and the most usual offenders are older women in more senior professional positions. Unhappily, I generally avoid building relationships with women in the workplace. While there have been a few incredible exceptions to the rule, overall working for or with other women has proven to make my journey much more difficult than it should be.

When you have finally wrapped your brain around the fact that as women, we are sabotaging each other, consider this; women working full time in the United States were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 21 percent in 2014. This number, coupled with the findings above makes me question, are men really responsible for such few women holding senior executive positions—or are we digging our own career graves? If so, how can we stop?

1: Stop Taking all the credit

Remember earlier when we were patting you on the back for working your way to the top? Take the time to think about the other women who enabled you to make that journey. Your sitter, dry cleaner, predecessor, mother, sister, friend, etc. Somewhere another woman helped you achieve your goal. Instead of boasting about how incredible you are, take the time to give the credit where it is due.

2: Build our own confidence

Confident women do not hate. Simple. If you are tearing someone down you are either a psychopath that loves to see others hurt or you do not have enough confidence and feel threatened. Take some time to develop in whatever arena you do not feel 100 percent. Whether that be leadership development, time management or even the gym. Find a way to feel good about you that does not involve tearing others down.

3: Select a mentee

Earlier I mentioned there have been a few exceptions to my “no work with woman” rule. One day I heard an incredibly brilliant woman speak at a seminar I attended. A few days after I emailed her asking if I could buy her a drink. She barely knew who I was and I knew she would think I was crazy. To my surprise I received an enthusiastic response and a few days later, I walked into the restaurant and there she was. I sat down and asked, “Will you mentor me?” Completely out of the blue and as straight forward as it is written. She took a couple seconds (which felt like an eternity to me) and replied, “I would love to.” A couple months later she handed me an option to start my own business. It is worth noting she is a Gen Xer. Apparently not all women over 35 hate Millennials. In short, everyone should mentor. Take the time to share your hard earned knowledge with someone.

Will I one-day look forward to working with other women as whole? I hope so. I just need to get enough women to take off their Queen Bee crowns and starting building something great together.

photo credit: Unicorn via photopin (license)

Hey Kid, Want An Opportunity To Excel?

In my first job out of college, a senior VP – a man I admired – would occasionally come by my desk at the end of the day and say, “Hey kid, you want an opportunity to excel?” In fact, there wasn’t anything I wanted more than that! These opportunities were special projects outside of my normal responsibilities; I always jumped at the chance to learn, build skills and get guidance from him. He was great at explaining why the projects were important, what he needed and coaching me to great results. That experience left an indelible mark on me and inspired me to seek out other mentors and “opportunity creators” throughout my career and later on, to similarly support others.

The benefits of opportunity creators, coaches and mentors are immense at any stage of your career. Your benefactors may not walk by your first desk as mine did, so here are some ideas on how to engage mentors and make the most of the growth opportunity:

1. Does your performance inspire your ideal mentor?

If your performance stands out, you probably stand out to great mentor candidates! Helping great people grow is something good leaders love to do. Because it will be an investment of their personal time, they’ll want to know that you’re a great investment – and a goal-focused, eager, conscientious learner certainly is.

2. What’s your goal for engaging?

Give real thought to what exactly you want out of a mentor engagement. Career development and skill building are great choices, but think twice before asking someone to engage to improve your politicking, bragging rights or networking. Identifying the goals upfront will also help you identify when the mentorship has run its course and it’s time to move on.

3. What do you want to learn?

Identify what skills you want to learn and ask someone who stands out in those areas. Try asking for four meetings, three weeks apart, and focus the meetings on learning or understanding a new practice. The period between meetings provides you with time to apply the practices and work on what you learned. Build on the practices in the each subsequent meeting. What you want to learn will change over the course of your career, so “rinse and repeat”!

Sometimes the best source for leadership skill development is an executive coach. If your firm offers to provide one, they’re making an investment in your development and you should to! I worked with Lucinda Rhys, a wonderful leadership coach, and it had a tremendous impact on both my performance and my happiness. I got more clarity on my own obstacles and specific practices to put to work. Like anything else, more and deliberate leadership practice drives real improvement.

4. Where do you want to be?

What job do you want in 5 years? In 10? Identify someone in the role you want and ask them to be your mentor. Then, make that meeting count. Be well organized in advance with one to three topics you want to discuss; send the topics the day before to keep the conversation focused and productive. You will likely need to be relentless about rescheduling as meetings get bumped. But more often than not, these mentors are your opportunity creators!

If you’re a continuous learner at the early stages of a career or want to be a more skillful senior leader, there are plenty of people with wisdom and experience to share! A recent discussion on Linked In reminded me of how grateful I am for the many mentors and coaches on my endless journey to better self, better leadership and just how many people are genuinely happy to help.

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(About the Author: Deidre Paknad is currently the CEO of Workboard, Inc. She has founded and led several companies. Her last company, PSS Systems, was acquired by IBM in late 2010; Paknad ran the high-growth Information Governance business at IBM for several years, improving information economics for large enterprise customers. She also holds more than 15 patents and has been twice inducted into the Smithsonian for innovation. Follow Deidre on Twitter @day_dree or @WorkboardInc)



Leadership Means Being Definitive And Living Levity

“Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.” – George S. Patton Jr.

That’s when I realized someone lurked right outside our bedroom doors.

I sat up still glued to the sheets, soaked with sweat. It still must’ve been over 85 degrees outside, my meek fan swirling nothing but hot air around my room. My heart hammered in my ears. I forced my eyes on my digital clock – it read 2:30 am.

Our dog growled and barked from outside my door. Mom and Dad shouted. Feet pounded back down our hallway and out the front door.

Mom burst in my room and held out a handgun to me, handle first.

“Take your father his gun! Now! Someone was in the house and Dad’s chasing him!”

I remember thinking, you’ve got to be kidding, Mom, but I complied slowly, rose from my bed, and carried the gun outside by the handle as if I held a rat by the tail.

Moments later out on the street, Dad appeared under the corner streetlamp, completely out of breath and sweaty, wearing nothing but his white underwear.

“Watcha got there…a rat?” he panted through a smile, bent over with hands on his knees.

I handed him the gun. My hand shook. “No, it’s your gun. Did you get him?”

“Yes…I…figured it…was…my gun…thanks…son…no…I didn’t…get him,” he panted. He held the gun like a cop, which he was, and pushed the safety off.

That incident took place nearly 32 years ago, but Dad always just did when it came to taking action. Fast forward to only six years ago, during my niece’s high school graduation. The school had honored those family and friends who have served in the military. My father had been in the Air Force, so we smiled proudly as he stood while the song played on:

“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…”

Then, at the end of the graduation, Dad said, “Well, now we’ve got another graduation in two years.” That was be my nephew’s high school graduation, which we did all attend.

“And another one in 18,” I said, referring to my oldest daughter, Beatrice, then unborn, who will now be six years old this year.

He laughed and shook his head. “I don’t know about that one, son. Don’t know if I’ll make it that far.”

I squeezed his shoulder. “You never know, Pop. You beat the devil three times already, and God hasn’t called you home yet.”

But he did get “called home” four years later, in 2012. My mother followed him there four months after that.

It was all so bittersweet as we sat watching my nephew graduate from UC Berkeley recently, sitting among a class of newly minted scholars and leaders just beginning their adult lives and careers. Then I thought of my own two little girls, now nearly four and six, with their whole lives ahead, graduations lifetimes away, all the while their leadership skills budding and growing over time with a little help from me and their loving mother.

And for me, well, I thank my dad.

LeadershipSpecial Agent “Papa” Grossman (the grandkids called him that, but I called him “Pop” in his later years) was the nurturing father my sister and I never had, and a good and devoted husband to my mother. He came into our lives in the late 1970s, divorced like my mom, and his bachelor pad showed it – scantily clad women on black velvet paintings and a faux leopard skin bean bag chair – are what I remember the most. Hard-working and the strong, silent type, Dad was direct when needed to be and one of the warmest, funniest and nuttiest men you could ever meet.

It was always a sunny smile, my dad’s. A master of levity, Pop injected humor and silliness into most everything he did. His infectious laughter brought smiles to anyone in its radius, the scar above his lip always glinting under light like polished glass. For the life of me, I can’t remember how he got the scar. All I know is that it added a richness to his character, like biscuits soaked in honey and butter – you could never get enough of his presence.

This all from a law enforcement veteran of over 30 years. Anyone who ever worked with him shared the same sentiment – from the most hardened cops and criminals (who he called his customers), to literal strangers he’d meet on the street, in the store, in campgrounds, in the post office, in the doctor’s office – everyone experienced his sunny disposition, his goofy humor and his viral smile.

He had been stabbed, shot at and beat up more than once by bad guys and girls, yet he inspired me to keep a light head, to be silly, to embrace life and all the people in it, to give life and all the people in it a second and third chance, to laugh in the face of adversity – while at the same time tackling it and pinning it to the ground. Which is why Thom Narofsky’s Inspire to Retire Leadership Theorem resonated so much with me recently as well.

That’s why a leadership legacy for me means:

  • Being Definitive. That’s the one thing Pop brow-beat into my head so many years ago and then long into adulthood. It’s okay to question, it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, but like Patton said, “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.” The world always was that simple to my dad, and he had the self-awareness, emotional intelligence and personal leadership skills to know when to follow and when to lead – and when to get sh%t done. Taking ownership of self first is always the key to leading well.
  • And Living Levity. Laughter is truly a healer, and that’s the one thing Pop didn’t have to brow-beat into my head. It was difficult in my early adulthood to understand, but became easier as I grew older, getting more comfortable in my own skin while making others feel the same way as much as I could. This leadership legacy of laughter that Pop taught me, regardless of the ugly he saw everyday on the streets, was that life was more fun with levity, more beautiful and vibrantly alive with the wondrous mess it all is, like crayons melting together beyond the lines and creating pictures we never thought possible.

I want more pictures of rainbows and silly faces and sunny smiles and birthday hats. So do our girls. There’s enough darkness out there as it is. I’d prefer to stay in the lightness of Pop.

And that’s what we’ll give our girls, and then they’ll give to their children.

A special thank you to all who have served in the military and the police force, in memoriam and those who are still with us, whether still working as such or retired.

God bless you, Pop.

“It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald