As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I thought I would share what I learned from a panel discussion of women leaders from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Research Institute for a panel discussion called “Trailblazing Women at CHOP.” I was fortunate enough to sit alongside three women who talked career paths, the challenges we’ve faced as women leaders, how we balance work and family, and much more. My fellow panelists shared some advice that I think is relevant to all women, and I’d like to share some of their insights with you.
Follow Your Own Path
Being a trailblazer means taking chances, letting go of others’ expectations and having the confidence to make the choices that are best for you. When describing some of the choices she made in her own career, Lisa Biggs, M.D. said, “At each place along the way I took a step that was not consistent with what was expected of me.” She also offered this advice, “You need to do what your life tells you to do.”
Find Your Champions
We often speak about the importance of mentoring, but it’s equally important to have champions – friends, family members and colleagues who encourage you and want you to succeed. Champions are a bit different than mentors, they help to open doors for you and become your cheering section on the sidelines. “You have to have people in your life who believe in you,” said Angela Ellison, M.D. “I take the good people in my life and surround myself with them, because they are going to be my champions.” To find your champions, she added, it’s important to trust your instinct: “You’re born with an instinct, and as you get older, that instinct gets better. Use that.”
When People Believe in You, Believe Them
Sometimes very accomplished people have a hard time owning their achievements, and feel that they don’t deserve the accolades they’ve received. Beverly Davidson, PhD, encouraged women in this situation to look at things from a different perspective: “You were asked to that meeting because your expertise and qualities are required, and people believe in you…And if they believe in you, then you can, too.” We also discussed how men and women are perceived in the workplace: Women leaders are often thought of as collaborative and mission driven, for example, while men are seen as more directive. In reality, of course, no style or trait is exclusive to a particular gender – and an approach that works in one situation may not work in another. What’s most important is that we recognize and honor the unique qualities each person brings to our team.