We Sat at the Table for Women in Learning and Leadership
We sat at the table. We were of various ages, from Baby Boomers to Millennials. We represented different backgrounds, races, and cultures. We held diversified corporate positions and sat together at the table.In the past year, the female Chief Human Resources Officer of our company instituted a women’s leadership organization and encouraged the company’s offices around the globe to start their own chapters. The mission: strive to proactively drive change in support of women, to leverage diverse skills to solve business challenges, and to promote an inclusive company culture.With a better than expected turnout at the June launch for the Arizona chapter, we welcomed our visitors with the opportunities they have to participate. Book clubs, education workshops, volunteer opportunities and a speaker series.Our first speaker addressed a group of educated, professional women with her tale of “Jumping off the high dives” when life presents the chance. Often times, when given the choice to climb that 20 foot ladder and take the leap off the high dive, we either don’t climb, or we get to the top and really want to jump, but instead, back down the ladder out of fear. If we do take that leap with laser sharp focus and commitment, the lessons we learn on our way into the water are invaluable…and worth it! I am confident that the 2014 Honorees on the Forty Over 40 list can relate to that feeling. And I am also confident that they have each faced those high dives.Our leadership group also recently sat at the table for a book club discussion on none other than Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (see Lean In for more). Our facilitator introduced our session and refreshed our mission for the conversation which was: What is your story and how does it relate to Sandberg’s message?A consistent theme arose during the discussion about how our history affected our personal and professional paths. Most of us said that our parents were very encouraging. We were told we could be whoever or do whatever we wanted. However, the underlying more subtle messages were there, and sometimes just as strong.When I was a child, I was told I could do anything. I was smart and talented. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had an eye opening and jaw dropping experience listening to my husband and my father have a “spirited discussion” about working mothers. My husband was supportively informing my father that I would decide whether or not I wanted to work after the baby was born. My father then emphatically declared that women [mothers] in his family don’t work. Whhhaaaaat?I heard related stories at that table. A young, married professional woman, who is encouraged by her family to pursue any avenue of her choosing, had a conversation with her husband about having children. He thought she would stay home and take care of the baby. Why? Because she is the woman and she would naturally know what to do, better than he…the man.Neither message, from my father or from this young man, were intended to be oppressive or mean spirited. They were expressing their honest beliefs about nature, nurture and the ways of their worlds. I am proud of the choices I made on my professional path. I am also proud that this young woman, sitting in front of a group of friendly strangers declared that clearly, she and her husband are going to have a conversation about what it means to forge an equal partnership in life, love, marriage and parenting.The point is this: the more organizations initiate, support and motivate women of all ages, experiences and positions to come together and sit at the table, the more likely we will have generations of women creating their own definitions of success. None of us sitting at the table had the same definition. In fact, our definitions were as diverse as we were. But the common denominator was our desire to empower one another to continue the movement, mentor and teach one another about what it means, not only to succeed in leadership roles, but also embody what it means to lead.We can all learn about powerful leadership tools through those who share their experiences as illustrated by Simone Roche’s article on women in leadership.