Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

The greatest obstacle women face

May 10, 2013

JaceyVDepending on my age, I have given a variety of answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Kindergarten: teacher, because I admired my teacher.
Fourth grade: famous author, because people praised my writing and why wouldn’t I believe I was good enough to be famous?
High school: lawyer, because writing isn’t a “realistic” career ambition, and I wasn’t as good as I’d once believed.
Post grad: No idea, but benefits and a living wage would be a good start.

When someone asks what you want to be, they’re really asking what you want to do. We make decisions about what we do in an attempt to be something else: financially secure, happy, respected, famous.

I’ve constantly changed my mind about what I want to do, but I’ve always wanted to be one thing: proud of myself.

This enigmatic, slippery state of being has proven impossible to grasp for more than a few moments at a time because it is a double edged sword. On one side, I’m looking to others to affirm me. I need someone else to tell me that who I am and what I’m doing is sufficient.

On the other side, my own standards are higher than anyone else’s. “Oh, you think I did a good job? Well, thanks, but I should have finished it earlier and let me point out the mistakes I made.”  

I’m writing in black and white here, but more often than not, I discount my achievements and place in the world until someone else affirms them, and then deflect the recognition when I do get it. It’s an exhausting, impossible quest, and I know I’m not alone.

At a time of unprecedented opportunity for women, my own experience leads me to believe that the greatest obstacle for women today is…ourselves.

Women continue to rise to leadership positions in almost every industry, proving their competence and value. It’s inspiring, but I can’t help but wonder: for every woman succeeding publicly and privately, how many intelligent potential influencers have we lost to their own insecurities? How many have believed the outdated script that their ideas are not worth sharing? How many have sold themselves short, waiting voluntarily in the wings without even trying out for the part?

My own self limiting beliefs have held me back personally more than any outside opposition. No legislation, corporate policy, or cultural enlightenment will make a difference if we don’t first believe in ourselves.

A note to myself, and you, too:

Your value doesn’t depend on what you accomplish. You have a lot to offer, but no one will know until you believe you are valuable and competent, that your ideas are worth sharing, that your skills and knowledge are beneficial to the people around you. Whether those people are your coworkers, husband, children, or friends, everyone is missing out when you live life as an apology instead of a statement.

Jacey Verdicchio loves good books and deep conversations. You can find her on her blog, The Balanced Wife, where she pursues exceptional living and often falls short. She lives with her husband, Michael, and dog, Jack.

Skill-Building for Local Women Leaders

February 3, 2012

Nearly 47 percent of South Carolina organizations have no women in decision-making roles according to a 2008 report by Clemson University’s Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership. To prepare more women to step into decision-making roles, the Charleston, S.C. Center for Women has launched a new Women’s Leadership Institute. The Institute is designed to teach Lowcountry women the skills and strategies necessary to become capable leaders. The Center for Women, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization and the only comprehensive women’s development center in South Carolina, focuses on making personal and professional success an everyday event for women in the Lowcountry.

“A report from Catalyst, a research organization specializing in expanding opportunities for women and business, reveals that companies having more women in their leadership team have a 34 percent higher return to shareholders,” says Jennet Robinson Alterman, Executive Director of the Center for Women. “Business, government and communities all face a multitude of critical issues and need a pool of women leaders and decision-makers who can resolve pertinent issues and help deliver improved financial performance. We believe the Center can play a key role in equipping local women with the right mix of knowledge, skills and abilities to help prepare them for these positions.”

National research into women in business conducted by Braithwaite Innovation Group, a local professional development organization, shows that business women skilled in communications, negotiations, conflict resolution, and general leadership abilities are better positioned to assume more responsibility. I found the Lowcountry full of professional and executive women – educators, entrepreneurs and former Fortune 100 company executives – who have these skills and who are willing to pay it forward to improve the status of women in South Carolina.  We have designed the Women’s Leadership Institute sessions to be highly interactive, using discussion, practical application, assessments and experiential exercises. Our goal is maximizing learning about leading oneself, leading others and leading within organizations.

This is the first intensive skill development program offered by the Center for Women. Topics covered in the monthly sessions will assist local women in building a wide array of leadership skills as well as gaining a broader and deeper business perspective for their increased workplace, community, home and personal effectiveness. Women can choose to take as many or as few classes as their schedule permits. Each course adds value as a stand-alone session or as part of a comprehensive year-long program. Based on feedback from recent Center for Women program and event participants, the women’s leadership classes will be held Saturday mornings, starting at 9:30 a.m. and will run for three hours.

For companies in the tri-county area who may not have learning and development opportunities or personnel in-house, this program provides them with affordable access to resources that would cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and deliver. “A Women’s Leadership Development study conducted in December 2011 by Mercer Consulting revealed that 71 percent of firms do not have a clearly defined plan for developing women for leadership roles,” noted Doretha Walker, past president of the Center for Women board of directors and also a leadership program faculty member. “This new program will provide a distinct cost effective advantage for Lowcountry employers looking to get ahead of the curve in training their female employees.”

For more information and to enroll, visit the Center for Women’s website at

Jane Perdue is a leadership and women’s issues consultant, speaker, writer, and Principal, Braithwaite Innovation Group, a Charleston. S.C. based female-owned professional and organizational development company.

Originally appeared in CharlestonCurrents on Monday, January 16, 2012.

The Job Coaches: Gender stereotypes: All minds needed at the table

January 27, 2012

In 1998, Catalyst and National Foundation for Women Business Owners published a joint study showing that women were leaving corporate and public sector organizations to start businesses of their own because, among other reasons, they continually encountered gender stereotypes that held them

Much earlier, in the course of my own research, I had interviewed a very successful entrepreneur who had trod that path exactly. She put it this way:

I live in San Francisco, and I liken the disillusionment in a corporation to a creeping fog. In the nighttime, the fog slowly comes in from the ocean and goes under the Golden Gate Bridge. You are really not aware of it at first, and eventually you hear the foghorns in the distance, and those foghorns indicate a change in the environment, a slow creeping disillusionment.

In 2004, Catalyst released the results of a study of the experiences of male and female executives of Fortune 1000 Companies. It reported that while both men and women have similar goals on entering organizations and strategies for reaching them, and that both groups would encounter barriers in their careers, women had the additional problem of encountering harmful gender stereotypes. How that was happening was crisply explained four years later in the title of the 2008 Catalyst study: “The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t.”

Stereotypes and their harmful paralyzing effects on women’s career opportunities and advancement have not gone away. According to a report just released (Catalyst, Jan. 14), gender stereotypes continue and especially in male-dominated organizations.

We have known for half a decade at least why it makes no sense for companies to tolerate this. A 2004 Catalyst study reported results from an examination of some 353 companies that maintained their Fortune-500 rankings four years out of a five-year period. It showed that companies with the highest percentage of women in top management had a higher return on equity (35 percent) and greater total returns to shareholders (34 percent) than companies with few women top managers. A 2009 Catalyst study suggested an additional reason. The higher return on investment was seen in firms where male managers saw the value of diversity training and then carried out the results in working with members from diverse groups.

Assuming that the point of operating a business is to make a profit, what does this tell us?


Companies hiring and advancing qualified women access a larger pool of talent and benefit from considering all minds valuable. Where women are given equal (not special) opportunities and bias-free measurements of job performance, it is possible to eliminate or reduce the harmful outcomes of stereotypes. Companies are then able to operate on a higher level and perform better overall.

It would be more profitable for companies if managers were to set stereotypes aside and follow leadership styles that advance the organization’s mission. Unfortunately, far too many major corporations and smaller companies around the globe still use outdated styles of management and leadership at all levels of the organization that are ill suited to benefiting from employee diversity.

Companies that seek success need to set standards of “no tolerance” for those who deliberately use stereotypes to avoid appraising and paying women professionals the salaries they deserve. To do this, it will be important to establish diversity training programs that eliminate the harmful effects which may impede female employees from making productive contributions, especially in this down-turned economy.

Aspiring women in organizations where stereotyping is supported or tolerated by top management are learning work styles that enable them to counteract and maneuver around gender stereotypes, and along the way improve the climate for all employees. Not an easy task, but a strategy successful women have found useful.

Look for tips in an upcoming column on how “Managing Up” may help you gain an edge on career advancement to make an even greater contribution to the bottom line in your company.

Dorothy Perrin Moore, Ph.D., is professor emerita of business and entrepreneurship at The Citadel. The Job Coaches are experienced volunteers from the Center for Women’s Job Counseling Program. Ask them a question by calling 843-763-7333 or e-mailing If you would like further assistance, make an appointment; a donation of $20 is requested for appointments.

First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, January 22, 2010.

The Job Coaches: Women are changing business landscape

January 6, 2012

“I am five feet tall and female and people do not take me seriously right off the bat. You need to be bigger and more masculine to intimidate people; they pay attention to you. It’s like an elephant. An elephant gets more attention than a mouse. But if the mouse is the president of the company and it needs to be run effectively, then the mouse needs to learn how to manage the elephant. And that is what we do. We manage at least one elephant every single day.”

Linda Horn, L.R. Horn Concepts Inc., Women’s Business Advocate of the Year, 2009

Recent research suggests that women behave more democratically than men in leadership situations, use interactive skills more frequently, place greater emphasis on maintaining effective working relationships, value cooperation and being responsible to others and work to achieve outcomes that address the concerns of all parties involved. One researcher defines this female leadership style as an “ethic of care,” meaning that women manage with regard to the respect they wish for themselves. As a former Entrepreneur of the Year expressed it, “I want everybody to be treated like I want to be treated.”photo

These are also the skills of a transformational leader, one who articulates a vision to be shared by peers and subordinates, encourages and models effective behavior, respects individual differences, and empowers followers to become leaders. This approach is akin to “innovative realism,” the skill to be flexible, creative, action-oriented and inspirational and to integrate relationships.

The leadership and management approaches of women are being widely recognized today as extremely effective in dealing with the problems of economic downturn. In the top leadership seminars, both in the U.S. and worldwide, the focus is on a leadership style that incorporates effective communication, relationship building, quality values and commitment as the critical tools to successfully turn things around.

Where did all this come from? Slowly and methodically, the educational landscape of colleges and universities has been changing. Women now constitute 58 percent of the enrollment in two- and four-year colleges, are the majority of the total graduate and professional school population, and, in the field of business, earn more than two-thirds of the associate degrees, more than half the bachelor’s degrees, and over 40 percent of master’s degrees. Women entering the business world in recent years have been increasingly well-prepared.

Women are also changing the small-business landscape. Overall, the number of women-owned firms continues to increase at twice the rate of male-owned businesses. Women who own 50 percent or more of their firms now account for 40 percent of all privately held firms. One in five firms with revenues of $1 million or more are woman-owned. Many of these women entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the fact that more than 2,100 institutions of higher education offer at least one course in entrepreneurship. While programs geared to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs are still almost nonexistent, many women students understand that enrolling in an entrepreneurship course can lead to an understanding of the nuts and bolts of operating a business successfully. This is important because there is ample evidence that a good number of potentially creative entrepreneurs fail in their ventures because they cannot manage budgets, people and materials effectively.

Someone must do these tasks. But the requirement to be a good manager makes it easy for the entrepreneurial leader-turned-manager to get bogged down in day-to-day operational details. Faced with the choice of being the artistic leader or the business manager, Suzy Spafford, the creator of Suzy’s Zoo, elected “drawing and laughing and creating those characters … to make people happy, to share the joy you experience if you don’t forget what it is like to be a child.” Behind this premise is her labor of love for each of the 200-plus Suzy’s Zoo and Little Suzy’s Zoo characters she has brought to life. More than vibrant greeting and notecard illustrations, each character has a personality, history, and story. “I can create something that’s unique,” Spafford says, “therefore, I want to hire people who have the ability to expand my concept, to add to value, but not to redo the designs. It’s not as easy as I thought. I want to say to my artists, be graphic, have good composition, good words, but let me own the character. I am the little personality.”

Owning a business is a big job. As an enlightened woman leader and entrepreneur, the business owner is the vision-setter, information resource, motivator and analyzer.

As the firm manager, she is the ambassador, taskmaster, auditor and servant.

As the owner, the buck stops with her. But business owners cannot do everything themselves. By definition, the creator of the business must spend considerable time doing something other than working on the product or service. The most critical decision is where to invest one’s limited time.

Is there one key to dealing effectively with all the demands faced by a productive and smart leader? Dr. Suzanne Peterson, a professor at Arizona State University and managing director of CRA Inc., suggests keeping things on track may involve communicating in ways that focus attention, build credibility and motivate people. “Everything you do,” she says, “sends a message — not only about your work, but about who you are and how you relate to others.”

Studies of women executives and female entrepreneurs tend to show that they define effective power as deriving from mastery rather than control. Instead of focusing on the traditional perks and privileges that separate leaders from others in organizations, they constantly work to construct ties to individuals.

It’s not just a female leadership style, it’s good business.

Dorothy Perrin Moore, Ph.D., is professor emerita of business and entrepreneurship at The Citadel. Sources for the quotations in this article may be found online and in Moore, D.P., 2000. “Careerpreneurs: Lessons From Leading Women Entrepreneurs on Building a Career Without Boundaries,” Davies-Black Publishing and in Moore’s published works through 2009.

The Job Coaches are experienced volunteers from the Center for Women’s Job Counseling Program. Ask them a question by calling 763-7333 or e-mailing If you would like further assistance, make an appointment; a donation of $20 is requested for appointments.

First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, December 11, 2009.

The Job Coaches: Take steps to develop team

November 18, 2011

When it comes to the issue of teams in business, you would think that somebody, somewhere, would have covered everything there is to say about the topic by now. Using teams of people to get work done in organizations is a concept that has become firmly entrenched in the business environment. So why is it that so many teams still aren’t working very well?photo

If you look up the textbook definition of a team, you’ll see it described as a group of people who come together to accomplish a common goal. We assemble teams in business for a range of purposes, such as to develop new products, deliver customer service, create marketing strategies and lead organizations. While this common purpose is essential, it often results in an orientation that is focused solely on the external objective, rather than providing sufficient attention to the team itself.

Strong teams don’t just happen. They are developed intentionally, strategically and with careful consideration for both sound design and good chemistry. Unfortunately, in their rush to address the pressing needs of the business, many teams fail to get their own acts together before they charge off to pursue the work at hand. The results are frequently, and predictably, disappointing.

I once worked with a client organization that was undergoing a radical change in the nature of their core business as a result of changes in technology. Resignations and replacements of several key manager positions had resulted in a leadership team that was essentially thrown together and charged with figuring out how to move the business from where it was to where it needed to be in order to compete in the new arena. At first, these folks took the position that they couldn’t afford the luxury of time needed for team development. After all, they were mature and seasoned leaders who should know what to do. The problems started showing up almost immediately: conflicting priorities, false starts, communication mix-ups and bruised egos.

It didn’t take long for them to realize that their lack of alignment was seriously undermining their ability to make progress on the priorities they were all genuinely committed to.

What got in the way for this team? Plain and simple: They hadn’t taken the time to focus on themselves as a team and define how they would work together before they dove headfirst into the deep end of the pool. They needed to take a brief time out to develop a team charter and establish their rules of engagement if they wanted to move forward in a cohesive and collaborative manner.

These are the essential foundational questions that a team needs to address if it is to be powerful and effective in moving an organization forward:

  1. Why do we exist? What are the mission and purpose of this team? What will our contributions be to the overarching mission of the organization?
  2. What are we trying to create? What is our vision of what’s possible for this team? What strategic opportunities in the marketplace will we choose to pursue on a short-term/long-term basis? To what extent are we aligned in terms of direction and priorities? What really matters for us?
  3. Who are we in relationship to one another? What are our similarities and differences in terms of leadership style, personality patterns, skills, values and strengths? How can we leverage our differences and harness the richness of our diversity, rather than having it drain our effectiveness?
  4. What structure will maximize our effectiveness? What should our respective roles and responsibilities consist of? Who will be accountable for what? What are the explicit and implicit assumptions that govern our interactions with one another?
  5. What will our team processes look like? How will we share information, make decisions and solve problems? What will our meeting arrangements consist of? How will we collaborate in a way that adds value while respecting one another’s individual domains? What kinds of issues will require team input and consensus?
  6. How will we keep ourselves honest? What will we do to ensure that we are truly communicating on a deep and meaningful level? How will we resolve conflicts when they occur? How will we create an environment in which each team member can honor his/her individual needs and values in the context of getting the team’s work done?
  7. How will we measure our progress? What will our metrics consist of? How will we regularly evaluate our own performance as a team?
  8. How will we celebrate our accomplishments and provide for renewal? What will we do to ensure that we stay fresh, cutting edge and energized?

Teams that take the time to grapple with these critical questions head-on are the ones that are able to create and sustain world-class results.

Does this mean that a new leadership team must take weeks to deal with these issues before it can even get started, or that an existing team should take a major sabbatical to get it all nailed down? Of course not. In a dynamic business environment, time is of the essence and customers won’t wait for a lengthy round of team development to jell.

But it does mean that a team must make resolving these issues as much of a priority as any other critical business need if it wants to retain a high performance edge.

And in today’s competitive arena, that’s the key to true success.

Barbara Poole is a master-certified coach and the president of Success Builders Inc.

The Job Coaches are experienced volunteers from the Center for Women’s Job Counseling Program. Ask them a question by calling 843-763-7333 or e-mailing If you would like further assistance, make an appointment; a donation of $20 is requested for appointments.

First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, March 5, 2010.

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