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Women's Leadership Redux -- Teaching, Honoring and Defending Women at Work

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When Inspiration Meets Action

I've been to numerous women's leadership and women's empowerment conferences over the years -- too many to count. And while it is wonderful to see so many organizations, governments and companies focusing on women's advancement, there are too few taking the next step towards helping women actually develop the skills necessary to lead and succeed in positions of influence and power. A disproportionate amount of time and energy is lost defining the problem and issuing calls to action with little follow on or paths for engagement and further learning. With few exceptions. Maria Shriver's annual Women's Conference was one of those rare occasions where inspiration met action and offered ways for attendees to customize their experience, engage thought leaders from a variety of disciplines, cultivate new connections and learn from one another there and online afterwards. Then, last December, I helped organize and teach in the first ever Pocket MBA for Women Aspiring to Lead at the Hult International Business School in Dubai. We developed this program to help mid-career women focus in on and hone critical leadership skills to guide their career progression and ascension. When we had over 300 on a wait list for our experimental program we knew we were responding to a real need, and I can't help but think that Dubai is not an anomaly. When given access and the opportunity to develop and sharpen leadership skills, women dive in.

This summer, building off those lessons learned from the Pocket MBA, I developed a Women's Leadership Course for Hult Dubai, threading in communications and negotiation best practices as well as groundbreaking work from McKinsey's Centered Leadership Project as well as lessons from my former boss Charlotte Beers' new book, I'd Rather be in Charge. The purpose of the course was to help the students reframe how they view leadership and their own career advancement. No longer is success only defined in terms of a top corporate title or prestigious board seat. One can lead in their respective communities, their local government, in the non-profit sector, as an entrepreneur, as a mother and as a wife. We have to get beyond the statistics and theories of leadership so that we can have a frank discussion of the myriad pathways and forms real leadership can take.

Resetting and Reframing the Conversation at Oracle's Women's Leadership Summit

All of which brings me to Oracle's Women's Leadership (OWL) Summit last week. Held during Oracle's massive annual OpenWorld gathering, a pilgrimage for Oracle partners and customers, the OWL Summit involved a collection of senior female leaders from across various industries. The OWL Summit was part of Oracle's Executive Edge series, invite-only forums held in parallel to OpenWorld, known for their candid dialogues and radical thought leadership. Oracle, like many other large multinationals who get it, from Xerox to UPS, have invested heavily in developing women for leadership roles. From a recruitment and retention perspective it just makes good business sense though you rarely hear them promote these innovative efforts. Lise Edwards, Senior Director for OWL, opened the Women's Summit promising a different kind of conversation, one that would help us rethink how we view women's leadership as well as provide tools and insights we could use going forward. To lead this effort, Charlotte Beers gave the opening keynote and kicked off the conversation sharing lessons learned from a career shattering one glass ceiling after the other. Anyone familiar with Charlotte Beers is aware of her legendary career in the advertising business. She has mastered the art of communication and isn't shy about digging into a candid discussion of how to wield influence. Her book, I'd Rather be in Charge, is one of the first women's leadership books that I've read in a long time that not only details her successes and failures, but goes further to share her secrets on persuasive, memorable communications, as well as offer a guide for carving your own path to power.

Key Takeaways From Charlotte's Speech:

-- Reset how you see yourselves at work, because it isn't just about the work. The delivery of the work is just as important as the work itself.
-- Be careful who you copy and emulate on the way to the top.
-- Women shouldn't be afraid of politics, challenging others and confrontation, they are essential elements of leadership.
-- Take time to actively observe and learn who you are becoming; there is power in authenticity.
-- You need energy to lead, massive amounts of energy; be aware of what diverts and dilutes your energy.
-- Be aware of your tendencies, good and bad. What drives you on one level can knock you down in another. Solicit feedback regularly and take it to heart.
-- Teach, honor and defend other women at work. Women are often their own worst enemies at work... be brave and generous to one another.

The Skills that Get You From A to B, Aren't the Skills That Get You to C and D

After Beers' speech and fireside chat, OWL hosted an industry panel discussion with female leaders from Bank of America, Oracle and DLT Solutions, who joined with Charlotte in deepening the discussion of lessons learned on the path to leadership. The frank nature of the conversation and subsequent dialogue with the audience was a rare opportunity for all of us to learn from one another. I couldn't help but think back to my time in cyber security at the State Department and how the skills that get you to a certain point in one career path aren't necessarily the skills that help you to progress to positions of leadership and influence. In fact for many of us who began in tech careers, our myriad certifications and technical experiences offer little in the way of supporting our career advancement. And I have heard from countless grad students, many of whom are mid-level executives currently pursuing their MBAs, that they feel 'boxed in' by their technical career paths. But what of all those who don't have the time or resources to pursue an MBA? Or those who seek to lead in other spheres to include the government or non-profit sectors? Candid forums like this one are a start to tranferring some of the tools and reframing how we view leadership but we need to go further.

"Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone." ---Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Atlantic, Summer 2012

BottomLine: We need more women prepared to lead. To do so requires making leadership development programs available for women at every career stage in every sector, especially for those who aren't able to pursue a graduate degree. Real opportunities to practice, refine, and deeply hone essential leadership skills so they can define and pursue their own paths to success.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
To engage directly with Charlotte Beers and learn from the insights shared in her book, I'd Rather be in Charge you can join her in a webinar on November 14th. For more information, please go to: http://www.inventyourfuture.com/

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Cari E. Guittard, MPA
Principal, Global Engagement Partners
Adjunct Faculty, USC Annenberg & Hult International School of Business Dubai -- Women's Leadership, Corporate Diplomacy, Managing Geopolitical Risk & International Negotiations