What we learned at supper: PRSA members on women in leadership

PRSA Orlando Chapter members met and discussed the importance of women in leadership and more. Their discussion and findings were incorporated into the Diversity and Inclusion whitepaper:

What is the biggest lie working women have collectively accepted as true?

If you put your head down and work hard, you will be seen for your value,” said one Central Florida executive. “I wish that I had been more confident in the past and looked for opportunities to leverage the skills I brought to my role instead of burying myself in work and being passed over for promotions and opportunities.”

That you’ll advance based on your merits,” said another. “That isn’t always the case when you consider office politics and other factors. Merits are just one piece of it.”

Barely had we launched into PRSA Orlando’s second annual Dinner, Diversity & Dialogue before the anecdotes began after some initial thought-provoking questions by the chapter’s 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Chair Alyssa Badalamenti.

A few more strong answers gave us a glimpse into the work-life realities of PR women in leadership roles:

That you can achieve balance, have it all and be a leader at home and at work. Realistically, some days you are a leader at home and some at work and you have to be willing to sacrifice your time. Many spend so much time trying to find that balance that doesn’t exist.”

That I had to make myself fit into the working spaces that were created by men by dressing a certain way, speak how they spoke, and work a certain number of hours. For a long time, I thought that is what it took for anyone to take me seriously. These days I see more women standing up for themselves and negotiating their hours and pay.”

This year’s theme for the discussion focused on “Women in Leadership,” giving 12 PRSA Orlando members the opportunity to discuss the challenges, differences and commonalities they’ve experienced as women who have grown into leadership positions within the public relations profession. The Anderson-Devitt Foundation, a family foundation that seeks to help our community become a better place to live, covered the dinner expenses. The dinner touched upon the role of women in leadership, the importance of gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and the intrinsic value of mentorship. We are thankful for the women who attended and appreciate the refreshing candor of their conversation with us.
The goal was to connect and learn from others facing similar challenges or successes. An informal moderated dinner discussion with these 12 Central Florida women provided us with the following takeaways:

GENDER BIAS IMPACTS COMMUNICATION

What we ‘should be’: Gender stereotypes lead to men in the workplace being deemed as strong, competitive or independent, while women have certain characteristics attributed to them such as warm, nurturing, emotional and passive. These stereotypes are not who we are and should not define us.

Perceptions: It’s a challenge to avoid labels. When a woman speaks her mind and is assertive, she may be viewed or labeled as intense and aggressive, but when she doesn’t, she may be seen as quiet and meek. Rather than wasting energy managing perceptions and defining themselves in relation to gender stereotypes, female leaders should remain cognizant of implicit bias, while focusing on their purpose in their role and shared organizational goals.

Expectations: “There is an expectation that I will be nice and “fluffy” about any feedback I’m going to give,” one woman specifically remarked.

EMPOWERED WOMEN EMPOWER WOMEN
Mentorship: The encouragement of a colleague or another mentor in the profession can make a huge difference for someone struggling to grow. Counsel from someone who may have had similar experiences is invaluable for women to share with one another and others who may face comparable challenges. If you are a leader, be a leader, but don’t forget to be a mentor as well.

Cultivate relationships: Young professionals should not be afraid of cultivating meaningful relationships with colleagues who will help them reach the next step.

Self-advocacy: Through mentoring, young women should be encouraged to advocate for themselves. Whether it may be for more opportunity or for more pay, we should all be ready to stand for ourselves, no matter your gender.

Overcome imposter syndrome: During the dinner, we heard multiple stories of negative experiences that left our participants questioning their accomplishments and how others perceived their success. By discussing these events, it was clear that the resulting self-doubt was no easy hurdle to leap. Each person who shared their story realized they were not alone in this feeling, and bolstered by the realization, came to see more clearly their own worth. You deserve your success.

FEMALE PRACTITIONERS WANT MEN TO BE ALLIES IN THE WORKPLACE

Becoming allies: We all work better when we work together and several participants in our dinner noted the importance of supportive male colleagues and how such individuals have helped them on the road to leadership. Instead of engaging in call-out culture, it’s important for men in leadership roles to help build the next generation of allies, for women and all diverse individuals. Doing so cultivates a thriving mentoring culture in the workplace and in the community.

Listen: Perhaps one of the most important skills for a leader to possess is the ability to listen. Leaders that actively listen not only build the understanding necessary for seeing the big picture, but they also build trust. Historically, men have been encouraged to boldly share their ideas in the workplace. To build that important ally relationship, women and men need to listen to each other to understand each other’s voices and challenges, and further inspire trust.

Speak up: Merriam-Webster defines an ally as “a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle.” In other words, to be a true ally, you must speak up. It is important for leaders to confront sexism in the workplace, as well as speak up when they see a colleague being talked over, interrupted, having someone else take credit for their work, or not being compensated appropriately.

Advocate: The support of a peer can be just as important as that of leadership. Men, regardless of whether they are in a leadership position, can advocate on behalf of female and diverse colleagues, calling attention to and celebrating their accomplishments. These small, but important actions increase the chance of their colleagues’ work being recognized.

YOUR COMPANY’S DIVERSITY TRAINING MAY NOT BE WORKING

Onboarding talking points: Diversity and inclusion should be encouraged at all levels of an organization, from senior leaders to entry-level employees. When these values are at the core of a company’s culture, initiatives such as providing talking points during the onboarding process will empower leaders to call out injustice when they encounter it.

Beyond D&I training: Effective diversity and inclusion training should go beyond the basics and aim for organizational change. Training is more than a box to check and should be an ongoing and collaborative process. A comprehensive diversity and inclusion program will encourage changes that emphasize these values throughout the year.

Check-in with your employees: Employers, as well as the human resources team, should be scheduling regular check-ins with their employees in order to create an inclusive environment where employees feel a sense of belonging. During these one-on-one interactions, managers can ensure their team members feel included, as well as address any behaviors that need to be trained out.

Interview your company: Before accepting a job offer, find out if the company’s values and beliefs align with yours, and do not be afraid to leave a company that does not live up to what it says it represents. Your career is a reflection of you.

CONSENSUS

Unconscious bias has the potential to shape an organization’s culture affecting who gets hired and promoted. Female leaders are currently under-represented in the C-Suite and continue to be affected by unconscious bias from their male colleagues and by double-bind bias – the struggle between what is expected from a leader and from a woman.

To create an inclusive workplace culture and shift the gender balance, proper training is crucial, and companies need to redefine what a leader is. Empowering women, engaging allies in the workplace, and ensuring diversity and inclusion training is current and ongoing are surefire ways to guarantee your company’s bottom-line success.

We welcome suggestions from our PRSA Orlando members on how we can help communications professionals address diversity and inclusion in the profession and at large.

Please reach out to PRSA Orlando’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Chair, Veronica Figueroa, to continue the discussion.

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