Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at SXSW with The Female Quotient Girls’ Lounge alongside our Subway® restaurants client, Meaghan Morelli, Director of Digital Content. Together, we led a discussion about women in leadership – a topic we’re both extremely passionate about. I’ve distilled our discussion into a few practical steps that will help create environments that foster the success of women.
Meaghan Morelli (right): An inspiring leader (warning: professional crush alert), mother, activist and all around badass. She manages a team of women (and one awesome man) for the world’s largest global franchise – which also happens to be run by a woman.
Our key observations
Even though we’ve seen the number of female CEOs rise dramatically over the last decade, women still face challenges in the workplace – just read the headlines. Thankfully, conversations are being held that are long overdue and changes are happening. However, one thing we’re realizing is that the blueprint for leadership was created by men, so as women, we’re trying to squeeze into a shoe that doesn’t quite fit.
Here are a few of our key observations:
- Competitive women are held to a different standard than men. We’re expected to act like men but when we do it’s often misunderstood.
- Many women suffer from a confidence gap, undervaluing their competence and contributions, which works against them when in environments that advance those who are the strongest self-promoters.
- Women aren’t encouraged to be heroes. Meaghan brought an interesting point of view based on her first job working for a rape crisis program in the service of women. As a female led, female focused organization, it taught her a lot about the challenges women face and their incredible strengths. Women can be heroes, especially when advocating for other women.
4 steps to fostering female success at work
To shift away from the ‘old’ male-defined way of leadership, and quicken the pace at which women rise through organizations, women need to create environments that foster the success of other women. Meaghan and I discussed four ways to do this:
- Focus less on competition and more on collaboration. Women often fall prey to unnecessary competitiveness because the male-defined concept of what it means to be valued requires us to compete with each other and sometimes even worse, mistrust each other. We hold the collective back by being competitive against one another instead of competitive through our work, and in doing so, hold ourselves as individuals back as well. Instead, we need to collaborate. We have to check our insecurities at the gate and encourage our teams to share points of view so they feel that they have a seat at the table.
- Create more opportunities for feedback. When you improve collaboration, it facilitates feedback. However, it is important to avoid the negative feedback loop or the zero-feedback loop. No kudos or no comments means you must be doing a bad job, right? Not always. In my experience, a lot of men prefer to manage with limited feedback. Women respond better to actionable feedback. Research published in the Harvard Business Review echoes this. At Jack, we have formal quarterly check-ins with staff. It allows us to create short-term goals and puts people in control of their development and their future. Specific positive feedback fosters growth for employees and leaders.
- Encourage two-way mentorship. Having mentors is very important, especially for women. An effective way to create strong, lasing mentoring relationships is by encouraging an open exchange of information in both directions. I’ve learned a lot from my mentees and mentors over the years. It’s important to teach and learn from the women we manage. Mentoring also helps to propagate a more considerate work environment.
- Don’t just mentor, advocate. Mentoring relationship are certainly valuable in providing advice and encouragement to women as they pursue new levels in their careers. However, those of us in a position to drive advancement shouldn’t stop there. Let’s not leave women to try and make it on their own. By sponsoring women candidates, advocating for new opportunities and career growth on their behalf, and ensuring their pay is on par with their male colleagues, we’ll help balance the scale at a much faster pace.
Meaghan and I are lucky to work for organizations that demonstrate how much they value women in leadership roles with their actions – encouraging us to speak at this conference is one. I want to be clear too that we aren’t bashing the management style of men. It’s reframing the conversation, reexamining the possibilities through a female lens. Building an environment that works for everyone.
It’s amazing to think that it hasn’t even been 100 years since women earned the right to vote.
Our time is now and for those of us that have a seat at the table, we need to be willing to make room for the talented, ambitious women who are coming up behind us. Because in the end, if we want to change the design of leadership, we have to have each other’s back.
Niki Herr is an SVP, Group Account Director at Jack Morton.
The Female Quotient is a movement committed to advancing equality in the workplace through collaboration, activating solutions for change and creating measurements for accountability. Its Girls’ Lounge is a destination at conferences, companies and college campuses that has become the largest community of corporate women and female entrepreneurs transforming workplace culture.
The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to Meaghan Morelli and are not affiliated with or a reflection of the corporate policies of Subway Restaurants.