How Can Women Reach the Top of Corporate America?

John Bussey, of the Wall Street Journal, had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview 18 female CEOs of different Fortune 500 companies. I reached out to Selena Rezvani, the author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders and Pushback: How Smart Women Ask And Stand Up For What They Want, who has done extensive research on women leaders. Here are some quotes from Rezvani’s newest book Pushback that every Levo League member should know.

From the Wall Street Journal’s Article How Women Can Get Ahead: Advice From Female CEOs:

On how to get ahead in the boardroom:

  • Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint: Your success is not pre-determined by your gender. Instead, it depends on your willingness to seize opportunities and take risks. If you want to prove yourself, find the most challenging assignment and make it work for you. Don’t be afraid to get a little messy – that’s how great successes are made!
  • Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup: I created a strategic process for my career plan that determined the final destination, identified which skills I needed to develop, figured out how to build those skills, took line positions to gain experience, and sought leadership and management training on the job, through special assignments, coaching.
  • Gracia Martore, CEO of Gannett: The only way to be an effective leader is if you are comfortable with who you are. You can build confidence by better understanding yourself.
  • Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications: Many women still believe the fiction that if they do great work, their bosses will take notice and give them a raise or promotion. Unfortunately, this is seldom a reality.
  • Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan: I am dedicated to my work and always put in the extra effort to get things done. There is no secret formula for success, it only comes through hard work.

On the gender bias they faced and how to overcome it:

  • Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications: Men have the tendency to only listen selectively, and when I noticed this happening in conversation, I would stop and point it out. In relationships, women cannot simply sit back and Wallow; they need to stand up for themselves.
  • Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan: I discovered that gender bias is unfortunately commonplace after looking back on my own experiences. More specifically, the expectations society has for women are generally lower than those of men, leading to fewer opportunities for us. I understand what it’s like to have a lack of opportunities, so as a leader now, I make sure that everyone has an equal chance to voice their valid opinions and suggestions. Furthermore, I see to it that the workplace is healthy for all employees by implementing policies relative to work-life balance.
  • Ilene Gordon, CEO of Corn Products: Perhaps the most enduring misconception is that women cannot excel in both their professional and personal lives. However, many of the attributes required for success in business-such as delegation, time management, and decisiveness-also lend themselves well to parenting.
  • Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint: Although it’s commonly believed that women and their families don’t have to make sacrifices to have a successful career, this simply isn’t true. You get to choose how you prioritize your life and career. Once you make a decision, stick with it instead of constantly doubting yourself.

From Selena Rezvani’s book, Pushback: How Smart Women Ask And Stand Up For What They Want

  • Barbara J. Krumsiek, President, CEO & Chair of Calvert Investments, Inc. I think that women have a problem with trial and error. If we don’t know everything about something, we tend to avoid it. However, sometimes you won’t always have all the information; it’s okay to only know enough. Women must believe in their resumes, and I make it a point to drop into the conversation my math degrees or experience serving on a national development team. To demonstrate our expertise, we might share an anecdote without fully name-dropping. We need to do this skillfully; it’s neither reciting our credentials nor bragging.
  • Deborah Simpson, CFO of The Boston Consulting Group: The most helpful advice I ever received was to take on projects that pique your interest when you’re feeling too busy. You’ll eventually find a way to balance everything else out. There are many benefits to taking on meaty, tough assignments with complex problem-solving components. Not only will it be more enjoyable for you, but it will also help further your career. So don’t sell yourself short – have a nose for searching out engaging work!
  • Irene Chang Britt, CSO of Campbell Soup Company: I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career, but I wish I’d known it was okay to make them earlier on. I made some pretty big mistakes, but instead of being embarrassed, I should have appreciated that it was all part of learning and developing on the job.

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