Ladies: It’s Your Right to Define Leadership on Your Terms
As a female executive who has been through her fair share of triumphs and trials, I have a burning passion for cultivating strong women in the workplace. And as a woman who once served as a company’s only female executive VP, I know what it’s like to work in male-dominated cultures. More importantly, I know the immense value that female leadership brings to these kinds of environments.
I’ve had the awesome privilege of working with some of the most inspiring women in the tech industry. I know what it’s like to mentor and be mentored; to teach and be taught. I know what it’s like to have humble and perhaps even unusual beginnings, considering how I got to where I am today (if you haven’t read my personal story, I encourage you to here).
For those who don’t know, I initially began my career in tech as a demonstrator at trade show events. In other words, my job was to gain the attention of males to promote a company’s product or service. This was a sexist environment back in the 80s. Needless to say, I never imagined I’d use that opportunity as a platform to one day become a thriving female executive.
While I’m grateful to everyone who supported me along the way, it was women who specifically helped me identify my career path and determine what kind of leader I wanted to be, starting with my mum. Watching women, good and bad, in action helped me determine how I wanted to be perceived in the workplace and how I wanted to manage teams.
What Does Success Look Like to You? (Hint: There’s No One Answer)
But what exactly is success? The answer to this question will often depend on whether you’re asking a male or female. In fact, a study conducted last year concluded just this. The results found that while men defined success by their level of income and professional achievements, women defined it by the quality of their relationships. Not surprising to me, the study also found that men were more likely to be C-level executives.
This isn’t to say that men never define success by quality relationships or that women don’t correlate success with income. This certainly isn’t to say that women must inherit a male’s mentality to gain a seat at the executive table. Many people mistakenly believe that if you’re an executive, you must take on a certain style—the way you behave and act—as opposed to just being yourself. As a successful female executive who is unapologetically herself, I hope I help prove otherwise.
You can’t deny, however, that success is defined differently in a man’s world compared to a woman’s world. It’s vital women understand that this doesn’t mean their definition of success is wrong. There’s no end-all definition of success; rather, success is defined on our own terms. It’s not only OK but encouraged to define success outside of work. It’s OK to define success in the relationships we have as daughters, mothers, sisters and friends. It’s also OK for us to define success by our income or personal achievements. Success is a highly individualized concept, and it’s important that it be respected as such.
There’s No Better Time Than Now to Make a Difference
In my opinion, there’s no stronger force than women banding together and owning leadership on their terms without any preconceived notions. Now is the time for established females to make it even easier for other women to be successful in the ways they want to. For some women, this may mean finding a way to acquire a position of leadership. For others, it may mean finding a way to make more of an impact in their day-to-day jobs while preserving work/life balance.
I want to make it clear that this isn’t about pitting males against females. Rather, it’s about acknowledging the fact that (just like men) there are some things that women inherently excel at. Rather than mask those for fear they’ll be perceived as vulnerabilities, we should proudly capitalize on them and the value they bring to the workplace.
To me, success means you’re empowered to do what you do best, and you’re respected by the organization you’re in. As a female executive with her own wisdom to impart, it brings me great joy to be giving back by pioneering key initiatives here at Avaya alongside other successful female leaders to help women define success and deliver value in their roles. Recently, and in partnership with my colleague and Avaya General Counsel Amy Fliegelman Olli, we launched a Women’s Leadership Forum to inspire and work with female Avayans to reach their full potential through personal and professional growth. To cement its success, we’re creating a mentorship program, which will be available to men and women at Avaya, to help:
- Develop talent and leadership qualities
- Foster a stronger culture of open dialogue, collaboration and engagement
- Create a more compelling diversity story in our workplace
When I take a good look at the women in my life, I’m always struck by the ones who are lifting each other up. Lighting another person’s flame does not diminish our own, but rather helps to illuminate the world even more. We’re in this together—I hope you’ll join me in shining bright!