Passing the Torch: A Message to the Rising Workforce of Millennial Women

I must say that throughout my years navigating the workforce, I’ve never been prouder of the gains that women have made professionally. Today, we’re witnessing a wave of inspiring new gender equality campaigns like He for She and Lean In Together, which encourage both women and men to make their voices heard and work together in reaching equality.

Through the years, we’ve increasingly advocated, educated and collaborated, and our efforts have helped pave some of the largest potholes in history’s long road to gender equality.

At the heart of these efforts is the determination to help women understand the matchless value they bring to the workplace; to help them define leadership on their own terms and confidently determine their professional trajectory. However, just as importantly (perhaps even more), is the need to support our proceeding generation: the female millennials who will be contributing to the workforce long after us.

Despite the significant strides we’re making, the gender imbalance that continues to pervade the modern workplace has the potential to affect millions of millennial women. A 2016 Deloitte survey, for example, shows that millennial men are still more likely than millennial women to lead a department or become a member of senior management. Additionally, women are more likely than men to leave their current employer within the next five years. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, as things currently stand, the average college-educated woman will lose up to $800,000 throughout her life due to the gender wage gap.

While today’s workplace is nowhere near as unwelcoming or intimidating for women as it was 20 or 30 years ago (I could tell you quite a few stories about my journey from tradeshow demonstrator to executive), many organizations still fail to recognize and/or promote female leadership, career advancement, and personal growth and development.

As female leaders, it’s our responsibility to help pave the way for this new era of working women, even if that means simply sharing lessons we’ve learned in our years navigating the workplace. I believe that for as many inspiring female executives who have emerged from generations past—Adena Friedman, Mary Barra, Indra Nooyi—there are just as many, if not more, who can rise from this new generation. I know I’m not alone.

Encouraging the Next Era of Female Leaders

To the bright, ambitious, determined millennial woman, I’m sorry to say we don’t have all the answers just yet. Perhaps we never will. As a female executive who has spent her fair share of time swimming in these oft-murky waters, however, I can offer a couple of tips to help guide you as you reach for greatness:

  1. Determine the kind of career you want (and know it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s).

    In today’s competitive world, it’s common for women to feel as though they need to have the same career aspirations and goals as their male counterparts. On the contrary, it’s perfectly fine for young women to determine the kind of career they want; in fact, it’s encouraged for success. In your hands right now is the truly rare opportunity to begin conceptualizing your career from the beginning; to boldly visualize the work environment of your dreams and make that a reality. Seize this opportunity.Just as importantly, remember that it’s fine for a young woman’s career aspirations to look different from her male colleagues’. One young woman, for example, may want her career to strike the perfect balance between work and family. For another woman, the ideal work environment may allow her to create quality relationships versus generate higher income (an accomplishment correlated with success by many males).

  2. No matter what you believe, remember there’s no wrong answer here. Everyone has a different way of measuring output and success. By embracing yours, you’ll be able to most effectively navigate your work environment and drive the most positive business outcomes for your organization.

  3. Understand others’ nuances (while embracing your own).

    Millennials face an interesting quandary: although they have surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, they must still work closely with many across the generational spectrum. To this end, millennial women should remember something very important: there’s a difference between adapting to others’ ways of thinking when necessary versus adopting those behaviors in hopes of succeeding.Ladies, I implore you to understand the immense value you bring to the workplace, just as you are. Confidently believe in your leadership skills and your ability to obtain whatever it is you desire (whether that’s a good work/life balance or a management role). Deloitte’s survey found that 27% of men rate their leadership skills as “strong,” compared to only 21% of women. Is this truly accurate or rather a perceived lack of skill by women fed to believe that success and leadership must look a certain way? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

  4. In my opinion, this is a balancing act. You should adapt your own style in the office, while keeping in mind you may also have to change your expectations of how others naturally communicate and get work done. In the end, it all comes down to being nimble, smart and strategic. The goal is to deliver the outcomes your organization needs in a way that allows you to freely be yourself—a win-win.

In the End…

For as many ways the workforce has improved for women over the years, it has grown challenging in others. In today’s unique work environment, the millennial woman must be more nimble, quick-witted and strategic than ever. She must be able to quickly assess situations and recognize others’ ways of working—all while staying true to herself to authentically build trust, connections and, most importantly, to begin clearing the way for her own career advancement. It’s a delicate ecosystem that inevitably takes time to master, but it is achievable.

Millennial women: I know you’ll not only maintain the foundation that we’ve built, but make it bigger and better than ever.

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How More Working Women Can Advance to the C Suite

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, then you know one thing about me: I advocate for females boldly being the awesome workplace contributors they are. Women tend to think differently than men at work; we offer a unique lens in which to view situations and problems. We’re inherent multitaskers. We’re fundamentally different than males, and that allows us to bring incredible value and dynamism to our work environments.

Despite this, there’s no shortage of challenges faced by today’s working woman. This is especially so for the female who wishes to advance her career in a male-dominated industry. As a female executive in the largely male-dominated technology industry, I know firsthand how difficult it can be for women to break through these barriers and challenge others to reimagine leadership possibilities. It’s hard to imagine that today only 14% of the top five leadership positions at companies in the S&P 500 are held by women.

There are many shining examples, however, of women who are shattering this statistic. For example, there’s Adena Friedman, who was recently named president & CEO of Nasdaq. (She’s the first woman ever to lead a major U.S. exchange.) There’s Mary Barra, who currently serves as the world’s first-ever female CEO of a major automaker; and Indra Nooyi, who’s been serving as Pepsi’s CEO for a decade as of this year. I take pride in standing with these women as female executives of well-known, global brands.

So, how can more women advance their careers as they desire? (As I explained in my blog about defining leadership on your terms, there is no set definition of success at work for women; rather, it’s whatever we wish it to be for ourselves).

I believe the most direct path to career advancement is through personal growth and development, which only starts when you look within …

Finding Your Voice Is Essential, but Not Easy

The key to career advancement is not in women gaining power over men, but in women empowering themselves. To do this, we need to become bold thinkers. We need to harness the unique ideas we have and confidently believe in them. Above all, we must find our voice. As Melinda Gates has said, “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”

Finding your voice can be challenging. My best suggestion is simple: Know what to say, when to say it, and when to say nothing at all. On one hand, for instance, women should never be intimidated to speak up or speak out. I understand this is easier said than done, as male-dominated industries can be naturally unwelcoming or intimidating for women. Despite this, women have amazing ideas that should be shared. Believe in yourself, and believe in the value you bring to your organization. It won’t take long for you to gain confidence in this way, as well as the confidence of your peers.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen women (especially those early in their careers) say too much in conversation with male colleagues because they think they’re in a trusted environment. Based on my observations, this “unspoken oath” doesn’t seem to resonate with males. So, what happens? Something said by a female that she believes is confidential is perceived by a male as something said during open discussion. In the end, what the woman has said is at risk of becoming amplified in an environment she never envisioned.

The key here is to establish a balance between being confident and open versus oversharing. Remember: the work environment in which you make friends and share ideas is also an extremely competitive one.

In business, it’s not a man’s world. It’s not a woman’s world. It’s your world. You can be a Mary Barra. You can be a Melinda Gates. But above all, be yourself. Find your voice and, just as importantly, know when to cast it. Be strategic and perceptive. Leverage the resources at your disposal. Seek mentorship and guidance from female leaders who have gone before you. With the right support and knowledge, advancing your career is easier than you think.

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!

Avaya Ranks in Top 50 Employers in Workforce Diversity List

Enabling engagement across time and space is no small feat! A diverse team of thousands of employees across the globe, who we call Futuremakers, make the magic happen.

Avaya debuted on the “Top 50 Employers” list in Workforce Diversity for Engineering & IT Professionals magazine last year. We’re proud to announce that we’ve charted for the second consecutive year. Avaya ranked at No. 41 for 2015.

“We’re proud to have a talented, diverse group of Futuremakers who understand the value of different cultures, perspectives and ways of approaching innovation,” said Steve Fitzgerald, vice president, Human Resources.

Workforce Diversity for Engineering & IT Professionals is the most widely-read recruitment magazine for engineers belonging to minority groups, including engineers who are women, black, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native-American or who have a disability.

Readers selected Avaya as one of the nation’s top companies for which they would most prefer to work and believe would provide a positive working environment for members of minority groups.

“We’re committed to creating a company culture that welcomes and supports diversity,” Fitzgerald said. “Thank you to the readers of Workforce Diversity for Engineering & IT Professionals for choosing Avaya as a preferred company!”