Friday, March 8, 2024

Celebrate International Women’s Day with Susan Colantuono

Over the last 15 years, 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, who has graciously appeared on my blog several times and shared inspiring commentary about leadership and gender equality. Due to Susan's areas of expertise, she is an excellent choice to appear on my blog today.

Today, March 8th, is an important day on the equality calendar: it is International Women’s Day, a global holiday celebrated annually to commemorate the cultural, political, and socio-economic achievements of women. It also brings attention to the women’s rights movement, focusing attention on gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.

First celebrated in 1909 in New York City as "Women’s Day," the holiday was celebrated in 1911 by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. International Women’s Day was adopted as a global holiday by the United Nations in 1977.

To recognize and celebrate today’s significance, I welcome Susan Colantuono back to my Blog. Highlights of our conversation about leadership and gender equality follow a brief introduction.

Susan Colantuono is the founder of Be Business Savvy. She is an internationally renowned author, speaker, and mentor/coach. She discovered, developed, and introduced to the world a definition of leadership and four keys that have transformed women’s leadership development and initiatives to close the leadership gender gap - including The Missing 33 percent of the career success equation for women. Her TED Talk entitled, "The Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get" has nearly 4.5 million views.

QUESTION: selected "woman" as its word of the year for 2022, because searches for the word doubled during 2022 when compared to previous years. During the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, she was asked, "Can you provide a definition for the word 'woman'?" She responded that she could not. During 2022, Roe vs. Wade was overturned and women began mass protests in Iran. As this marketing news showed, words matter. What are your thoughts about this word selection, especially today on International Women's Day?

SUSAN COLANTUONO: First of all, celebrating International Women’s Day is exponentially harder for us in the U.S. than it was two years ago. Like everyone else, I see through my worldview, and right now, my particular worldview has me furious at the Republican war on women in the U.S. As far as the definition of the word "woman," the politicization of it infuriates me.

That's why, if pushed, I would say that a woman is anyone for whom giving birth is a possibility and the decision to give birth or not should be a private decision between her and her doctor. I realize that I’m leaving out those who identify and experience the world as women, but do not have a womb. And leaving out women who are infertile. This illustrates the difficulty of attempting to define the word.

QUESTION: What do you think Susan B. Anthony would think about the current state of American politics, especially since the The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear former President Trump's appeal of a judicial decision barring him from Colorado's Republican primary ballot in advance of the 2024 presidential election?

SUSAN COLANTUONO: As you would guess from above, I'd say she’d be appalled. Misogyny (including disastrous media coverage) and Russian interference lost the election for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As a result, women's rights, voting rights, and democracy are all under siege.

I follow the legal proceedings closely. It's not lost on me that the twice impeached, 91 times indicted former president is not arguing his innocence on the D.C. charges. His legal maneuvering is all about delaying the trial. The insurrectionist has no business being on the ballot in any state. Don't get me started on the ethics issues with SCOTUS.

QUESTION: I wrote a blog post introducing 15 people from history and the modern era who would be MY guests at an amazing dinner party. Who would you invite to YOUR dinner party? No limit to the number of seats at your table!

(Read the full post at this link:

SUSAN COLANTUONO: I'm chuckling because my preference for introversion means I would never set a dinner table for 15 guests! So, for my more intimate dinners I would invite:

Dinner 1 = 5 former F500 women CEOs including: Anne Mulcahy (Xerox), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Ursula Burns (Xerox), Andrea Jung (Avon), and Denise Morrison (Campbell Soup).

Dinner 2 = 5 global business thought leaders: Ram Charan, Renee Mauborgne, Henry Mintzberg, Rita McGrath, and Daniela Amodei.

Dinner 3 = 5 historical women: Boudicca, Joan of Arc, Barbara Jordan, Sojourner Truth, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

I get chills just thinking about sharing a table with these 15 amazing people.

QUESTION: When I was in graduate school in the mid-1990’s, one of my tenured professors said to the class, "Women don’t belong in grad school. They belong at home in the kitchen." How would you have responded?

SUSAN COLANTUONO: If I were as quick on my feet as U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug, I'd have replied, "Yes, women do belong in the House...and also in the Senate" - not to mention in grad school as faculty and heading up graduate programs.

But, alas, I'm not, so I probably would have just stammered something like, "That’s your biased and unfounded opinion, and I'm not the first to prove you wrong."

QUESTION: Marilyn Loden coined the term "glass ceiling" when speaking on a panel at the 1978 Women’s Exposition in New York City. According to the Washington Post, “When her turn came to speak, she thought about how she had been tasked at her company to explore why more women weren’t entering management positions. She had gathered enough data that she felt confident that the problem extended beyond what her colleagues were wearing or saying. Loden explained, ‘It seemed to me there was an invisible barrier to advancement that people didn’t recognize, a glass ceiling.’” While it’s been more than 40 years, the problem persists. Many well-known women have used the term including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Aretha Franklin, and Oprah Winfrey. How do you think women can shatter the "glass ceiling?"

SUSAN COLANTUONO: Let me be provocative here. Women can't shatter the "glass ceiling." But we CAN be prepared to capitalize on opportunities to rise above it and then change the dynamics that create it. But until we're above it, we can't shatter it. Managers (mostly men) create the glass ceiling, and we do women a disservice by calling on us to shatter it.

The conversation on women's advancement needs to put greater pressure on managers to end the formal and informal policies, practices and procedures that create barriers to women's advancement. It needs to shift to put pressure on managers to change their mindsets about women and men, leadership, and careers that disadvantage women and advantage men.

We need to continue to prepare women to prepare for, ask for, and accept opportunities. We especially need to foster the acquisition of business, financial, and strategic acumen so more women are seen as "partners in the business" and viable candidates for advancement.

SHARE THIS: Managers (mostly men) create the glass ceiling, and we do women a disservice by calling on us to shatter it. ~Susan Colantuono #DebbieLaskeysBlog

SHARE THIS: We need to continue to prepare women to prepare for, ask for, and accept opportunities. ~Susan Colantuono #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: Erika Andersen, a leadership expert and author, wrote, "Great leaders don't do it alone...they get help." What does this quote mean to you?

SUSAN COLANTUONO: For women, asking for help is a double-edged sword. Some managers will see it as an indication of ineptitude (see mindsets above). So we often have to be careful how we ask. I advise women to make Courageous ASKs - requests that are straightforward and made from a position of strength.

That said, every successful man or woman has gotten where they are because other people helped them. The former CEO of Coke, Muhtar Kent, once said at a conference that "asking for help" was a success factor in his career. Anne Mulcahy as CEO of Xerox asked for help with financial acumen from someone in her Finance department.

Whether we lead as individual contributors, first line supervisors/team leads, managers at whatever level, or executives - none of us can do it alone and be successful!

My profound thanks to Susan for returning to my blog and sharing her inspiring thoughts!

Image Credit: Hudson Hintze via Unsplash.

Check out previous appearances by Susan here on my blog:

Why Mentorship Is Important (July 2023)

Do You Use Your Voice to Lift Up Women Leaders? (December 2022)

As We Celebrate 1920, Work Remains to See More Women in Top Leadership Roles (August 2021)

Connect with Susan at these links:

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

And the Transcript:

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