I often hear the term “fake it until you make it” – usually in relation to a woman who does not feel confident in her own abilities. In fact, I recently used that term when mentoring a young woman. She was hired by a new client who was really stretching her beyond her comfort zone. This new client was a nationally known brand and the stakes were higher than any client she had experienced working for in the past. She just did not feel that she had the depth of content knowledge or experience. Yet, the client had hired her as the expert.
She did all of the things that you would expect; researching and talking to others who had similar clients and challenges, but she still did not feel confident. As I was prepping her for a first meeting in New York City with her new client, I found myself saying, “just go there and be confident, don’t let your hesitance show to the client, just fake it till you make it.” What I really meant was, don’t let yourself defeat yourself. In the eyes of the client, you are the expert. Make sure you see YOURSELF as the expert too. Come into the room with a air of confidence, a command of the subject matter, reaffirm the problem to the client and turn to other experts on your team to provide the detail.
In reflecting on what I said to her, perhaps “fake it until you make it” led her to believe that she did not have the content knowledge, but she did. It simply meant that she needed to get the age-old foe of women, the imposter syndrome, out of her head. She was not faking anything, she had the right stuff, she just needed a bit of a confidence-booster.
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.
Sharing personal stories, struggles or achievements is a great way to support each other as women, but sometimes it’s important to focus on practical advice for everyday situations. No matter how much equality we achieve in the workplace, there will always be certain things that women must consider in business settings that will be different than their male counterparts.
I recently gave this type of advice to a young woman at a social event. She mentioned that she had not handed out her business card to a potential business contact because her purse was too large. It was a challenge for her to fumble through the keys, wallet, umbrella, extra pair of shoes, notebook and pens to find and hand over her card in way that didn’t feel chaotic. In that moment she needed some practical advice from a woman who has been there many times. When I was approached for my business card, I too used to struggle to easily produce it by digging into a large handbag. It would become awkward, especially with men – me digging into a handbag and them waiting impatiently. I learned to carry a small handbag with a side opening where I keep my cards so that I can seamlessly grab one while maintaining a conversation. Simple advice, but something that only came from experiencing this challenge many times in my career.
Another area that I often hear women struggle with is business travel, and how to look and feel your best when on the road without having to lug your entire wardrobe or large cosmetic bag. For example, I choose to keep my nails polished, so I always travel with small portable packets of nail polish remover and one micro bottle of clear nail polish. There are countless other ways I’ve learned to deal with the hazards of ripped pantyhose, humid weather and frizzy hair, carrying liquid makeup in your carry-on bag, and so many more experience females experience from just well, living the realities of being female!
Although it can feel awkward to call attention to the difference between men and women in business settings, the bottom line is that we often dress differently than men. Therefore, women should feel comfortable sharing these practical tips on how to navigate those differences in business settings. I would be interested in hearing from you about the practical tips YOU can share with women colleagues. Please reach out to me Facebook, Twitter or leave your comments below to share your tips!
Sue Bell Yank is an arts organizer and writes about social practice in contemporary art. She has worked on the Watts House Project and was formerly the Assistant Director of Academic Programs at the Hammer Museum and the Director for Online Education at the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is currently the Director of Communications and Outreach at 18th Street Arts Center in Los Angeles.
Early on in my career in the arts, I worked at a small non-profit art gallery in Culver City for minimum wage, a couple of days a week. I was going to graduate school at the time, mostly to meet more people in the city and figure out where my place could be. One of my favorite professors was a New York transplant who had decided to make a go of it out west and start one of the most ambitious non-profit gallery programs in the city.
Working for her was not always easy – life is scrappy in a tiny arts non-profit. But the close quarters (literally – we were all squeezed into about 2 cubic yards of space in the “office”) gave me a front-row seat to how an arts organization can be run, and it was the best education I could have gotten. Artists screamed, curators cried, we laughed and drank (sometimes), we gossiped, and tried our very best to produce important contemporary art exhibitions.
But what she ultimately gave me was much more valuable than the 10 dollars an hour I was making. She was connected to a web of artists, students, and arts workers, and unconditionally generous with her contacts. Seeing any possible sparks of interest and commonality, she set about inserting me into this network so I could create threads of my own. One of these introductions was to Edgar Arceneaux, who was embarking on an ambitious community-engaged art project called Watts House Project, which combined arts, social justice, and community participation. Working on that project and all of its complications allowed me to find my place in the art world (supporting the work of socially-engaged artists), my own personal mission (access to arts education for all), and my next job at the Hammer Museum.
To be clear, I wish that I had been paid more, and I always have advocated (mostly unsuccessfully) for paying interns a living wage. However, it’s a sad reality that work in the arts thrives on unpaid or minimum wage entry level positions (a reality I have been complicit in), and this prevents many people who can’t otherwise afford to work for so little from rising up. But non-profits working on incredibly tight budgets have little choice – oftentimes free intern labor means the difference between creating world-class programs and closing up shop. So we trade on cultural capital – connections, community, reputation – in order to gain more clout and opportunity later in our careers.
Cultural capital worked for me, even through those lean years, because of the privileged position I was working from. I vowed I would mentor other young people rising up, connect them, and give them as much advice as I could – but also to advocate for more equity in the arts. I got the opportunity to do that at the Hammer, where much of my job included working with UCLA students as interns and Hammer Student Association members. It’s been one of my greatest pleasures to watch former students infiltrate the rest of the art world, spreading far and wide. Much of this was due to their own ingenuity and drive, but also to the professional opportunities they got at the Hammer. I also wrote more recommendation letters than I can count.
Early on, most of the questions I got were about how to meet people in the art world, how to get connected, how to get opportunities. But recently those questions have shifted a bit. As I grow older, the women I mentor have also grown older – in their mid to late twenties rather than just out of college. And these women are much more concerned about sustainability. How can a job in the art world actually pay enough money to live? How do I balance wanting to have children with a demanding career that more often than not invades your personal life?
I’m not sure what to tell them. The truth is, arts jobs do not pay well. I’m not sure they ever will. And things are not easy for a working mother of two young children in a field where trendsetters have little regard for the need to pick up your children from daycare, feed them, and kiss them goodnight.
The wonderful thing about the arts, though, is that in LA at least, it can be a rich community. There are ways to raise concerns with key members of your community and advocate for change. Many artists and arts administrators I have worked with are caring, thoughtful, social justice-minded people who are all in this together. They wrack their brains and argue about things like education equity, community cohesion, gentrification, gift-based economies…because oftentimes, the best art is about questioning the status quo and considering questions of equity. When I worked a brief stint in the entertainment industry, I missed that. I took a large pay cut to return to the arts, and I’m so much happier amongst my people. The line from the Metric song Other Side kept running through my head:
All we want is to feel like all we got didn’t cost us everything, even if we never win.”
I traded actual capital for social capital, and there found my way again. Forming, maintaining, and sharing a strong web of relationships, finding your community and your mission, and then advocating for yourself and your family in the midst of it is key to making it all work. Another wise former boss of mine told me to “Find your people, and bring new people in.” In any world, that’s possible.
Over the past month, I have spoken to three people about their future career options. Each was seeking career advancement and an executive title. In each case, I told them that chasing a title is not actually the best way to advance. Of course, that seems easy for me to say with the title of President and CEO. But hear me out…
When I probed about their interest in title progression, I heard them make comments such as, “I want to have credibility and I want a seat at the table.” I continue to hear this from others that I have mentored over the years. They hold the misconception, as many do, that a title will buy them leadership credibility and followership. But the title is not the ticket to leadership. There are other qualities that shape a leader and that, most importantly, generate followership.
One of those qualities is possessing influencing skills. These are skills which help you understand how influence works in your organization and how you can use that influence to better carry out your leadership goals.
More than a title, aspiring and current leaders need to understand that gaining followership from influencing people is critical to success. So, what does that look like? How does one gain influence? First, one must identify the stakeholders. These are the people that are impacted by a certain decision. Once you’ve identified them, spend time with them. Share your viewpoint on a situation and ask them to identify others that may help you to lead in a certain direction.
An effective leader does not say “Do this!” and expect it to be automatically done. An effective leader creates a map of who needs to be involved, who will be impacted, and who is in a position to help me lead.
Even with the title of President and CEO, I use my influencing skills to lead far more than my title. It is with influencing skills that one actually get things done.
I belong to a group of women leaders who meet once a year with the goal of providing mutual personal and professional support and advice. In this post, I want to talk about how this group functions and how important and meaningful it has been for me.
There are two rules to this club: 1) What gets said in the group stays within the group, and 2) If a member gets in touch with you during the year, you must respond within 24 hours, even if just to say, “I’m away but will get back to you on this date.”
The group was established around thirty years ago by women leaders in the pharma industry. They saw their male counterparts going on golf outings and fly fishing trips with each other and decided to start a personal/professional support tradition of their own.
At the annual meeting, usually held at a resort, each person gets time in front of the rest of the group to make a presentation about what is happening in her life professionally and personally (because these are so often interconnected). After the presentation, discussion is opened up to the group, who may provide insight and advice on either topic. There are also some impromptu regional meetings, in addition to the regular annual one.
What has struck me every year with these remarkable women is that everyone has a personal journey, and it can be incredibly powerful for us as professionals to support that journey. This is the true purpose of affinity and networking groups — they’re not just forums for shrewdly angling for a better position or a higher salary. They’re for generating understanding, for thinking of new ways to approach challenges, and for listening to advice from like minded people.
If you don’t have an affinity or networking group within your organization, see if you can develop one. It’s not hard! Focus on activities that engender professional and personal support and mentoring. Address the idea of confidentiality. Put a little bit of structure around it. In my group, nominations for new members must come from three existing members. This means that anyone entering the group most likely relates well to its goals and culture; they’re well-accomplished and have reached a certain level in order to be there. Be aware of and seek out diverse backgrounds in your members. Elect leadership to the group; consider collecting dues and hiring an event organizer for big meetings.
Lisa Suennen over at Venture Valkyrie has written an excellent article about this group and some of the quotable quotes that came out of our meeting.