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Women Unlimited Blog

20th Anniversary Reflections

April 18th marks WOMEN Unlimited Inc.’s 20th anniversary. That’s when the dream of our founder, Jean Otte, to help talented women reach the top of their corporations became a reality. The first LEAD program was attended by 18 women from AT&T, PSEG, Colgate-Palmolive Company, and Volvo to name a few. And today, thanks to our more than 160 corporate partners and over 10,000 talented alumnae, the successes keep racking up. You’ll be hearing more about those successes in the months ahead.

I couldn’t be prouder of this phenomenal organization and of our corporate partners. We have worked together diligently, many from the earliest days of WOMEN Unlimited, to be true partners. Our relationship is an on-going give and take where we adapt and update our programs to align with their corporate needs and with the growth and development of their talented women. But it’s not in my DNA to rest on our laurels. I am excited to look at what still needs to be done and how we can continue to help talented women and their corporations achieve new levels of success.

3 Ways the Corporate Landscape Needs to Change—
And How We Plan to Help

WOMEN Unlimited has never shied away from being in the forefront of productive change. Starting with Jean, we have continually advocated for diversity and inclusivity, because it was the right thing to do and the smart business thing to do. In the near future, I see three areas where we will continue to push the envelope of opportunity for talented women and the global corporations for whom they work.

  1. Help organizations embrace the power of diverse styles and opinions
    In studies from Catalyst, Harvard, the Wall Street Journal (and the list goes on and on) the numbers keep reaffirming that diversity at the top improves the bottom line. For the past 20 years, WOMEN Unlimited programs have proven to be successful vehicles for helping organizations find, develop, promote and retain their talented women. We will continue to reach out to organizations both nationally and internationally so that more of them reap the benefits of diversity at the top.
  2. Change forever the conversation around women “having it all”
    It’s arbitrary and it’s a distraction. I would like to see the conversation reframed (and we do it during our programs) so that women focus on what they want for their careers; on what makes them feel fulfilled both personally and professionally. Focusing on goals and the areas that support those goals is key to a woman’s professional success and to her having an integrated life. We will continue to stress, more fervently than ever, that success is not about having it all; it’s about having what you set out to accomplish.
  3. Help develop expansive mind sets at all corporate levels to fuel growth and innovation
    When employees, managers and leaders rely solely on their own view, they not only miss understanding how others see the world, they miss the opportunity to leverage the “power” different points of view can have on organizational as well as personal growth. Because the stakes are higher and the consequences of myopia greater, clinging to a limited point of view at the top levels of corporations is especially detrimental. It’s our on-going goal at WOMEN Unlimited to support our participants, our alumnae, our existing partners and our potential ones in abandoning outdated pre-conceived notions, and in developing instead an authentic appreciation of different styles, strategies and approaches.

As we look forward from our 20th anniversary we’d love to hear from you. Please post your comments on how YOU want the corporate landscape to change. Be sure to follow us on Twitter as well – @womenunlimited_

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

The Double-Edged Benefits of Intrapreneurs

As someone who works jointly with talented women and their Fortune 1000 companies, I’m always on the lookout for approaches and strategies that benefit both. It’s the focus of WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. partnerships: helping women move forward so both they and their companies reach new levels of success.

Intrapreneurship is definitely a win-win strategy and especially effective for career-focused women. It dovetails perfectly with the changes in attitudes and behaviors they must embrace if they are going to make it to the highest levels of their organizations.

Intraprenuership: A Quick Overview
There’s nothing new about intrapreneurship. It’s been around for 40+ years with some great accomplishments behind it. For example, intrapreneurs are credited with the creation of new airplane designs for Lockheed Martin…Post-It Notes for 3M…and Gmail and Google News for Google.

Before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by an intrapreneur It’s “ a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation” (Wikipedia)

Two Sides to Intrapreneurial Success
As obvious as it sounds, if an intrapreneur is to be successful, the corporate climate in which she is operating must be conducive to the concept. Many intrapreneurs fail, not because they or their ideas are not up to speed, but because their current corporate environment is not suited for intrapreneurship.

So here’s a quick checklist of the corporate characteristics most conducive to intrapreneurs:

  • Continually seek out new ideas and input from employees at all levels
  • Foster inter-departmental collaboration
  • Monitor customer attitudes and opinions about products and services
  • Create an environment where employees are free to speak up
  • Set aside an in-house venture capital fund
  • Reward “genius” ideas monetarily
  • Hold classes and seminars to encourage and spark employee creativity
  • Encourage employees to have fun in an environment where creativity and innovation abound

On the other side of the coin, not everyone is suited to becoming an intrapreneur. These are the key characteristics most often found in those who succeed at it:

  • Sees opportunities others don’t
  • Has a high comfort level with risk
  • Creative and innovative
  • Passionate about change
  • Establishes a network that expands her thinking and her perspectives
  • Effective team player
  • Talent for selling ideas to others
  • Organizationally savvy

When the right organizational climate and the right intrapreneurial talent align, the potential for innovative products and services is almost limitless. As women (especially millennials) continue to find their voice and move up the corporate ladder, we are likely to see more of them weighing in as heavy-duty intrapreneurs. I can’t wait!

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

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Women Have To Stop Shying Away From Their Own Accomplishments

Most women are passionate cheerleaders for the achievements of those they care about—kids, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, bosses, colleagues, subordinates…with one notable exception…

THEMSELVES.

Women often shy away from getting the word out about their corporate accomplishments. They tend to harbor the misguided expectation that their work will speak for itself. Not likely. And even if it does, will it say the right thing? Will it help push a career to the next level? Or will it reinforce a corporate need to keep someone right where they are?

Catalyst research has found that men are paid on potential while women are paid on performance. This may be due, in part, to women not ”tooting their own horn.” When a woman chooses to let her work speak for itself, she thwarts her own progress by limiting information critical for senior leadership to assess her talents and abilities. By “tooting her own horn” a woman can begin to shift the equation and give corporate leaders a sense of not just her performance, but her leadership potential.

That’s why there is nothing wrong, and everything right, with making big hits known, whether it’s closing an important piece of new business…hitting on a major new product breakthrough…or receiving a reward from a professional organization.

How to do it? Word of mouth. Memo. Forwarding a press release. Having a trusted corporate friend or colleague get the word out. It’s also always good practice to frame accomplishments in terms of how they benefit the corporation and the sense of satisfaction that accompanies being part of that success.

Compliments Are Often Missed Opportunities

I also find that women tend to blow off compliments, rather than leverage them, which flies squarely in the face of best practices. Handling a compliment in the right way can win allies and forge key relationships.

An effective approach would go something like this. Let’s say a Vice President congratulates a middle-level manager on an outstanding presentation. First, she should thank the VP for the compliment and then ask, “What was the most impactful aspect of the presentation?” To really wow the executive, she could then ask “If there is one thing I could change to make the presentation better, what would you suggest?” By seeking out constructive feedback, the manager is cultivating a stronger relationship with the VP, and is also leaving the door open for future interactions.

For any number of reasons, women at all levels need to become skilled at both making their accomplishments visible and leveraging the power of a compliment. Developing these strategies will accelerate the transition from women being paid for their performance to their being paid for their potential!

As Jean Otte, founder of WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. so often told participants in our programs: “It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you know.”

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

Mentoring Success – In the Words of Mentees Themselves

In my January blog I highlighted the key finding from my doctoral dissertation, Women’s Mentoring Wisdom. Most notably, that mentees were successful when they acted intentionally and took deliberate steps to prepare for their mentoring relationships, to leverage their mentors’ insights and to transfer what they learned to organizational relationships.

This time, I’d like to share with you some comments from the mentees themselves. One of the advantages of my qualitative research methodology is it allowed me to conduct open-ended interviews with 26 women. They candidly shared with me, how intentional mentoring changed them and changed their careers. Here are a few examples.

Improved Self Esteem

I don’t think I would feel as confident in making career changes without mentors, because they are people to whom I can say: this is why I think I want it. This is why I think I would be good at it. Here’s where I am scared that I am not good enough for it and getting advice on that. I do not think I would be changing positions, or growing myself as much as I am without mentors.

…I get feedback and coaching from them that builds my confidence. I leverage this on a day-to-day basis from a leadership perspective. It’s validation that my approach, that what I am looking to do, has a chance of working.

Broadened Business Perspective

Helped me understand what top talent was, and I was able to craft a plan to be viewed as ‘top talent’

My mentor helped shift my mindset when he shared his experiences and perspective. He helped me see the importance of building relationships.

One of the key benefits of these relationships…is providing you a resource of knowing things that are not in your frame of reference

“Showing Up” the Right Way

You approach the leadership team and ask them, can I meet with you for 15 minutes to get guidance on a certain topic; I really value your opinion? They love to share their knowledge, background and offer advice.

Through these relationships, I understood that if I wanted to be the GM (general manager) of this business, I needed to act like the GM of this business.

I was able to talk with my boss and discuss my career goals… A few months later, a role opened up and my boss recommended me for the position. I would not have had the conversation with my manager without my mentor’s support and guidance.

From everyone’s perspective: the over-all corporation, mentors and mentees, the payoffs of successful mentoring strategies are significant and pervasive. Here are a few links to more information on creating effective mentoring relationships that produce high-impact results.


To view/download: [click here]
WOMEN’S MENTORING WISDOM: RESEARCH AT A GLANCE

To view the webinar: [click here]
Mentoring, Sponsorship, & Partnering for Women’s Advancement


Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President and CEO
WOMEN Unlimited Inc

77 Cents is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

Since President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on January 28th, there’s been a lot of back and forth on whether women really earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn…how that number was arrived at…and whether it’s the right stat to be bandying around. To my mind, it’s a distractor. No matter how you slice it, women earn less than men (with the highest number I’ve seen at 81 cents).
As someone whose job and passion it is to help women navigate corporate America, I have a bigger concern—a concern that we have to get to the underlying reasons why inequity exists, not just inequity in pay, but inequity in opportunity. And, of course, they’re linked.
To start, both women and their organizations benefit when more women are at the top levels of corporations. Women account for 54% of the workforce, but for only 14% of top positions. The consequences of this disparity are monumentally damaging

  • Being sorely absent from C-suite positions, also makes women sorely absent from the highest salaries, bonuses and perks that come with these positions. Additionally, women tend to be in roles that do not have bottom line responsibilities. Traditionally, these positions pay less, are valued less and lead to top jobs less often. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Corporations are missing out on the “higher intelligence” decision making that comes when there is a heterogeneous grouping in C-suites and on Boards. As I’ve said before, research has shown that teams that include women, have smarter and more innovative approaches to solving problems and grasping opportunities. It’s not that women are smarter. It’s that diverse groups with women in them ARE.

Working with many of the world’s leading organizations and many of their most talented women, I see that the days of deliberate discrimination are largely gone. Instead, there is a more subtle, and because it is less obvious, a sometimes more insidious staller of women’s careers and opportunities.

I have come to call it “gender fatigue” and it’s pervasive.

  • There is gender fatigue on the part of organizations who believe they are doing the right thing hiring more women, only to find them leaving in large numbers at the mid-career stage. Possible solution: organizations need to more actively combat the ennui and frustration that women feel at mid-career level when they begin to sense the inevitable—that their careers are stalled in place.
  • There is gender fatigue on the part of women who enter the workplace optimistic that their opportunities are the same as their male counterparts only to “wake up” and realize that, despite their talents, they have been passed over, underpaid and overlooked. We still hear in our programs that women are frustrated because doing a good job—even an outstanding job– is not enough to advance their careers. Possible solution: women at all levels (most especially mid-career) must develop and use the mentors, the networks and the competencies that will transform them into powerful leaders who cannot be ignored.
  • There is gender fatigue on the part of male managers who are trying to do the right thing, but often don’t understand that women’s corporate experiences are different from men’s and therefore their view of the organization is different. Possible solution: A greater willingness to support their female subordinates and to acknowledge and combat possible hidden perceptions such as feelings that women will leave to start a family… or that business relationships with women may be misconstrued.

So let’s move past the 77 cents debate…focus instead on another quote from the President’s State of the Union Address… and make it our individual and corporate call to action:

“When women succeed, America succeeds.”

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

Happy New Year! Happy National Mentoring Month!

Happy New Year. I wish you all a year filled with happiness and prosperity. It’s an especially exciting year for us at WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. since it marks our 20th Year Anniversary helping organizations foster the success of their talented women. In the weeks and months ahead you’ll be hearing much more about how we plan to keep upping the ante for our participants’ individual and organizational success.

I’d like to start the year off by honoring the fact that it’s National Mentoring Month. I’ve blogged previously about mentoring, a critical cornerstone of our WOMEN Unlimited programs, but this time I’m going to approach mentoring from a different angle.

Last June I completed my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school and focused my dissertation on “Women’s Mentoring Wisdom.” My research, which focused exclusively on the mentee perspective, brought to light some interesting findings which I’d like to share with you. The research was qualitative in nature with in-depth interviews of 26 alumnae from the WOMEN Unlimited LEAD program, who were all at mid-career stage and from Fortune 1000 companies. They reflected a broad spectrum of positions and industries, with no two women from the same company. Here are the key findings:

First and foremost, we found that effective mentoring relationships were a definite asset to career advancement for women. BUT the key ingredient to that success came from the mentee NOT the mentor. The operative word for success was “intentional,” which for our research meant deliberate actions by the mentee to make a positive outcome happen. Mentees were MOST successful when they acted intentionally in three specific areas.

1. Intentionally preparing for the mentoring relationship The greatest success occurred when mentees carefully laid the groundwork for their mentoring relationships with preparations that included clarifying goals, focusing on their aims and ambitions and creating a strategy to ensure their encounters with mentors were open and productive.

2. Intentionally leveraging their mentors’ insights Applying what they learned from their mentors to their organization, allowed mentees to “show up” in new ways that advanced their growth and development. For example, they became proficient at enhancing their visibility, pinpointing the right risks to take and when to take them and developing an effective leadership style that was true to themselves.

3. Intentionally building relationships Mentees who transferred what they learned from their mentoring relationship to over-all organizational relationships enjoyed increased career success for a variety of reasons. They became more adept at spotting key people and developing relationships with them. They were less reluctant to approach those who could be of help to their advancement. Their increased involvement with key players gave them a “better line of sight” on the corporate big picture.

These findings are an important breakthrough in the understanding of mentoring relationships in the growth and development of women leaders. Previously, there was little or no research focusing exclusively on mentoring from the perspective of the mentee. The implications and opportunities are significant for mentees, mentors and their organizations, which I will address in future posts.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

Yes! Do It On Purpose

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

I’ve quoted that famous Lewis Carroll line in a previous blog, but it’s worth repeating as we discuss the importance of a purposeful mindset for women with their eye on the C-suite.

What exactly does a “purposeful mindset” mean vis a vis getting ahead?  Predominantly it means:

  • Having a clear picture of exactly what you want to achieve
  • Understanding the opportunities and obstacles to achieving your goal
  • Being willing to take required risks
  • Finding the right people to help you get there (inside and outside the corporation)
  • Knowing which management behaviors to hold on to and which ones to let go of
  • Requesting feedback to ensure having the full view of an issue, as well as to validate your plan
  • Making sure, every step of the way, that your goals are in synch with corporate needs

It may seem like a long laundry list, but not really. Once you set out on a purposeful approach to becoming a more impactful corporate leader, much of what you need will become clearer and more attainable.  For example, by defining the opportunities that could bolster your ambitions and the obstacles that could block them, you are in a great position to assess the behaviors that will get you there and the people who can help.

Additionally, once you’ve pinpointed those people, they will be a huge catalyst to achieving your goals. If they are the right people, they will be both your most avid supporters and your most honest critics. They are exactly whom you need and exactly whom you should heed.

As you can see, there is an intermingling and a synergy that makes a purposeful approach to leadership prowess more concise, more definable and easier to accomplish than the scatter shot approach, too often characteristic of get-ahead strategies.

Purposefulness- A Key to Personal and Corporate Success

At our WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. programs we stress the importance of a sense of purpose to our participants and their sponsoring corporations.  Throughout the program, we check in with both to make sure individual and corporate goals are in synch and that the women participants are realistic and resilient about achieving those goals. We stress to both participants and corporate partners that changes in behavior and attitudes are most likely called for if mutual success is to be achieved.

Bottom line? The wide screen purpose of a sense of purpose is to unleash a new wave of women leaders who take their corporations to the next level by achieving results that are mutually beneficial.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

Gender Bias—A Study in Denial

As I started to write this blog, I thought I would take a look at what Wikipedia had to say about “second generation gender bias.” Guess what?  It isn’t even there. Wow! That was a metaphor for making my point: second generation gender bias is so hidden, so camouflaged, and so denied, not even Wikipedia talks about it.

As I pointed out in a previous blog, often no one knows second generation gender bias is happening – from top management to the women themselves who are being held back from the highest levels of corporate governance by it.

Unlike blatant prejudices of previous eras, second generation bias is subtle and echoes deeply- ingrained masculine values about leadership, alliances, and mentoring. Seemingly, there is no deliberate intention to discriminate which makes it especially difficult to attack and change these ensconced attitudes and the climates that inadvertently support them.

Let me give you a few examples of second-generation gender bias:

♦ A male manager believes that a 30-something woman is not a candidate for promotion to a VP slot because her biological clock is ticking.

♦ A senior executive is very impressed with a talented female middle manager. If she were a male, he would be her mentor in a heartbeat. However, he has concerns that if they develop a close professional relationship, “people will talk.”

♦ A talented woman who is highly qualified for a C-suite position, pats herself on the back for achieving her recent promotion to middle management and aspires no further.

♦  Three male managers who like, respect, and enjoy working with a female colleague, rarely invite her to join them for drinks after work, fearful they will have to behave differently in the company of a woman.

I would guarantee that if pressed about being biased, any of the individuals in these situations would deny it vehemently. Why am I so sure? Because these are stories I’ve heard and situations I’ve experienced through our WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. programs…and long before it had the name of “second generation gender bias.”

We at WOMEN Unlimited have seen the toll this bias takes on the women themselves and on the corporations who miss out on the profitable benefits of a diverse talent pool at their highest levels. We strive to educate and encourage our participants and our corporate partners to acknowledge second generation gender bias, look for it at all levels of their organizations and make changes accordingly.  It can be a long, arduous process, but one that our Corporate Partners report is well worth doing.

What examples of second generation gender bias can you share to help others recognize it in its many guises?

 

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

Diversity—It ADDS UP

Not so long ago, a discussion about diversity or gender equality in the workplace would center around social awareness or corporate good citizenship.

…Then the numbers started coming in…

And slowly but surely the conversation shifted from corporate responsibility to corporate profitability.

The findings have been conclusive, extensive and global.  Here are just a few examples from the myriad of evidence supporting the correlation between diversity and improved numbers:

  • A study by Michael Ferrary of France’s Skema  Business School tracked companies on the Parisian stock exchange. Over-all the CAC40 lost 34.70% of its value from 2007-12. However, during that same period, companies on the exchange with 35% or more women on their management team lost only 5.28% of their value.
  • A Pepperdine University study tracked 200 Fortune 500 companies over a number of years.  According to the lead researcher, Roy Adler:  “the correlation between high-level female executives and business success has been consistent and revealing.”
  • A McKinsey Report compared the top quartile of companies in terms of women on executive committees vs. no-women on executive committees.  McKinsey found that companies with women surpassed no-women committees by 41% in return on equity and by 56% in operating results.
  • Over the past five years, nine Indian companies run by prominent women managers have out-performed in year-on-year growth the 30 leading firms listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
  • According to a Catalyst Bottom Line Report, Fortune 500 companies with the greatest number of women on their boards “attained significantly higher financial performance”– 53% higher return on equity, 42% higher return on sales and 66% higher return on invested capital.

Additionally, Harvard, Wharton, the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and numerous other leaders in their fields have either researched this corporate reality or reported on it in detail. Why do women make such a difference? To my mind, the major reason is simple—diverse groups provide diverse points of view which make for better decision making.  Research conducted by Anita Woolley at Carnegie Mellon sums it up this way: “if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.” That’s not to say women are smarter than men, but that the group itself, when diverse, becomes a smarter, more impactful one.

At WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. we are heartened by the continually growing body of quantifiable evidence that corporations need talented women at their highest levels. It inspires corporate leaders to develop effective strategies for increasing their number of C-suite female executives.  And it makes our mission of getting them there even more rewarding.

 

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.

Networking—The Right Way

Frequently in these blogs, I’ve focused on mentoring, one of the mainstays of our WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. three-pronged approach, with the other two being Education and Networking. This time around I’d like to turn our attention to Networking.

As with finding mentors, how you approach building your network is crucial. There are approaches that achieve your desired results, and ones that keep you spinning your wheels. Let’s start by looking at what I like to call the “NOT JUST” test.

  • A network is NOT JUST a group of  working people or fellow employees
  • A network is NOT JUST those who share your functional expertise in other organizations
  • A network is NOT JUST people whose shoulders you cry on or whose brains you tap
  • A network is NOT JUST folks you reach out to when you want to change jobs

Certainly, these components can be part of a successful network, but they are not the crux of what makes a network WORK. In fact, many women actually sabotage their career advancement by misunderstanding what a network should be. They stay too insular in forming and using their networks. They overlook the single most important aspect of a network—a degree of discomfort.

Does it seem counter-intuitive that for a network to be successful, it must be somewhat outside your comfort zone?  It’s not. By sticking exclusively with people you know and people with whom you are comfortable, you are simply fine tuning what you’re already doing. That may be enough to hold on to your present job, but it’s not enough to move you up.

What are the components of a successful, non-insular network?

  • It should include talented men and women who see the corporate world differently than you do
  • It should include people with whom you do not normally come into contact, both inside and outside the organization
  • It should include people who are above your current corporate level

The reason many women, and for that matter men, don’t network in this way is because it’s harder. It takes more time. It takes more intentional fortitude.

At WOMEN Unlimited, we help our participants prepare to network the right way.  Our sessions cover networking and cover it well. But we take it a step further by creating in each session the core group of a successful network. Participants come from a variety of corporations, backgrounds, and functional areas—the perfect starting point for a non-insular network.  It works over and over. Our alumnae use what they’ve learned to build productive networks and they often stay in touch with each other long after they complete our programs.

A few final pointers:

  • Networks are about quality of contacts, not quantity
  • Networking takes time—so use it wisely
  • Lastly, enjoy the people with whom you network. Getting ahead should be fun.

 

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.