It’s been an... interesting year for women to say the least. On one hand, “feminism” is the Merriam Webster word of the year and it’s impossible to deny the power of the voices being raised through the #metoo movement and the Women’s March. On the other hand, the data, the storylines of workplace harassment, and the sheer volume of bad news makes it hard to be optimistic about the current state of women in the business world.
At HubSpot, we’re proud to be a Best Place to Work for Women, but we want our impact as a company to go beyond our four walls. So in November, we brought together senior women from Boston-based companies to share their wisdom, insight, and inspiration with each other and to learn from a panel of dynamic female leaders who have been shattering the glass ceiling for years. Below are five takeaways from the incredible panelists that I hope and think will inspire you as much as they did for me:
Be Afraid, and Do It Anyway
In business, new opportunities will be thrown at you every day. It’s okay to be afraid of what you don’t know -- but take that fear, and do it anyway. Be fearless in the attempt of taking on a new challenge. Learn how to transition from one exciting project or task to the next and don’t be scared to try something just because you’ve never done it before. Tackle the lateral opportunities and take on brand new challenges. Learn something new and master that skill. Always be growing and learning as you move up the career ladder. You don’t become a director, a VP, or a CEO without striving to try new things, doing them remarkably, and even sometimes failing and learning from that failure. You have to be prepared to tackle something that’s scary and messy and have the confidence to jump in and do it anyway.
Find Your Tribe
Whether you call it your tribe, your personal board of advisors, or just close friends and family, every woman has her VIP’s in life. The ones you know and trust who will give you the whole truth and nothing but the truth when the stakes are at their highest. For Jody Rose, the President of NEVCA, her personal board helped her navigate both a job change and questions around raising her children because they were unafraid to tell it like it was. For others, it’s your close female friends who will help you navigate those job changes, children, and leaving and returning to the workforce after children. Leadership in any business can be a lonely endeavor, but having people who know who you are at your core and aren’t afraid to give you the truth as you navigate your decisions are imperative to both your personal and professional happiness.
Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge the Status Quo
One story during the lunch that was shared came from HubSpot’s newest board member, Jill Ward. Jill's fifth grade teacher once told her parents that she spent too much time reading. Her mother (clearly also a force to be reckoned with) sent Jill back the next day with a note to the teacher that said, “it’s her call.” Who’s to decide in life how you spend your time doing anything? Jill’s mom gave her the autonomy and support to push back on the teacher’s opinion and challenge the status quo of the classroom. Sometimes being unafraid of difficult or uncomfortable situations, or even of the people who hold the power, forces you to challenge the norm and say “You know, I don’t agree.” Reading and learning ended up becoming a foundational part of Jill’s learning style and has helped her grow significantly in her career to where she is today -- part of the 20% of women who have a seat at the board table.
Set Goals and Values that Work for You
Every female leader has a different framework for goals and decision-making. But, each of the frameworks our panelists brought to the table reinforced the importance of having a personal value system you use to make big choices and decisions, and then how to bring every big decision back to those values that matter to you. Donna Levin decided to take leadership into her own hands and co-founded Care.com, learning how valuable starting your own company can be in creating a life and a workplace that fits your values. Every leader sets the goals that works for them. Some women leaders set ten year goals, others set micro-goals on a weekly basis. And, sometimes you have to make a choice or take a risk that wasn’t anywhere on any list.
Always Be Growing
To circle back to the first piece of advice on trying new things and tackling tough challenges, in order to climb the corporate ladder of leadership, you have to always be growing. You have to keep your mind sharp and fresh with new ideas and learnings about the world, your industry, or something completely outside of your comfort zone. To conclude the conversation with our panelists, we asked each one to recommend a blog, a book, a Ted talk, or something similar that they use to learn, grow, and get inspired. Here is their list of content that has helped and encouraged them in their careers. I hope they will also inspire you to always be growing.
- Color Brave by Mellody Hobson
- What I Learned When My Plane Crashed by Ric Elias
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Meet the Mom Who Started the Ice Bucket Challenge
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
So whether you’re just starting out in your career or trying to break through to the C-Suite, my hope is that you are as inspired as I am by these women and their insights and accomplishments. While the past year has been full of ups and downs for women globally, events like these and women so gracious with their time and knowledge are a great reminder that hopefully the future will be chock full of incredible women helping inspire and elevate great organizations to support, grow, and promote amazing female leaders.