Are you ready for a scary statistic? Only 9% of women are female CEOs of the biggest companies on the S&P 500. That is 45 spots out of 500, folks. But let’s be positive. It’s up from August 2018, when there were only 24 women in the CEO spot. The question is, WHY? Why aren’t more women in that top spot? And if they go there, why aren’t they sticking?
Jenna Fisher, my guest today, decided to find out how we as women can find a path to the top. She interviewed top female executives at Nike, Visa, IBM, Salesforce, Atlantic Records, just to name a few, to find out.
During our discussion, Jenna and I talked about:
- Why she decided to write her book, To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership are Rewriting the Rules for Success?
- What key themes popped out when she interviewed these female executives?
- Jenna’s perspective on how COVID changed the game for working women and what we need in our workplaces to flourish now and in the future.
- We discussed the thought of “having it all”? Is it really possible?
- What leaving loud means for women? I loved this part of our conversation.
- And how compassionate command is the new name of the game for both male and female leaders.
listen to the podcast here
Women Leadership: Finding A Path To The Top With Jenna Fisher
I’m so glad you’re here. Everyone, how are you doing out there? Let’s start with a scary statistic, shall we? As of 2022, only 9% of women are CEOs of the biggest companies on the S&P 500 list. That means that is about 45 spots out of the 500, but let’s turn around. Let’s be positive. It’s up from August of 2018 when there were only 24 women in the CEO spot in the same index in the S&P 500. The question is, why aren’t there more women in that top spot? If we see them rise to the upper echelon in that very top spot, why aren’t they sticking there?
Jenna Fisher, my guest, decided to find out how we as women can find a path to the top. She interviewed a ton of female executives at Nike, Visa, IBM, Salesforce, and Atlantic Records to name a few to find out the answer. During my discussion with Jenna, we talked about how she decided to write her book, To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success, what key themes popped out when she interviewed these female executives, Jenna’s perspective on how COVID-19 has changed the game for working women, and what we need in our workplaces to flourish now and in the future.
We also discussed the thought, which I’ve been hot on lately, can we have it all? Is it possible? What does leaving loud means for women? Leaving loud is a term for work. I loved this part of our conversation because it was new to me, and how compassionate command is the new name of the game for both male and female leaders alike.
Here’s more about Jenna. Jenna Fisher is committed to finding transformational leaders who can guide companies forward in a changing world. Over the past few years, she has developed strong relationships with a broad cross-section of global business leaders and the companies they shape. Having completed more than 400 CFO in board searches, she has a deep understanding of what professional and personal experiences as well as personality traits that are needed at the very top. She knows that the most successful companies in terms of any metric are led by diverse teams who understand and reflect their products, services, employees, and audiences.
Before we get started, if you are enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. If you’ve already left a rating and review, I thank you so much for your support. As I always say, your support of the show means the world to me. I’m giving you a thank you, a high-five, and a hug out there virtually. I appreciate it. You can always share the show with your friends, your family members, or your colleagues on your social media feeds. Don’t forget to tag me because I love getting a little of that internet social media love. I’ll note that right back. I’ll forward it on via my feeds as well. Don’t forget to tag me in your social posts.
If you haven’t yet downloaded my freebie, 10 Steps to Being Braver at Work, go get it on my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com. Who doesn’t need that nudge to speak up, find a mentor, and ask for what you want? It’s all in there in that freebie, so go grab it on my website. As a final preview or teaser of what’s to come, I’m developing some new freebies for you. One of which is going to be an affirmations list. There are a couple more that I’m working on. Be sure to look at my website periodically for more updates. Let’s welcome Jenna to the show.
Jenna, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m doing so well. It’s delightful to be with you, Jen. Thank you for having me.
Where are you calling in from or hailing from?
I live in the Bay Area where I’ve lived for many years, but I’m originally from Boston.
It’s a lot nicer weather.
Although it has been a rainy winter, in general, it’s great.
I love to start with all of my guests. I love women’s stories. It’s one of the big purposes of this show. Why don’t you tell us more about your backstory and how you’ve gotten to where you are?
I have to start at the beginning, which is with my parents who raised me to be fiercely independent and always instructed me to be able to stand on my two feet financially and otherwise. My mother had seen the unfortunate result of her mother being married to an alcoholic. He was unable to keep a steady job. My mother and her brothers were negatively impacted as a result of that terrible childhood. My mom vowed to create a better life for me when she had me.
As a result, I never suffered from a Cinderella complex thinking that someone would come along to take care of me. I was very focused from a young age on finding a career that I was passionate about and could make money doing. My parents sacrificed and worked hard to pay for my world-class education. I also worked hard in return attending law school and business school. I was so lucky to find my passion in executive recruiting years ago. I’ve been here at Russell Reynolds for decades now.
That’s amazing. I don’t do recruiting. Is recruiting something that has been more challenging post-COVID? Tell me about it. All types of labor markets have changed so much. I was curious about the work that you do in recruiting and how that has been impacted maybe pre- and post-COVID.
We saw a huge spike in demand in 2021. It was the result of a couple of different things. One, the financial markets were strong, and there were nearly 1,000 IPOs effectuated. We, in executive search, are somewhat tethered to the capital markets. When the capital markets go up, we generally have an increase in demand as well. COVID stretched people’s managerial flexibility. A lot of people got to a point where because the capital markets had been so good for a thirteen-year run or whatever it was, they said, “I’ve hit my number. I’m not wanting to do this anymore. It’s not fun.”
We saw a huge exodus of very experienced executives. That gave rise to a whole new next-gen talent, which has been a real game-changer in search. It was hard at first because it required employers to think differently about what their perfect candidate looked like because he or she may not have checked all the boxes. At the same time, we were also dealing and grappling with so many historic novelties and racial justice issues. One of the real benefits of this new normal is that there’s a whole new cadre of both women and people of color in roles that we didn’t see previously. Although there has been quite a bit of tumult and change over the last few years, there is a silver lining to it.
I find that super interesting. Thank you for sharing. As a manager, I have found it challenging. It’s challenging out there for everyone to hire good talent and retain good talent, especially the retention part with the Great Resignation. I did a show on that. That might be slowing. You would have to tell me based on the work that you do. One of the things that intrigued me was a statistic in your bio or the write-up that I received before we met. You would have to define for our audience what the S&P 500 is because not everybody knows what that is. The big point here is 9% of the largest 100 companies are led by women. I wanted to start our conversation by asking, why do you believe that is? Why only 9% are women-led?
To answer your first question about what S&P 500 is, it’s the Standard & Poor’s 500. It’s a stock market index tracking 500 large companies listed on the stock exchange in the US. It’s one of the most commonly followed equity indices. It’s an easy cadre of companies to look at. Akin to the Fortune 500, we have looked at that as well. I’ll tell you two reasons why I believe it’s not the reason why women only constitute 9% of CEO roles. One, I don’t think it’s because women don’t possess what it takes to make it to the top.
In conducting the research for my book, we looked at thousands of executive assessments and data points from Hogan, which we hear at Russell Reynolds Associates have an exclusive partnership with. Hogan is generally viewed as the preeminent executive assessment tool. What we saw in that data is that there are no statistically significant differences between men and women in terms of how they show up, which is huge because it means that women have all the right things that take to be successful.
It’s also not because women aren’t leaning in enough. The majority of college and graduate school graduates are women. Seventy-one percent of valedictorians are women. We constitute 51% of the population. I do think that the issue in part lies in that. We’re operating in a system that was never built for us. In its time, we reworked that system to make it more built for our needs. What I mean by that is one of the things I learned by interviewing the 50 amazing women leaders around the globe from my book is that what we have all viewed historically as the “successful” career arc has been designed by men for men. Did you know that even the temperatures we keep our offices at are predicated on what temperatures men most enjoy? It explains why I’m always cold.
I don’t think anybody is setting out to harm women but when you think about it, especially for women who want children, which is the majority of women, not everybody but quite a few of us, there’s still the biological imperative of trying to get pregnant, staying pregnant, dealing with the physicality of that, giving birth, recovering from giving birth, and breastfeeding. Not to mention that unfortunately, the amount of childcare that most couples divide up is still not equal. It’s changing but women still do far more of the childcare and housework in many homes.
As a result of that, we shouldn’t be expecting every single woman in her 30s to be assiduously climbing a career ladder every day. Maybe it’s okay if it takes her a year or two longer to get to the next promotion cycle. This benefits men too because many of them would love to be more present parents and get to take paternity leave, for example. The US is the only developed country in the world without a paternity policy. They take care of elderly parents. We need to create the space for both men and women to lead full lives while also contributing meaningfully at work.
I love that. I wanted to key in. Your book is coming out very soon here. I wanted to share the title. We will share it a couple of times. It also intrigued me because it is something that is on the top of my brain, “Why don’t women arise to the top? How can they?” The book is To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success. What motivated you to write this? Was that all the interviews? What was the initial spark for writing the book?
I’ve always had a passion for keeping women on a path to professional success. Starting in college as a Sociology major, I wrote my honor’s thesis, The Differential in Performance Between Boys and Girls in Math and Science. This was back in 1995. The only statistically significant discrepancy between boys and girls was around their levels of self-confidence, not around achievement.
Fast forward a decade to when I started working at Russell Reynolds, I would interview women. I heard, “I’m the only woman,” all the time. I started convening groups of female board members and CFOs, the two groups of folks that I recruit, to bring them together so they wouldn’t feel solitary. That following grew over time. At the same time, I also had the experience countless times here at the firm where I would be introduced to an incredible woman who had stellar academic credentials, worked in a fabulous company, and had let an IPO or whatever it might be. She had her 2nd or 3rd child and then dropped out of the workforce.
Fast forward, she wanted to get back into the workforce. Maybe it’s ten years later because she was bored, wanted to be financially independent, had gotten a divorce, her kids had left for college, or whatever the reason. It was nearly impossible to rejoin the ranks of working in any financially meaningful way after having been out for so long. This led me to think there had to be a better way to keep women with a toe in the world of work so that women can ultimately be financially on par with men because until that happens, there won’t be true quality. I set out to write this book by interviewing dozens of incredible women around the globe to learn their stories. Companies can benefit and learn from these stories as well.
I don’t want to steal all of the thunder from the book but what are a couple of key themes that you found with these certain women that rose to the top? What separated them from the rest of us? I’m not saying us is a bad thing. Maybe they made different decisions. What are some of those key themes you found as you interviewed all these great women?
One of the things that I learned is that the women I interviewed were successful by being who they are, not by what people expect them to be. I believe it’s no longer necessary to suppress certain traits. It’s time to celebrate and embrace qualities like vulnerability, authenticity, and compassion. COVID gave us a great opportunity and window into seeing how impactful those leadership attributes can be, particularly in a time of trial and tribulation. It’s okay to talk about your life and share what’s going on with your kids and your family. Wear as much pink as you want to. You need to give yourself permission to be authentic. It’s about bringing your whole self into the workplace.Successful women are successful by being who they are, not what people expect them to be. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you one example from my book. One of the many amazing women that I had the privilege of interviewing is Dame Vivian Hunt who formerly was the Vice Chair of McKinsey, the leading global consulting firm. She’s now the Chief Innovation Officer at UnitedHealth Group. One of the things she shared with me in our interview is that she had, earlier in her career, a preconceived notion of how she was supposed to show up and what she was supposed to say and do.
She didn’t let her fully authentic self come through but then as she got a bit more senior and realized through 360 feedback that people wanted to know her as a total person, she finally gathered the confidence to let down her mask and let her full personality shine through. That’s when her career took off. People don’t want to work for a robot. They want to work for a real human being who can empathize with what they might be going through. Companies that get that and allow that are going to attract the best talent.
We have talked about COVID a couple of times. How do you think COVID changed the game for working women? I can share examples of how it changed the game for me but I was curious about what you have found.
It’s super interesting because back in September 2000, I conducted a survey of 200 of my clients and asked them, “When it is safe to do so, how many days a week do you want to go back into an office?” The majority of people said, “About two days a week.” The interesting finding for me was that at the barbells, at the ends of the spectrum, it was the men and only men who said they want to go back in five days a week. Not one woman said she wants to go back in five days a week. Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum, it was only women who said that they never wanted to go back in with any regularity save for special events. That’s quite telling.
At first, the pandemic had a detrimental impact on women’s careers. Many parents had to help manage their children’s online school. Many domestic helpers were unable to conduct their jobs as normal but as time went on and once kids were back in school, the new normal of remote working has proven to be a huge benefit for families, women in particular. Many of us, knowledge workers of the world, have proven that we can do our jobs as well, frankly if not better remotely than by commuting into an office.
One of the things I always think about is that none of us would ever attempt to still scrub laundry by hand and hang it outside to line dry once the washer-dryer had been invented. We should also be leveraging technology to empower our workers. I believe COVID is the biggest disruption to how we work since the industrial revolution. The system that we had of driving to offices was a vestige from that industrial era 100 years ago modeled after the assembly line created at a time when managers needed to physically see their teams to ensure work was being done. People didn’t have the myriad means of communicating and collaborating electronically as we do now.COVID is the biggest disruption to how we work since the industrial revolution. Click To Tweet
We need to embrace technology and measure the outputs, not the inputs. It used to be that if we saw somebody getting into an office at 7:00 in the morning and leaving at 10:00 at night, we would be like, “Bob is a killer. He’s crushing it,” but who knows if Bob was doing anything other than surfing the internet all day? Now we can look at somebody’s technology footprint to see what they’re contributing and what value they’re adding. There are new skills that have to be learned and vessels that have to be flexed, especially in managing remotely but what an amazing opportunity for parents in particular to be more physically available to their children. Not having to commute is a game-changer.
Let’s talk about post-COVID or whatever post-COVID means. One thing that I’m seeing, and I’m sure you’re reading it all over too, is that a lot of companies are trying to snap back and go back into the office where they have already gone, or maybe they were back to the office a long time. This is a conjecture. This is my opinion. It’s not anything I’ve read but is that our patriarchal society freaking out a little bit and trying to push us back in the box?
Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee but it seems like some companies are trying to go back to the way it was or have that thumb on everybody in terms of the pulse of the employees when I believe that you can have the pulse on your employees wherever they work. That’s my opinion. What are your thoughts on how some companies are trying to force employees, women included, back to the office?
There certainly are good reasons at times for people to get together, whether it’s to have that bonding or to see the whites of each other’s eyes. There are certain collaborative kinds of work that are done better in-person face-to-face. For most of us, it’s probably the minority of work. There are special exceptions in certain types of occupations where it is much more beneficial to be in person but I go back to how this is a new way of working. Change is hard for everybody. At times, a lot of women in particular who are solving the simultaneous equations of work and family define themselves in so many ways.
We’re an executive but we’re also a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a community member, a homemaker, and a volunteer. There are all these different hats that we wear. Working from home reduces the friction that a lot of women have felt in being unavailable for half of the day. This doesn’t mean that women aren’t working as hard if not harder. You’re not seeing the woman who gets back online at 7:00 at night after she puts her kids to bed, and she’s pounding out emails until 11:00 at night.
We have to base our managerial decisions on data and impact. Look at somebody’s technology footprint and work output, and then the picture will become clearer but I do think it’s hard to break old habits. We need to be mindful of what we’re bringing people together for. As a recruiter, I am seeing that the companies that get that are having much more optionality in terms of recruiting folks because not only can you draw upon a broader geographic area to find your workers but many younger workers and dare I say more progressive folks at times appreciate that flexibility. Also, the trust that is imbued in them as employees when they’re allowed to work in a way that suits their best way of doing work.Many younger workers and more progressive folks appreciate the flexibility and trust imbued in them as employees when they're allowed to work in a way that suits their best way of doing work. Click To Tweet
Younger workers aren’t going to tolerate what we all may have tolerated, or maybe we didn’t know. Now we know. Once you see, you can’t unsee but I agree with more progressive younger workers. You’re in recruiting. Recruiting top talent is going to be table stakes as we move along wherever that company is in the spectrum. Having that flexibility will be required moving forward.
It will sort itself out. There may be some companies whose culture isn’t in the office culture, and they will attract that talent. There will be other companies that are more liberal in where and when they can do their work, and they will attract talent as well. It remains to be seen who the winners and losers will be but the pendulum has shifted.
Speaking of that, let’s shift a little bit in our conversation. One of the things that I always struggle with, and I would love your opinion on this, is the thought of women “having” it all. I have to tell you a little bit about my history. Some of the audiences know about this but since we’re talking for the first time, in 2014, I read a book. Now it’s an oldie but for me, it was a goodie. It’s Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg back when it first came out. Honestly, I was on fire when I read that. I read it on an airplane back from San Francisco at a huge conference. I saw Sheryl in person speaking. It must have been within days of this coming out.
On the other hand, when I’m feeling worn down by life and work, I read an old article. It was in The Atlantic. It’s called Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter. I’m confused. Can women have it all? Can’t they have it all? Maybe our fear of not being able to do it all is what holds us back. I wanted to get your thoughts on the idea of, “Can women have it all?”
The problem is that women having it all has up until now meant doing it all. We need to recalibrate our individual as well as our society’s views of what women and mothers should be. There are a lot of shoulds that are put on us either implicitly or explicitly. I’ll tell you a funny story. At that time, it didn’t seem so funny. Earlier in my career, I was in the office. I was probably a 2nd or 3rd-year associate. A pretty senior partner pulled me aside and said, “You probably shouldn’t wear so much pink. I see you like pink.” I had pink folders and pink pens, “If you want to get ahead, maybe try wearing more blue.”
It was so shocking to me. I was working hard. I was in the top decile of performers at the firm. All this guy was looking at was the color of my sweater. Any woman probably who has tried to climb the ranks at work will at one time or another be given advice on how she needs to look or act differently if she wants to make it to the top, “Don’t show too much emotion. Don’t be too assertive. Don’t be vulnerable. Don’t talk about your family. Wear makeup but don’t wear too much makeup. Be nice but don’t be too nice. Don’t laugh so much.” The list of rules has bordered on the absurd.
One of the big four audit firms up until a few years ago had a rule that said women had to wear pantyhose. This is not 100 years ago. We’ve got to get away from “fixing” women and start looking at the actions and attitudes of companies and their leadership teams because it’s the narrative that needs to change, not the women. I love Sheryl Sandberg. I’m a huge fan. Lean In was a positive force in my life too. It had critics out there but it did a lot of good. I don’t think that the reason that women constitute only 9 or 10 CEO spots in Corporate America is that we’re not working hard enough or leaning in enough. It’s because we’re trying to get to the top of a corporate ladder that wasn’t built for us to climb.
As a sidebar on that, a friend and colleague, her name is Natalie Benamou, told me something that was groundbreaking for me. I don’t know if it was hers but I’ll give her credit because that’s where I heard about it first. She talked about the career lattice versus the career ladder. I was always like, “I’ve got to keep moving forward. I’ve got to keep moving up.” For women out there that want to do that in that order, more power but there is something to be said, “Maybe I need to take a lateral or a step down to keep my toe in the water so that when I’m ready to put the gas on the pedal, I can do that and move up the lattice.”
By only realizing that your career is a ladder for an ambitious achiever like me almost feels like I’m failing because I’ve decided to take a step back or take a step lateral rather than always taking the higher level. Maybe life doesn’t work that way for women and for men too but I can only give my experience as a woman speaking as a woman. I was wondering. What are your thoughts on the idea of a lattice versus a ladder?
I love it. I talk in my book about replacing the ladder with a web. It’s the same thing. It’s especially important for women to think about because I do think there’s a tendency perhaps to be too perfectionistic. Sometimes people can be all or nothing and say, “If I can’t do this and be running and sprinting the 26.2-mile marathon, then I should throw in the towel.”
I also think that it’s important for companies to think, “We’ve got a great person. Maybe it’s going to take her a few years longer to get to that next promotion cycle because she needs to walk for a while. This is a time when she’s solving simultaneous equations. Let’s give people grace.” I’m saying women but this applies to anybody. These are things that could be utilized by men or women. I think about the web because they’re strong but elastic. They’re made up of thousands of tiny strands coming together from multiple directions. They’re sticking enough to capture and retain the best talent at every juncture of a career.
Amy Bunszel, who I interviewed for my book, is the EVP of Technology at Autodesk. She talked about the importance of seeing who in the organization is a great culture fit and giving them lateral opportunities. They don’t have to be climbing an assiduous ladder at every moment in their career. It broadens them, gives them deeper perspectives, connects them better, and makes them stickier within the organization. Thinking about your career more in the medium to long-term is great to reframe it.
I love the idea of the web equally. I like the idea of stickiness. There are more tendrils. A lattice is a little bit more inflexible whereas a web is much more flexible and ever-changing. You have a concept in your book about leaving loud from work. I love this idea. I’m spoiling it but I want to hear it from you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get a call from daycare because I’m a working mom. Not everyone on the line is but I am. I have two kids. One is a four-year-old. She’s in daycare. She’s going to get sick. They’re all Petri dishes.
I’ll get the call because the daycare calls mom first. There’s nothing wrong with that. My husband is helpful. I give him many props and so much credit because we have an even childcare arrangement and I’m blessed with that fact. Let’s say they call me. I feel guilty because I’m in the middle of a meeting and I’m disruptive. My life is now encroaching upon my work. I still feel that way. Talk to me about what leaving loud means to you.
One of the many problems of having so few women at the top of organizations is that it skews our perception of what great leaders “look like.” We only see men at the top, whether that’s within our organizations or on TV. It can feed the idea that we need to act like a man if we want to get ahead, suppress our true selves, and embrace stereotypical male behaviors or attributes. The truth is the women I interviewed for my book told me how they had made it to the top by being themselves. That’s an important lesson for all of us, men and women. If we want to change the way the world thinks about who leaders are, we need to start being unapologetic about who we are.
One of my favorite stories that Sarah Mensa, a GM at Nike I interviewed for the book, shared with me is how whenever she has to leave her office to pick up her son, go to a soccer game, or do anything with her family, she leaves loud. She makes a point of announcing to everyone in the room where she’s going and why. She’s like, “You can call me if you need me. No worries.” It’s her way of letting everybody know that it’s okay to have a life outside of work and that people can bring their whole selves to the office. That’s exactly the role modeling we need more of from men and women.
Here’s another example. It’s a non-named person. I was in a meeting with someone who had a crying baby. Even I was bristling for this person and this awesome woman because I know in this particular culture, it’s not loved to have a kid crying in the background. I understand it’s distracting for the working mom, let alone everybody else. I get it but I do think that there was a lesson in there that she is highly capable. What I loved about how she reacted is she would mute herself when necessary but she was still very much engaged and involved in the meeting. It was almost like she kept on going and playing. I was so impressed by how she beautifully integrated her work into her life at that moment.
That’s not easy. Those are tough moments. One thing I always try to remind more junior colleagues is that those moments are fleeting. Those moments that you have when you have a young child are not going to be like that forever. It’s so important that women stick with it and try to get through those tough moments because you do get through them. You get to the other side.
We have many things in the book that are beautiful nuggets of information and wisdom. One of the things that I like to stress is the need for networking for women. I wanted to get some wisdom from you on how we can do it more effectively with the limited time we have.
Many people, quite understandably, once they become parents in particular, say, “I’m going to crush my day job, rush home from there, spend as much time with my children as possible, and forget about everything else.” That makes sense on some levels. Those are the two most important things, your job and your family, but what happens when you find yourself in an unhappy job, or you’re underpaid and you feel stuck, or your network has dried up? One of the women I interviewed in my book, Jennifer Goldfarb, who’s the Founder of Ipsy, the online beauty company, talked about her once-a-month role. Once a month, she will do some networking activities.
It could be meeting a mentor for lunch, going to an industry event, participating in some in-person workshop, or something that broadens her network where she can learn from other people. This longitudinally has made a huge difference in her career over the years because she, as a result of it, has more optionality, connectedness, and information to pursue her interests and goals. Some people might feel awkward about networking, “It’s cheesy. It’s asking for favors,” which never feels good but you have to remember that you have a skillset that some people might be looking for. You could be doing somebody a huge favor by getting to know them.Some people might feel awkward about networking, but remember that you have a skillset that some people might be looking for. You could be doing somebody a huge favor by getting to know them. Click To Tweet
For our longer audiences or even short-time and first-time audiences, I have gotten my last three jobs on networking alone. I have nothing against LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. I find a lot of guests on LinkedIn. It’s a beautiful way to network but when people say, “I’m open to work,” having that on their profile is also great. Maybe you have different thoughts on that but it’s cool because you can visually see people are open to work. Since you are doing more executive recruiting, I have never found it in that way online via Indeed or other places. People either come and find me or I find them via my network. Once you get to those higher levels, and I would love your thoughts on this, it is about your network.
Particularly at the board level. I spend half of my time recruiting CFOs and half of my time recruiting board members. I see this in particular in board searches. They happen to be women but I’m sure there are men that fall into this category as well who have crushed it professionally in their companies or are doing exceptionally well but don’t have any profile outside of their company. That can harm you when you do want to, for example, get on a board.
One of the little tips I give to people is when an executive recruiter calls you, call them back even if you’re not looking because it’s building that relationship. I have people I talk to maybe only once or twice a year. They will check in with me but they know they can call me when they need advice about negotiating compensation, or they’re looking at a potential new role and they want my point of view on it. Have those warm relationships. You can ask a recruiter, “I’m not interested in making a move myself but I’m curious. What’s the compensation for this role going for now?” Keeping your hand on the pulse of what’s in the market is invaluable.
That’s a good tip that I never thought of. This is my opinion. I’m wasting the recruiter’s time by going through that follow-up conversation if I’m not currently looking. However, I love your shifted perspective on that in saying, “Let’s keep in touch,” because you are building your network, and the recruiter is doing the same.
I’m not saying Have an hour-long conversation. It could be five minutes but it very likely could be mutually beneficial. It gives you a touchpoint into the market.
Let’s give the audience one other tip. Would you say a good start for networking? A lot of people are thinking that networking is old school. We go into a circle and give each other business cards. What are business cards? It’s like connecting to people on LinkedIn. What’s one other tip you would say for women to start that networking effort?
It could be something as simple as going to an alumni event. I do think that there is a benefit to doing things in person. There are organizations where you can do a Zoom meetup but I’m thinking of it as something where you are seeing people in real life. It could be online as well as going to an event but there’s goodness in getting out there and flexing that muscle a bit.
That’s good. You are pro-in-person. I’ve read a couple of books where it is better to be in person rather than connecting all the time online. There’s value in that human connection. You’ve been pushing me there a little bit. That’s good. As we’re ramping down here already, I can’t believe it. You mentioned in your book compassionate command. What does that term mean to you?
It used to be thought that the more traditionally “male” forms of leadership like being disruptive, risk-taking, heroic, galvanizing, and all these very extroverted and loud forms of leadership were the marks of a great leader. It’s that and probably being 6’3” tall and wearing glasses. What we have come to learn through our executive assessment partnership with Hogan is that it’s the leaders who can flex and be both those things, disruptive, risk-taking, heroic, and galvanizing at times but also the antithesis of those. It’s the leaders who have the quieter leadership skills, who can be connecting, who can be vulnerable, and who can be pragmatic.
We saw this in droves with COVID with a real need to lean in and lead with connectedness, empathy, and kindness. Those are areas where we saw women shine as leaders. Going forward, think about how you balance those things. This is true for both men and women. Men are also wanting to get better at the “softer” skills. I don’t like the term softer skills but I do think these are the things that are important and that people want to see in their leaders.Leaders who lean in and lead with connectedness, empathy, and kindness are those who shine as leaders. Click To Tweet
You’ve mentioned a couple of times the idea of vulnerability and showing up as yourself rather than a stiff cookie cutout or a robot. No one wants to see that. They want to see that you put your pants on one leg at a time as they do. My employees appreciate it more.
Somebody forwarded me an article from the Wall Street Journal. It was a dated article. It was eye-opening to me because it was this article lauding this woman. It was from the ‘90s. It was quite an old article. She was a partner at Goldman Sachs. It had a picture of her with those old bow ties that women used to wear. It was talking about how she made it work. She had 4 or 5 kids. She was certainly an impressive woman but she had done all the things that we would attribute to men. She had a stay-at-home partner. She flew every week. She was gone for 5 to 6 days a week and came home on the weekends.
Not to take anything away from her. She was at a time when that was what was necessitated to be successful as a woman in a very male-dominated world of financial services but it made me sad when I read it because I thought, “If she were coming up now, she would be freer to be who she is.” Maybe that was who she is. I don’t know her. I do think that times have changed, and we have proven through our data that it’s this ability to possess these oppositional leadership attributes that is most predictive of success. It is inuring to the benefit of women in leadership roles.
I grew up in financial services, so I feel her pain over there. I’ve shared this on the show many times but it’s well-placed here. Here’s a quick anecdote. It’s an awesome field but there is a lot of male domination in that field in certain spaces. I worked with a colleague. My initials are JP for Jennifer Pestikas, and he would call me JP. That even sounds pretty masculine. He would be like, “JP, it’s so great working with you.” I had no idea what he was going to say. I’m like, “Why?”
He says, “Working with you is like working with a dude.” I’ll never forget that. At that time, I was so proud. I was like, “Look at me. I’m not prissy. I’m not crying at work,” but what I realized is I’m getting more into this work in helping women. I’m like, “I did what you talked about to that other person that you are a colleague of. I tried to contort myself to be more masculine instead of feminine.” There’s a beautiful balance of both but women can be women and still rise to the top. I ask all of my guests this. I would love to hear from you. What do you believe are 1 to 2 ways that women can be braver at work?
Although I’m not a basketball player, one of my favorite quotes has always been, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Reshma Saujani was the Founder of Girls Who Code. She said in her very well-known TED Talk, “We teach boys to be brave and girls to be perfect. That dichotomy needs to change.” I say, “Go for the promotion,” as we discussed. If you’re the manager, encourage women to apply for promotions. Tell her why you and others on the leadership team believe she is ready.
I had a candidate years ago. I was doing a CFO search for a technology company. As I was sourcing people in the market, I kept getting referred to this woman who I didn’t know. I called her and she said, “I’m not ready for that job yet. I haven’t led investor relations.” I said, “That’s okay. The CEO is open to a CFO who hasn’t led investor relations before,” but she declined because she said she didn’t check enough for the boxes. I kept getting referred to her. I said, “This woman has to be perfect for this job.”
I ultimately figured out who one of her mentors was. I called that mentor. I got the mentor to call her to convince her to interview. Long story short, she ended up getting the job. She was super successful. She’s now the CFO of a much bigger company. She’s on several public boards. I think about her and how awesome she is. Even she was quite loathed to participate in this search because she didn’t think she checked all the boxes. As a recruiter, I’ve done 500 searches. I’ve been doing this for years.
No one is perfect. You need to trust in your inner voice. We are sitting at the table because it’s where we belong, and companies need us. There are countless studies that prove that more diverse voices around the table yield a better outcome. The onus is not on us to change. The problem is not in the way we’re communicating. It’s in how our listeners are failing to receive our message. We need to trust in our voices and persist. In my book, you will find an entire list of other ways to be braver and stay in it even when it’s rough. Please check out my book to get more ideas and inspiration.Countless studies have proven that more diverse voices around the table yield a better outcome. Click To Tweet
Let’s repeat the book title once more. It is To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success. Jenna, where can women find you and your work online? I know the book is coming out.
You can follow me on LinkedIn. We love LinkedIn. You can also go to Amazon or any major retailer and independent bookstore to order my new book, To the Top. Thank you so much. It comes out on March 14th, 2023. I’m excited. Thanks for your help in spreading the word.
I wish you the very best on your launch. Much success going forward. It has been such a pleasure having you on.
Thank you so much for having me on your show, Jen. I appreciate it.
That’s a wrap of my conversation with Jenna. I hope you found our discussion both valuable and inspiring. If you’re looking to get to the very top of your company or in your career, and/or if you want to simply make your way up one more rung or maybe two, I want you to know that it is possible. It takes a lot of hard work, grit, and belief in yourself but it can be done. I believe in you. Know that I’m in your cheering section, hooting and hollering you on probably embarrassingly. You can do it. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Until next time, show up, go straight to the top, and be brave.
- To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting the Rules for Success
- Apple Podcasts – Brave Women at Work
- Spotify – Brave Women at Work
- Jenna Fisher
- Russell Reynolds
- Lean In
- Why Women Still Can’t Have It All
- Natalie Benamou
- LinkedIn – Jenna Fisher
- Google Podcasts – Brave Women at Work
- Stitcher – Brave Women at Work
About Jenna Fisher
Jenna Fisher is committed to finding transformational leaders who can guide companies forward in a changing world. Over the past 20 years, she has developed strong relationships with a broad cross-section of global business leaders and the companies they shape. Having completed more than 400 CFO and board searches, she has a deep understanding of what professional and personal experiences, as well as the personality traits, are needed at the top. She knows that the most successful companies—in terms of any metric—are led by diverse teams who understand and reflect their products, services, employees, and audiences.