A fantastic Twitter Chat on gender equity in the workplace provides empowerment and encouragement. And the next generation of young women is proof that progress is real.
I was fortunate enough last week to take part in AT&T’s 2019 Women in Business Twitter Chat. This is an annual online get-together of female leaders in a variety of industries and fields. For one hour, in a wide-ranging, online dialogue — prompted by a structured series of what a favorite teacher of mine used to call “thought questions” — we shared experiences, knowledge, lessons, and points of view for the benefit not only of each other, but for the next generation of women executives. I’m here to tell you I found it an astonishing and eye-opening experience.
First of all, this was one amazing group of smart, powerful women. These are ladies who both talk the talk — and walk the walk — around getting to the top in corporate America. Because they’ve done it. And in many instances, they had to create their own roads forward.
As I interacted virtually with female mavericks like Beatris Mendez Gandica of Microsoft, Romy Newman of Fairygodboss, and Spark Labs founder Lauren Cooney — not to mention the incredibly dynamic AT&T Business CEO Anne Chow and AT&T Senior VP-Business Marketing, Sarita Rao — all I could think is, “Why on earth don’t I know these incredible women? Why haven’t I met them until now?!”
During a rich and fruitful hour, we tackled topics and challenges that have bedeviled women in the workplace for decades — some of which have gotten better, and many of which haven’t and require well-deserved attention. We talked about mentors. Leadership. Hurdles. Mistakes. Lessons learned. Success strategies. Flexibility. Goal-setting And cultivating a network of support. What I loved is that while some of this is well-trod territory, the discussion was fresh and new.
Example: when the inevitable subject of work-life balance came up, here was the consensus: the whole notion of balance is bogus. There’s no such thing. Surviving the work / family split is a question of optimizing and prioritizing in the moment. What’s important to you right now? Then that’s what gets your attention. Period. Stop striving for some mythical, idealized point of balance that isn’t there.
This kind of straight talk appealed to me. But so did the support; the solutions; the understanding of the built-in biases women still face. And what was in great supply in the discussion were two things that women are perhaps best known for both in and outside the workplace: empathy and emotional intelligence.
One of the advantages that I enjoy as CEO of GENYOUth, a national youth-wellness nonprofit, is that I get to work directly with middle-school and high-school students on a daily basis. As a result, I’m exposed to the attitudes and expectations of young women from “Gen Z” and beyond who take part in our organization’s youth-empowerment programs, including Fuel Up to Play 60 and AdVenture Capital.
What I cherish is that, almost without exception, these girls are fearless. They’ve never heard the concept of a glass ceiling, much less bumped up against one. They don’t ask for permission. They’re confident in a way that adolescent girls of previous generations aspired to be. They’re secure in their opinions — both having them and expressing them. And they expect to be heard and respected.
As I write this, I’m thinking of Kayla, one of our high-school freshman who attended our organization’s Board of Directors meeting last week and wowed the assembled Board with her insights and her passion.
Our roster of Board members includes CEOs, health & wellness leaders, professional sports commissioners, Olympic gold medalists, a medical school dean, and a former U.S. Surgeon General. And these men and women sat in rapt attention as Kayla, without a trace of self-consciousness, unabashedly articulated her generation’s intentions around advocacy at a young age, and the need for companies to play a role in cultivating those advocates and listen to young people’s ideas for change around wellness in school communities and beyond.
My point? When I see young women like Kayla, I realize that, while we have a distance to go before we enjoy equity with men in the workplace, especially in the C-suite, progress has been made. And young women like Kayla are the proof. They have an uncanny belief that they can do anything, and, refreshingly, they’re not in it for the accolades. They’re in it to change the game in meaningful ways, for themselves and their peers.
Fantastic young women like Kayla are also encouragement to my generation when we face the road ahead, which is still a tough one. According to the Huffington Post, there are still only 23 female CEO’s of Standard & Poor 500 companies — not even 5 percent. And just 8 percent of companies worldwide with revenues of $500 million have a female CEO.
To the women on the wonderful AT&T Twitter Chat last week, I say thank you for your candor and for helping to blaze the trail for young women like Kayla who are poised to carry on your legacy. My beliefs and takeaways? Seek out great mentors and learn from them. Don’t apologize for your passion. Ask for counsel. Look for, and take advantage of, unexpected pathways. Don’t assume obstacles that might not be there. And most important, TAKE RISKS — because you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!
Furthering the cause of gender equity is both necessary and appreciated. And while incredible women, and many fabulous men are contributing to the cause daily, I would challenge anyone reading this to do three things in the coming new year to help push things forward:
1) Make young people, especially girls, a part of your decision-making. My great friend and peer DJ Paoni, President of SAP North America, recently spoke about forming an Emerging Talent Advisory Board of young people at his company to provide ideas and feedback. Companies should all think about creating these types of groups to help them stay relevant, and include young women as part of those conversations. Start filling the talent pipeline early with a youthful, diverse group of people that will grow into leaders. Leaders who will teach you as much as, if not more than, you teach them.
2) Identify a young, smart, ambitious woman in your community, your business, or in your life, and step up to serve as a mentor or advisor to her career — and ask her to pay it forward. It’s not called the domino effect for nothing — but it only works if we start the dominos falling and begin catalyzing change.
3) It’s not just about getting equal pay right. Of course women should get paid the same as men. But when hiring, make an effort to interview unlikely candidates, even if it’s a young woman whose resumé doesn’t fit the bill exactly. Sometimes the greatest thinkers are those who don’t come from your industry. Think outside the box, and you’re likely to find your next jewel. I speak from experience!
Alexis Glick is Chief Executive Officer of GENYOUth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing child health and wellness through programs presented in partnership with the National Football League and the National Dairy Council. Glick also serves as a frequent contributor to CNN, providing her perspective on global business topics of importance, the financial markets and CEO leadership trends. Glick is a frequent, strategic advisor to CEOs for some of the largest international, blue-chip and Fortune 500 companies on issues relating to media strategy, business development, investor relations and communications and advises professional athletes on social media, branding and public speaking.