July 28, 2015 — As an intern at Catalyst this summer, I had the opportunity to attend and live tweet from an event that was a part of our Catalyst Connects series. Hosted by Harman International Industries, and set on the stage of Stamford, Connecticut’s beautiful Palace Theatre, the event focused on the importance of role models and networking access for women. Stamford’s mayor, David Martin, kicked off the event. He shared how the city is increasingly progressive, yet still wondered if women in the workplace “are getting a fair shake.” As he said, “Diversity in the workplace is not just about your gender or your race or your religion; it’s about your way of thinking.” He said he believes that bringing people with different perspectives into workplaces is crucial to business development.
Catalyst’s Emily Wakeling, Executive Director, Global Membership, introduced the panelists: Sandra Rowland, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Harman, and Deirdre LaTour, Chief Communications Officer at General Electric. They both got candid about their career experiences and shared their perspectives on where women stand in the workplace. Below are some of the messages that resonated most with me.
From a management perspective, Rowland spoke about how leadership has the power to “inspire change, influence our culture, and teach the next generation. LaTour said she was grateful for her position, even when the job is hard. “I love the role I aspire to have…to be a connector,” she said, emphasizing the importance of practicing this both on the job and in the outside world.
“You have to believe that you deserve a seat at the table.”
LaTour described different situations in the past where she was the only woman in the room, during meetings of executives and boards. She shared that even though some men paid no attention to her because of her gender, she believed she deserved to be their peer. Rowland talked about the importance of self-confidence, recollecting the times she moved up in organizations and worried that she didn’t measure up. She said she was often “star-struck by titles,” thinking that the people in those roles were smarter than she is. While she finally overcame that feeling and felt capable of competing, she thinks it took longer than it would have for a man rising in a company.
“Advocating for yourself is always the right thing to do.”
Both panelists actively acknowledged the privileges that have been given to them throughout their careers. LaTour had access to bosses and CEOs, which gave her a greater opportunity to express her concerns. With regards to work-life balance, Rowland shared that her ability to focus on work was because of good childcare. Both encouraged the women present to ask for what they needed at work, even though they are so often told not to.
“Develop a wide net.”
Rowland emphasized how important it is to “develop a wide net and lots of different relationships…[because] you never know where that connection is going to come from.” She also reminded women in leadership positions to find other women that they could mentor, and to help them build their networks. She said that neither she nor LaTour would have been speaking if they did not have teams behind them.
In the realm of business, it’s all about paying it forward. As Catalyst’s research shows, those who develop others advance faster and earn more than those who do not. It’s a win-win for everyone!