THE BLOG
05/15/2013 10:54 am ET | Updated Jul 15, 2013

Women Leaders and Work From a Non-Profit Perspective

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Having listened to months of impassioned exchange following the Sandberg-Slaughter sallies on women and work, I have decided to speak up, as a woman and CEO of the Rainforest Alliance, a global nonprofit that works to transform natural resource based industries into sustainable enterprises.

It's a daunting, demanding, and profoundly satisfying job. We work in 100 countries with more than two million producers and 6,000 companies. Over 12 years, I have spearheaded our growth from a $4 million to a $50 million organization. Today, 12 percent of the tea, 10 percent of the cocoa and 10 percent of the forestry industry function sustainably, thanks to our collaborative approach.

But it is a man's world. Whether for-profit or non-profit, almost all of my peers are men.

Some of the debate has centered on "male" vs. "female" values and traits, with some asking why women should adopt stereotypically male traits in order to get ahead. I think that is the wrong question. I think there are real strengths in both "male" and "female" traits. We need to learn from the effective traits associated with the opposite gender, and incorporate them into our overall skill sets.

The Athena Doctrine, just released by survey master John Gerzema, demonstrates a strong global demand for more "feminine" traits in leadership to address today's challenges: more focus on listening and learning, on win-win solutions, on loyalty to the team and long-term thinking.

So, assuming as a woman I have most of those traits covered, what have I learned about what else I need to get ahead?

1. Family Matters: My husband died in a car accident when I was 28 years old and three months pregnant. At the time, we were living in Costa Rica. I moved back to the States to be closer to family. My parents were there for me when I was growing up, even though they both worked full-time. They gave me love and respect; they helped me get my feet on the ground after a traumatic life event. We need to parent well in order to give our children the inner strength to compete and to succeed.

2. Find Work/Life Balance: When my daughter was young, I ran a small organization on 4/5ths salary. I worked five days a week, but took long vacations and days off in compensation. Throughout my career in leadership positions, I found flexible employers and was able to plan for softball games. But for many women, a proper work/life balance is not supported by their employers, which discourages them from pursuing leadership roles.

3. Build Your Constituency and Make Your Point: One concern I hear often: Men make themselves heard while women feel ignored and resentful when their contributions are adopted and reframed by men. Why? In my experience, women tend to tell illustrative stories rather than making concrete points or aligning with previous speakers. When you're in a meeting, build constituencies. My strategy is to decide what I want ahead of time, listen to the group members make their points, then synthesize as many of their points as possible into mine.

4. Mentor Like a Man: A study by Catalyst, a nonprofit that promotes workplace opportunities for women, found that men are mentored better because they're more likely to be sponsored. Their mentors do more than provide feedback; they use their influence to advocate on behalf of their mentees. I have been lucky to have some very talented young women work for me and after they have done their stint, I help them find the next job.

5. The Power of Self-Promotion: I pride myself on my efficiency and effectiveness. And my Rainforest Alliance colleagues, half of whom are women, perform their jobs with passion, integrity and even brilliance. But some seem less apt than the men to let anyone know about the great contributions they're making. Researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management found that men who boasted more about their accomplishments were selected as group leaders more often than women. While chest-pounding has long been the domain of the alpha male, women need to do more of it. As you may have noticed, I am doing my bit for the team right now.