Thursday, August 26, 2021

As We Celebrate 1920, Work Remains to See More Women in Top Leadership Roles


Today is Women's Equality Day and marks the 101st anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. This important day celebrates the achievements of women’s rights activists (including my great-grandmother who marched for women's suffrage in New York in the early 1900's) and reminds us of the struggles that women still face including equal pay for equal work and top leadership roles.

According to the National Women's History Alliance, "At the behest of Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971, the United States Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality."

Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting inspiring marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and social media experts. One of these experts is Susan Colantuono, a leadership expert based in Rhode Island. We recently had a discussion about leadership and the employee experience, the COVID pandemic's impact on the workplace, and most appropriate for today, women's advances in leadership roles. Highlights follow Susan's bio.

Susan Colantuono is an expert on women's advancement, author, and speaker. She is best known for her TED Talk on the Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get (which has over 4 million views) and her books, No Ceiling, No Walls and Make the Most of Mentoring. She is the founder and former CEO of Leading Women, a global consulting firm focused on women's advancement. Now, as a co-host of A Career that Soars!, she continues to provide leadership and career development to women around the globe. Check out Susan's website at and connect on Twitter @SusanColantuono.

QUESTION: Since the Covid-19 pandemic began more than a year ago, how has it impacted the role of leadership and the overall employee experience?

SUSAN COLANTUONO: The answer here depends on where you're standing. Leaders at the board level expect executives to continue to deliver positive results in the face of changing business environments. Employees continue to want positive work environments and meaningful work. Delivering on these expectations has required significant flexibility on the part of executives, managers and employees. The biggest impact of the pandemic from my viewpoint is the "Shecession," whereby more women have left the labor force and if/when they re-enter, they will be behind in terms of income and experience.

QUESTION: You have defined leadership as "Using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others." Can you please elaborate?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: Too often people define leadership from the perspective of the employees being managed (engage our greatness) or through the lens of an individualistic culture (use your personal greatness). While both are important, they leave out how leadership is viewed from above (achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes). This gap has contributed to women rarely receiving advice about the importance of developing and demonstrating business, strategic, and financial acumen.

QUESTION: Janet Yellen, the current and first female Secretary of the Treasury, has been described as, "A proven leader who knows how to build consensus, the kind of person who makes everybody around her better." What three characteristics are necessary to create a consensus-builder?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: Consensus builders rely on 3 key skills:
(1) Listening - consensus builders are able to hear the perspectives, values, and superordinate goals of others.
(2) Openness to new ideas - consensus builders are able to find new paths forward which create "wins" for all involved.
(3) Patience - building consensus takes time and therefore needs patience. There are situations where you have the time to build consensus and others where the decision-maker must act to avoid danger or disaster.

QUESTION: Despite recent successes, how can women earn more top leadership positions as CEOs, COOs, CFOs, Board Chairs, etc.?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: For years, women have been performing in ways that would earn men more top leadership positions, but have not gained them. At this point, in many organizations, the onus is on men in decision-making roles to examine the gender dynamics in hiring and promotion that are holding women back (double binds, double standards, motherhood penalty, etc.) and make less biased decisions.

As a CEO, or as an executive or director for that matter, if women aren’t proportionately represented throughout your organization, you aren’t facing a women’s issue — you’re facing a talent development issue with business implications. And so it’s important to bring your personal commitment and the same level of organizational accountability to that challenge as you would to any business issue.

Where women are not performing in ways to earn top leadership, I suggest they work to fulfill my leadership definition - especially working to develop and/or demonstrate business, strategic, and financial acumen. Debbie, being a branding expert, you can see how being known as someone who: uses her personal greatness to achieve or exceed the goals of the organization through great relationships with key people inside and outside the organization would be a leadership brand worth cultivating.

TWEET THIS: If women aren’t proportionately represented throughout your org, you aren’t facing a women’s issue, you’re facing a talent development issue with business implications. ~@SusanColantuono #EmployerBranding #WomensEqualityDay #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): "Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others." What does this quote mean to you?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: As others you've interviewed have said, surrounding oneself with smart and capable colleagues is one hallmark of great leaders. In this sense, giving them space to "do their thing" is a leadership act, as long as "their thing" is aligned with the business strategy and the goals they're paid to deliver.

TWEET THIS: Surrounding oneself with smart and capable colleagues is one hallmark of great leaders. ~@SusanColantuono #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog


Here's the link to Susan's TED talk:
"The Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get"
and the Transcript:

Blog post about Janet Yellen in 2013:

More reading for Women's Equality Day:
2020 Was the Year of Women:
In Celebration of International Women’s Day:

Image Credits: Good Housekeeping and Mental Floss.

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