Listen to learn, not reply. This is a fundamental rule of active listening. It’s also a key tenant of effective leadership. Female leadership and male leadership.
Unfortunately, not enough women leaders are consistently recognized when offering insight, yet this may be one of the most critical moments in workplace history for men and women to listen to women and learn.
As demonstrated by sexist policies from companies like Uber, and the widespread examples of mansplaining and pay inequality, U.S. businesses have a lot of work to do. What started in Silicon Valley with the Ellen Pao gender discrimination trial, blew wide open when the video of then-candidate Trump talking about “grabbing her by the ….” came to light last year (no link needed). Today, we have new revelations pouring out of Hollywood with allegations that Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted women and abused his position of power for decades. These are not isolated events in select industries, rather they are symptoms of an equality and access problem that is pervasive in business.
For example, I was just invited to attend the Synergy Global Forum, a heavy-hitting conference in NYC. And then I looked at the list of 12 world-recognized experts. A list of 12. One woman. Robin Wright, star of the House of Cards and more importantly the best movie of all time (“Anybody want a peanut?”), The Princess Bride, is also a philanthropist and human rights activist. No offense to Ms. Wright, but surely the Forum could have stacked the deck with five more equally inspiring business women with great thoughts. I have a growing list on my desk. Hell, Forbes has a fresh list of 100!
The term “tone-deaf” comes to mind.
It’s not only time for change, it’s time to lift up women and amplify their voices.
Not because women are necessarily better leaders than men; because they can be equally as good or bad as men. And the influential voices – those guiding us in what to do, how to do it, and why to do it – should reflect those people in leadership positions.
Women Leaders In A Few Numbers
According to a well-done report done by American Express OPEN, as of 2016 over there are 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating $1.6 trillion in revenues. This is an encouraging number – especially since growth of women-owned businesses has outstripped overall growth by 36%.
The Fortune list of the most powerful business women provides a fantastic list of women leaders who command incredible influence, and are collectively responsible for trillions in revenues and market value. I’ll just call out my high school classmate Helena Foulkes of CVS as a great example. (Go Lynx!)
Now, let’s hear what these women leaders have to say about how to run a company.
An Amazon search for business books on how to successfully run a company will produce hundreds of results of male authors, meanwhile the majority of business books authored by women focus on how to succeed within an organization led by men. It’s time to hear from more women at the top on how to lead.
These factors contributed to and motivated me to finish my second book The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees Even After They Leave.
Why I Finished The Boomerang Principle
I almost abandoned this book last year. I had a LOT going on at Double Forte, I’ve been splitting time between San Francisco and New York, the three non profit organizations whose boards I sit on were quite active, and both my kids were in the midst of major transitions. I was two days from telling my publisher that I wasn’t going to complete the manuscript.
And then I watched that debate, where our now President called the former Secretary of State, former Senator from New York, former First Lady of the United States a “Nasty Woman.” (Again, no link needed.) I got up off the couch and went to my desk. My husband asked me “what are you doing?” My response: “I’m finishing my book. This is something I can do.” And I bought a T-shirt or two. You can too here.
My goal is to inspire and prepare companies and people to create positive workplace cultures that drive profit and sustainability in a dynamic, worldwide economy. This includes building workplace cultures that are inclusive of women, generations, races, interests, sexual identity, and points of view, all with pay equality and access to opportunity. As a woman CEO of my 15-year-old company, I have a responsibility to also walk my talk, which is why I have women in top positions within my company, offer professional development to employees regardless of gender identity, and I do my best to listen to learn. You can read where I’ve learned from my team here, here, and here.
At my company, Double Forte, I have a high-input, low-democracy leadership style. This means I seek the strategic counsel of my team, but I ultimately make decisions on the direction of the business. If I choose a path that’s different from my team’s counsel, it isn’t because I didn’t listen or learn. I did both, I simply have to follow my intuition and own the consequences. I don’t always make the right decisions, and I, like everyone else I know, make mistakes, from which we press forward.
My company is small. My voice is small in comparison to the women on the Forbes and Fortune lists. Yet, we all can make a large, positive proportional impact on the circles in which we operate. And the more we can hear the women’s voice at the top and her distinct point-of-view, the better off we will all be as a culture, individuals, teams, institutions, and businesses.
Women Leaders Share Their Wisdom
And because I know you’ll ask, here are nine women-authored books I think every business person should read. They will each enrich your thinking and perspective.
- Work, Pause, Thrive by Lisen Stromberg
- Get to Aha! by Andy Cunningham
- I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi
- Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson,
- Reset by Ellen Pao
- Entrepreneurial You by Dorie Clark
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
- The Power of Onlyness by Nilofer Merchant
- Pivot by Jenny Black
Ladies: Have fun storming the castle!
* Special thanks to my colleague Joe Kowalke who helped me articulate my thoughts on this one. It takes a village.