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Breaking Glass

“Women Leading the Way” forum offers alternative perspective on how to best approach women's issues in business

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Betsy Myers
Betsy Myers - (Betsy Myers - Myers Leadership / Facebook)

Yesterday, I attended the first-ever statewide forum titled “Women Leading the Way: Conversations with Powerful Women on Adversity, Leadership and Education” at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg.

As always, it was wonderful to hear the inspiring stories and encouraging advice from a number of successful women — however, I was particularly taken with the keynote speaker Betsy Myers, and her alternative perspective on how to best approach women’s issues in business.

In my first post for “Breaking Glass,” I encouraged and invited more men — especially Millennial men — to attend women’s networking events to hear how members of the other gender helped build the businesses they work for now.

Knowing now that a woman such as Myers agrees with me, allow me a moment to step down from my soapbox …

In all seriousness, Myers is nothing short of incredible. For one thing, I do not believe she is in her early fifties. I’d like to, simply because at half her age I have not accomplished a tenth of what she has so far — but I don’t.  I look older than she does.

What is fact, however, is that she is a wife and mother to an 11-year old daughter and two golden-doodles. She currently travels the country speaking as a leadership expert and author of “Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You,” while acting as the founding director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University.

Myers previously served as executive director of the Center for Public Leadership and the school’s Director of Alumni Programs and External Relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

AND she was a senior adviser on women’s issues for the Clinton administration and launched the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach.

AND she worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration as the associate deputy administrator for entrepreneurial development and director of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership.

AND she started her career by founding Myers Insurance and Financial Services, specializing in the women’s market.

Seriously, what hasn’t she done? In her speech, Myers spoke about women supporting women — so the least she could do would be to slow down and stop making us all look bad!

But she won’t, and I don’t believe she ever will because of how passionate she is about achieving results for women in the business world.

“Men still dominate positions of power and influence in our country and across the world,” Myers said. “85 percent of top executives in the U.S. are men. Ninety-six percent of those in CEO positions are men.

“Lots of empowering things have been said today, but could it be that we’ve been focusing on the wrong strategies for advancing women?”

Myers referenced studies that found there are too many women’s initiatives in corporate America that focus on changing the behaviors and leadership skills of women, and that these networks and initiatives often function as silos within and outside of companies.

“Days like this are important, but they do not solve the problem of getting more women into senior roles,” Myers said. “We have not been addressing the outdated workplace that was designed by men for men.”

The workforce, as many of you know, has been changing.

Last year, 70 percent of new entries into the workplace were women or minorities.  

In two years, 50 percent of the workforce will be Millennials born between 1980 and 2000.

“The Millennials aren’t coming…they’ve arrived,” Myers said. “And they are driving some of the change that women have been trying to accomplish for several decades. They want an integrated life. They don’t want to work 90 hours a week. And they want to work for companies that make a difference in the world so that they can feel good about going to work every morning.”

Again, Myers and I wholeheartedly agree.

In a previous post, I asked readers to create a pie-chart of their day. After careful calculation, I ended up with an hour of free time and spoke for my generation about the desire to achieve more work-life balance.

It's an important idea to think about as more companies are now asking, “How can we do a better job of hiring, supporting, retaining and promoting Millennials and women in the workplace?”

Myers pointed out that the societal changes driven forth by the Millennials have been drastic — 40 percent of the purchasing decisions are made by women today. Forty percent of women today are either the sole breadwinner or are making more money than their husbands. And women are no longer an interest group in the polls, now accounting for 52 percent of the voting population.

So — Myers asks, “Could the correct focus of today for advancing women be the strategy to include men?”

Men, she said, such as Vince Cirianni, partner of Preferred Client Group and Chair of the event committee.

“I’m really grateful for Vince Cirianni’s leadership as a man in this space of women in business,” Myers said. “I think he has an amazing heart and there’s something about men with daughters that change everything, too.”

Myers commended Cirianni for engaging in the subject matter and creating the event with sponsorship from the Executive Women's Forum in Flemington. She explained that even though there are a lot of great men that finance and attend women’s conferences and create job positions within organizations to deal with gender issues, many of them simply act as a spectator.

So how should women collaborate and build relationships with men to advance our careers?

We could start by buying Myers book. Yes, I’m adding “Take the Lead” to our reading list. No, I have not yet bought Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive.” Yes, it’s on my to-do list.

Anyway, in “Take the Lead” Myers talks about a new way of recognizing the feelings that leadership creates.

“We are all human beings first and what motivates us are our feelings,” Myers said. “When we feel included and part of something bigger than ourselves, we engage and are at our most productive.”

Men, she said, often feel uncomfortable, apathetic and confused about the topic of women in business. They often feel excluded and unwelcome within the inner circle. They’re afraid to make mistakes when talking to women.

So Myers, having been heavily involved in the re-election of President Clinton in 1996, started framing her women-focused agendas as win-win business strategies when speaking to her male colleagues at the White House.

“I figured out that everything I got done in that office, I framed like this: ‘The President should do this because women will re-elect him,’ ” Myers said. “Clinton had a million things competing for his time and attention, so why should he commit to my issue over another? Because he needed to in order to win re-election.”

Myers said it’s not our behaviors or leadership skills that need to change — our communication skills do.

We must communicate with our male colleagues on a peer-to-peer level with the understanding that we are still working within a male-dominated society.

"It's not about submission," Myers said. "It's about directing our authentic selves to make strategic and thoughtful choices about how we show up in the environment's we've chosen."

Myers concluded by saying that events such as “Women Leading the Way” were still effective and necessary even if only attended by women.

“We’re supposed to be freaking out with joy in our lives about what we do everyday and our contributions to the world,” Myers said. “And a big piece of our success is women supporting women — helping the women around us freak out with joy too by reminding them of their gifts.”

More information on the event and a complete list of speakers can be found here.

And here: www.womenleadingtheway.org

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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