The “She” Suite: You want to win? Get outside your comfort zone!  

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Last Thursday on International Women’s Day I attended the Washington University’s Olin Business Schools – St. Louis Leadership Perspective | The “She” Suite: Celebrate International Women’s Day with Women in the C-Suite and in Leading Roles. While there I was reminded, once again, just how valuable community events like this are and how they absolutely make me a better leader, mother, friend and colleague.

The impressive panel of women leaders included: Rebecca Boyer, CFO – Kelly-Mitchell, Andrea Adegas Faccio, CMO – Nestle Purina Petcare, Linda L. Haberstroh, President – Phoenix Textile Corporation, Mary P. Heger, CIO and SVP – Ameren Corporation, Deborah Slagle, SVP – MilliporeSigma – A Business of Merck KGaA, Joyce Trimuel, Chief Operations and Diversity Officer – CNA

I felt inspired not only by the panel of women who were speaking but also by my peers who surrounded me. All of the questions that the moderator (and audience) posed to the panel stuck with me, but in this blog, I want to highlight a few of the questions and responses that truly resonated with me.

Moderator: Discuss any formal programs and/or policies supporting women in the workplace.

Rebecca Boyer of the women-owned, Kelly Mitchell jumpstarted this conversation by saying their organization makes a conscious effort to look for candidates that can help provide a different lens and unique perspective. Joyce Trimuel followed this up by with a big bold statement, “the data doesn’t lie, diversity leads to profitability.”  The audience quickly applauded and even cheered.  This peaked my curiosity to see if I could easily find that data.  Here’s what I found, according to a McKinsey Study, Delivering Through Diversity released January 2018, “For gender, the executive team shows the strongest correlation. We found that having gender diversity on executive teams, specifically, to be consistently positively correlated with higher profitability across geographies in our dataset, underpinning the role that executive teams—where the bulk of strategic and operational decisions are made—play in the financial performance of a company.” I encourage you to read the full report where they expand on the impact of diversity beyond profitability and correlate it to overall business value.  I think many of us intuitively felt this to be true, but seeing the hard numbers is empowering.  These are statistics you can take to the boardroom.

Moderator: Tell us about a time in their career where you faced a setback and how did you overcome?

For this question, each woman walked through a point in their career where they were challenged with a new role that was WAY outside their areas of expertise. They discussed the worry and fear they initially felt. Deborah Slagle credited her desire to continuously learn and step outside her comfort zone while having fun along the way with her ability to continue to take advantage of each new opportunity to grow. I could relate to Deborah’s response because I too have found myself in this situation repeatedly in my career.  I was encouraged by the overwhelming perspective of the panel that it was in these moments of discomfort that they experienced their biggest growth personally and within their careers.

Linda L. Haberstroh shared a very personal journey with us. She told us of the time she was promoted to President of her company while participating in Olin Business School’s EMBA program and had also discovered that she needed to fight breast cancer. We quickly understood how driven Linda is when she told us about a phone call with her doctor. He was calling to schedule her initial surgery saying something along the lines of, “we have you scheduled for Thursday morning at 8 am,” and Linda pulled up her calendar to try and negotiate the logistics like a business meeting saying Wednesday or next Tuesday work better for her. The doctor quickly interrupted her and said, “Linda, that’s not how this works.” Linda discussed that it was during this process that she learned the importance of presence and asking for help from others. Not only did Linda hit her business goals that year, she also graduated with her EMBA class and is now 7 years in good health. I loved Linda’s closing advice to this inspiring story, “Use the health you have.” Thank you, Linda, for sharing with us.

To close out the session, the audience was invited to ask questions.

Audience Question: What is one piece of advice you treasure?

I connected with Mary Heger’s response, “Be aware of how we show up, reflect, take note of how we talk and walk.” I also appreciated Andrea Adegas Faccio advice to “be open to other paths.”  Andrea shared a story of how she put her trust in a manager that she knew believed in her talents.  This manager asked her to lead a global project that Andrea considered to be far outside her wheelhouse.  In looking back, she now considers this her biggest career achievement to date.  Another example that resonated with the overall theme of the morning showcasing growth through stepping outside of your comfort zone.

I left the event full of energy and with a renewed excitement around the path I am currently on at Aspect Software. I feel lucky to not only have the opportunity to co-chair the Aspect Women in Technology (WIT) Group, but I am encouraged to continue to invest time and energy into making our WIT community more meaningful each year.  It is events like The She Suite that will help me raise the bar at Aspect.  You can find our webpage here where you can sign up to join our Aspect WIT newsletter.

Our Next Aspect WIT event is the Annual ACE Women in Technology Luncheon.  The session will feature a panel of inspiring business leaders, moderated by industry analyst and founder of McGee-Smith Analytics, Shelia McGee-Smith.  If you are attending ACE, I hope to see you there!

I referenced in the opening how these activities make me a better mother too. This Snapchat that I received from my daughter speaks to that point. She is holding a button that she purchased during lunch at the feminist coalition booth at her high school while celebrating International Women’s Day.