Challenges, Confidence, Diversity and Inclusion, Empowering Women, Leadership, Tips, Working Women

Women Having a Voice in a Male Dominated Workforce

I had the opportunity to serve on a panel last week and share my insights on Women Having a Voice in a Male Dominated Workforce. The authentic and grounded conversation…..as well as some of the questions from the audience reinforced the need to continue these conversations. Over the next few blog posts I will share some of the conversation with you in hopes that you find the conversation helpful/insightful and meaningful. Perhaps to share with others as well! The panel structure was interesting – there were three women and two men on the panel which provided some interesting and balanced perspectives.

With 20 years of leadership experience in the network and field operations industry across the country – network operations; construction; plant maintenance; dispatch and field operations – it was interesting for me to reflect on my experience as an operations leader as I prepared for the panel conversation. I have come to appreicate the unique opportunities I have had throughout my career. And I also have come to understand my responsibility to others in support of their career journey. #payitforward

The first question from the moderator was: “As a female in the cable industry, what are some challenges you were faced with throughout your career and how did you overcome some of those adversities?” Kind of awkward for the men panelists but generated a laugh. I jumped in to share my response to the question along with some potential steps the audience could apply:

The challenges and the steps to address the challenges:

Having my voice heard

o Learn to project your voice and speak with confidence

o Always sit at the table and sit strategically at the table

Being taken seriously

o Never offer to take notes

▪ Don’t allow yourself to be delegated as note taker

o Review agendas for every meeting

o Practice before presenting and ask for feedback

o Anticipate difficult questions

Being “tested” and having to always prove myself

o I never felt like there was anything I couldn’t do while I was growing up. My parents believed in us and often told us …..”You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it and work hard.

▪ No promise of being the best. No easy way to achieve your goals. Hard work. Focus. Commitment. Simple, practical advice

o Trust your instinct and understand if you are being tested

▪ Seek time with the tester – ask for coaching/feedback/support

Confidence, Empowering Women, Leadership, Reflection, Working Women

A Boss, A Leader, A Mentor 

I often write about what it means to be a leader and a mentor as a woman – a subject clearly near and dear to my heart. I was recently asked to share about a woman leader, a woman mentor, and the most memorable female leader I worked for. Interestingly enough as I reflected on the question (and the ask to write about it) – the boss, the leader, the mentor all point me to the same person – Margaret Serjak.  

I met Margaret in 2005 through my then boss who served on a special project with Margaret. We were connected as well through my Market Area President at the time. I was considered a high potential leader and ready to move into a Director role. I was being put forth to interview and had interviewed in New Jersey. There was a position open in Southern California and I went to interview with Margaret. I was vetted out by others and offered the position!! In April of 2006 I went to work as the Director of Field Operations in Southern California and my journey and the relationship began. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much I learned in this pivotal point in my career. Operations Strategy, Influence, Technology, Financial Performance, Pace of Change, Marketplace and Customer Strategy, Employee Engagement, and Leadership Engagement – all areas of business and leadership I learned from Margaret as a boss, as a leader, and as a mentor. I also reflect back to moving across the country and relocating my family for a role in her organization in Southern California and she always checked in to see how my family and I were acclimating to our new location. That is another leadership tenet I carry with me – people matter, yes – people’s family’s matter, absolutely!

Margaret was undeniably the hardest working and one of the smartest women in the industry. Margaret was above reproach in the integrity department – it was truly fascinating to watch her approach relative to business, leadership, and professional/personal integrity. Margaret kept a fast pace and executed quickly but with solid quality. She expected that of her team. We had large scope of responsibilities as leaders and she expected much from each of us. Knowing your business was table stakes and knowing how to change a trajectory of operational or financial performance was a measure of effective leadership. Margaret possessed the ability to ask the really tough questions in an operations review or finance discussion (sometimes to the point of being harsh) but it pushed me to ensure I was on point and on my “A” game. While there was that side, there was also the side of Margaret that was my greatest supporter and cheerleader (and I am sure same for my peers as well).

Margaret encouraged me to be creative around employee engagement and innovation, which are areas of strength for me and she always applauded those efforts, as did our employees. It means a lot when your boss encourages your areas of leadership strength. I try to do same with my team. In the fast pace of business with high expectations of leaders, it always feels great when someone recognizes work that you do. Especially when that person is your boss!

The most interesting reflection I have is during the time from 2006 until 2015, Margaret always believed in me more than I believed in myself. In 2011, she believed I was ready to be promoted – she told me I was as good as anyone else, why not. I went into that new leader role back East and Margaret then became a mentor and trusted advisor. As a mentor, she encouraged me and tried to reinforce my professional confidence. My regret is that I wished I had listened and believed. Margaret was not a person to simply say something to say it, she had to truly believe it herself. I realize now how I missed that (on my end) during the time she mentored me.

She has now retired from the business world (well-deserved I might add) and although we may not connect as often as we did when we worked together, I know that all I need to do is simply pick up the phone and she would be there for me!

I have had many mentors, bosses, and leaders over the course of my career – women and men – and I count my blessings for all of the lesson learned from each of them (the good and the not so good). I count my blessings three times though when I think of Margaret and the role she played in my career, my leadership, my confidence, my passion, and my overall business savvy. What an amazing gift!

Challenges, Confidence, Tips

Perfectionism: The obstacle to personal and professional success

Are you a perfectionist?  

• The project has to be perfect – the first time

• You go on a diet and it’s all or nothing – all of the time

• Start an exercise program – every day and can’t miss a day

• If you get a grade less than an A – your world falls apart

• Your presentation goes off track – you consider it a failure

The above are all signs of perfectionism. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you are perfect!

Perfectionism is about being hypercritical and judgmental of yourself. People with perfectionist tendencies minimize their best efforts – which are typically very good – and we blame our lapses on character defects – not good enough, not smart enough, not focused enough.

Perfectionists live with a report card or measure of success graph all the time!

Striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards can help one achieve one’s goals – however with no flexibility or ability to adapt when things aren’t perfect can cause one to give up and be self-critical to a point where goals disappear and innovation gets stifled.

Cures for the perfectionist? I found these in a leadership book and thought I would share. I keep them at my desk for a gentle reminder that No one is perfect!

1. Acknowledge and cultivate the part of you that sees yourself as as “good enough.”

2. Make a list of your good personal and professional qualities.

3. Pay attention to your “all or nothing” thinking and remind yourself that you don’t need to be the best in everything in order to be respected.

4. Try to be less critical of other people, and treat them with patience and compassion.

5. Participate in some activities that aren’t competitive by nature – volunteer, community work, practice being a member of a team vs. the driver of a team.

Be forgiving of yourself! After all, you are not perfect and you were never meant to be perfect. Life is all about learning from your opportunities and growing into the best you that you can be.

Challenges, Confidence, Diversity and Inclusion, Empowering Women, STEM, Working Women

The challenges of being a business woman in a “male-dominant” field and the opportunities for excellence: Our journey, our commitment and our legacy!

“Why would a nice ‘girl’ like you want to work in a field like this?”

“You are the first woman supervisor I have ever had in my career.”

“Wow – I would never have thought you’d come down into this manhole to learn to splice.”

“Would you take the meeting notes Leslie?”

Me: “I have someone I’d like you to interview for the open manager position.”
The Director on my team: “Ok, great, what is his name?”
Me: “Why would you assume it is a ‘him’? The candidate is actually a ‘her’….”

Over the course of my career – working in the field of criminal justice as a police training coordinator and work with the US Marshall Service and the National Institute of Justice and then moving into the field of telecommunications in network, field, construction, and technical operations roles I have encountered skepticism, challenges, and years of being one of the only women on the team. None of that was ever an issue for me. My competitive spirit, my goal to excel (personally and professionally), my desire to leave a team, an organization, and a business better than it was before I arrived – all those things superseded any challenges as a woman in a male dominated field. I dove right into learning the technology, the field, the art of leadership, and the people. Learning the organization, the skill set of the work, the directional goals, and how I could best support/lead was where I spent my energy and effort.
The above quotes are comments shared with me over the years from 1990 until today. Advice from a Chief of Police as I considered a field in criminal justice, an introduction to my first switch technician, my favorite cable plant technician, a peer Director who was a man, and a Director on my team – a collection of comments from the men I worked with over the years.
All of this skepticism and doubt created a stronger work ethic and a passion to prove that a woman could not only meet the opportunity to be successful in a male dominated field but could rise to the occasion and excel. Achieving excellence has been a critical goal for me personally and professionally as I have forged my path.
What have I learned?
• People can do anything given the opportunity (with the right knowledge, skills, and ability) and with a support infrastructure, women can be equally (and often times more) successful in male dominated fields.
• Paying it forward is not simply expected – but required. In order to ensure women rise in non-traditional fields, those who have cleared the pathways (no matter how much clearing or how little clearing has to be done) must reach out to other women and support and lift their journey. We owe that to one another.
• Never ever be the one who takes notes in the meeting or gets the coffee – never!
• Be certain you sit at the table – always.
• Make sure your voice is heard – in meetings and on calls.
• Focus on your knowledge, skills, and leadership – improve them and excel at them. Do not focus on the naysayers.
• Know that every opportunity that comes your way is an opportunity to continue to clear the way for the next generation of women to rise higher and make more of an impact with fewer obstacles. That is a part of your legacy!

Confidence, Empowering Women, Family, Leadership, Working Women

Influences in my Career

As I take time to reflect during Women’s History Month and I think about the people who have had the most influence on me – I don’t simply think of the women who have been a part of my life – I think of all the people in all facets of my life who have influenced me. It is an interesting reflection to consider who has impacted and influenced you as a career professional, as a mother, as a friend – from both a positive and not-so-positive perspective.

Through the journey of my life – the unexpected twists and turns, the fascinating people I have met, and the amazing opportunities I have been fortunate to have been afforded……it’s difficult to think about one or two people. My life is built from a series of people interaction puzzle pieces that make me who I am today. There are pieces of that puzzle that I can identify as key influencers.

You never know who has really had a significant impact until you take the time to stop, reflect, and think – really think about those who have influenced your journey. Sometimes those impacts are not what you thought they would be nor did they come from who you normally would identify.

The Influencers:
1. My parents (discussed in an earlier blog): When I was young, my mother introduced me to the power of books and learning. My father shared with me the love, strategy, and commitment of sports and teamwork. My parents taught me the importance of a strong work ethic. Not by saying it, but by living it. Education, teamwork, and work ethic remain key strengths to this day.
2. Beth, my sister: An amazingly creative and energetic teacher, a yoga lover, a runner, and an amazing gardener. She is balanced, caring, and creative. She taught me the importance of being well-rounded and kind.
3. Tony, Margaret, and Nancy: The most amazing leaders I have ever worked for and with – they inspired me to be my best self. Demanding leaders but with an ability to lead from a place of inspiration, knowing the individual, and believing in the potential of others. These leaders taught me the power of positive thinking as well as the importance of communication and changed my whole way of looking at work. They all believed in me and afforded me the opportunity to be a true leader!
4. Sandra, my Executive and Life Coach: Her belief that of course I can and should do great things. She has always inspired me. She has a unique way of positioning my thoughts and beliefs that I am in fact amazing – at work, at home, and in life. During times in my life when I question my value, my purpose, or whether I measure up – I hear Sandra’s voice ….”you are good enough, you got this, go be awesome!”
5. My daughter: The first person who made me truly feel like a grown-up. So many lessons of life I have learned from her. Too countless to mention. Her greatest lesson for me has been all about perseverance. She has risen to the challenge so many times in her life and done so with humility and honesty. Great when you learn from your children!
6. My husband: One of the most natural leaders I have ever met. He has served to help me with my leadership throughout my career. He has supported my career in every way possible. Not to mention just a great guy and my best friend!
7. Operations Leaders: I had some leaders in my career who were bullies; mean and frankly disrespectful. I wish I had the courage back then to call out that behavior and more important to not have taken it personal. What I learned from these leaders was that I would never treat people that way. And today – I won’t tolerate being treated that way!
I am sure I could add to this list and it will likely change as I continue the journey of my life…..and pick up influencers along the way. The deep meaningful influencers will likely remain on my playbook of influence but will collect the small influence experiences throughout more of my life journey.
Such a great opportunity of important life lessons to both reflect on and to share….this is also a great mentoring moment perhaps. A way to play a role in the personal growth and success of our future leaders, wives, sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, and children.

Challenges, Confidence, Leadership

My Break from Facebook

Social media: the “always on” connection to friends, family, trends in business, what’s happening in the world. Readily available at a moment’s notice. The always connected world is so important in business and in our personal lives. How we manage our connections socially is a lesson in life for all of us. Those social media moments can become consuming and in some regard unhealthy. Let me share my experience….

Facebook was a place to connect with my friends and family across the country. A way to watch and experience the lives of my connections and feel a part of their journey – even at thousands of miles away. Pictures of children as well as pride in academics, athletics, and life achievements all there with a click or a scroll. What was once a wonderful thing slowly manifested into a platform for anger, hate, and lack of respect.

I am clearly not opposed to freedom of speech or people’s ability to share opinions on topics such as politics, addiction, sexual orientation, religion, etc. That’s what our country was founded on and a belief system that we can all share and participate in. But what happened to being kind? To being okay with opinions and ideals that may not be aligned with yours?

Social media has fully uncovered the lack of respect for each other in a very public fashion. Family, friends, and strangers attack each other with such vitriol, disdain, and hatred. People piling on to social network pages attacking strangers for thoughts, experiences, and opinions.

What was once a source of social connection and enjoyment was turning into an obsession with the hatred and trying to understand why. It began causing me stress and a true unsettling feeling. I considered deactivating and taking a break but it didn’t happen…..that is until one morning I witnessed what I call my breaking point. Enough said – I deactivated the account.

With time to decompress and think through my action I realized the person I was punishing was me – my connections to friends and family were gone. It then dawned on me that with twitter I can choose to follow who I want…..and I could do the same with people and pages on Facebook that were becoming too toxic. I decided to take the high road (no, I did not create an alias FB account) and be true to who I am. I reactivated Facebook and blocked or unfollowed people or pages that don’t foster a positive spirit of community.

One week later, I am reconnected with a different perspective. I can check on friends and family each day and I can post my thoughts and opinions with kindness . I can share the spirit of respect, inclusion, and kindness and model those tenets on Facebook as I do in life and in my other social media venues – LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

As my friend Jenn always says, Be kind. Always be kind.

Challenges, Confidence, Tips, Working Women

Stuck

Life gets busy and you go through the measures of the day – at work and at home. Then you need to do something on a more forward-planning and strategic basis and you stop. In your tracks. Cold. What do I do? I am stuck. You freeze and you don’t know how to get “unstuck”. Are you procrastinating? Are you tired? Uninspired? You try to get out of the rut but somehow you can’t.

If you are a fast paced career woman (perhaps juggling a family and other outside activities) getting “stuck” can be a scary thing. We typically don’t think much about the “stuck experience” when we are on our “A” game, operating on all cylinders.

So know this: from my experience, getting “stuck” happens to all of us at one time or another. Getting “unstuck” can be hard work and can also seem like a mountain to conquer.

A wise mentor has coached me through being “stuck.” That mentor shared a few key questions to consider in those moments:

• What exactly is stopping you from moving forward?

• Do you have a fear of failing?

• Or do you have a fear of success?

• Are you avoiding dealing with a specific task?

• Do you not know how to do something?

• Are you overwhelmed?

• What exactly is the roadblock in your way?

The experience of being stuck can sometimes be an opportunity to reassess where you are in life and what you want. It can be the catalyst for action or change. Then as my mentor shared with me: “Move forward, one step at a time…that is how the journey begins.”

Challenges, Confidence, Reflection, Tips

Leaving Behind In 2016

As we enter 2017 and reflect on the future ahead, it’s also good to look at what we are leaving behind. Things, ideas, people, expectations, goals – you name it, we can leave it behind. This serves as a purging of sorts and can provide some exercise of the unnecessary!
Over the course of 2016, I came to realize (in a very strong and powerful manner) that my voice matters and that what I say has value. Not because I am anyone special but because I am me and that is special enough. My opinions, thoughts, and ideas are just as valuable as anyone else’s opinions, thoughts, or ideas. I have lived life and experienced challenges as well as success. I have knowledge, education, and awareness in my industry, in history, in world events, etc. And as such, I have educated and insightful thoughts, opinions, and ideas. They may not be in a fashion that aligns with how others think or their view of the world, but that’s okay. For years I let my voice be “quieted” to some extent based on my self-confidence, especially at work. I am leaving this behind in 2017. I will not let anyone make me feel like my voice (my opinions, thoughts, visions, and insights) is less than.
I am also going to leave behind multi-tasking (okay to be honest I am going to try ….really hard). We all know how it feels when we are talking with someone and they are taking peeks at their cell phone or start responding to a text message. The feeling is that my conversation or my presence is less important than a text or an email. My commitment is to try to be mindful of being present and being in the moment with the person I am connected with. It’s a matter of respect and treating others the way you want to be treated. What is more important than the conversation you are in at that moment?
I am leaving negativity and criticism behind in 2017. It’s simply not nice behavior. I am not going to participate in it and I will not silently support it by being a part of those conversations. Life is filled with too many wonderful things to focus on the negative.
Finally, I am leaving behind rigid expectations – of myself, of others, and of the world. Being in the moment and living in the context of life and doing the best I can each day with what I have will keep me present, serene, and a better version of myself…for my family, my colleagues, and for me!
Leave behind the anchors that have dragged you down in 2016. Think about the things that caused angst and did not add value to your life. Write them down, let them go, and get on with the business of living!
Make 2017 be exactly what you want it to be – on your terms and for you!

Confidence, Empowering Women, Family, Working Women

“For My Daughter”

FOR MY DAUGHTER
By Sarah McMane

“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”
– Clementine Paddleford

Never play the princess when you can
be the queen:
rule the kingdom, swing a scepter,
wear a crown of gold.
Don’t dance in glass slippers,
crystal carving up your toes —
be a barefoot Amazon instead,
for those shoes will surely shatter on your feet.
Never wear only pink
when you can strut in crimson red,
sweat in heather grey, and
shimmer in sky blue,
claim the golden sun upon your hair.
Colors are for everyone,
boys and girls, men and women —
be a verdant garden, the landscape of Versailles,
not a pale primrose blindly pushed aside.
Chase green dragons and one-eyed zombies,
fierce and fiery toothy monsters,
not merely lazy butterflies,
sweet and slow on summer days.
For you can tame the most brutish beasts
with your wily wits and charm,
and lizard scales feel just as smooth
as gossamer insect wings.
Tramp muddy through the house in
a purple tutu and cowboy boots.
Have a tea party in your overalls.
Build a fort of birch branches,
a zoo of Legos, a rocketship of
Queen Anne chairs and coverlets,
first stop on the moon.
Dream of dinosaurs and baby dolls,
bold brontosaurus and bookish Belle,
not Barbie on the runway or
Disney damsels in distress —
you are much too strong to play
the simpering waif.
Don a baseball cap, dance with Daddy,
paint your toenails, climb a cottonwood.
Learn to speak with both your mind and heart.
For the ground beneath will hold you, dear —
know that you are free.
And never grow a wishbone, daughter,
where your backbone ought to be.

Confidence, Empowering Women, Family, Working Women

The Blessings of Belief

I am the oldest of three girls born to hardworking and loving parents.
I grew up with a father who appreciated the lessons gained by being on a sports team and the competitive spirit of athletics. I grew up with a mother who was passionate about academics, a woman who knew that the value of education could open doors of possibility.
I was raised by parents who were honest, hardworking, and appreciated the value of money and a good job. I never felt like there was anything I couldn’t do while I was growing up, but I also was not raised with rose colored glasses where I felt that I could excel and be the best at everything I tried.
My parents were realists and very practical people. But they believed in their daughters and they told us that often…..”you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it and work hard.” No promise of being the best. No easy way to achieve your goals. Hard work. Focus. Commitment. No guarantee or even expectation that you will be “the best.” Practical. Useful. Words that indicated they believed in us and supported us in whatever we chose to pursue. Some of us played basketball and softball. Some of us played field hockey and ran track. Some of us spent years studying ballet and even tried cheerleading (and were horrible at it but worked hard and had fun).
I think about that often and sit in awe of the support and belief that carried me through much of my life and career. Going through my education journey (community college and university), not A’s and sometimes not B’s. But I had a mother who believed that if I worked hard I could get a degree from a good school and no one would ever be able to take that degree from me – and no one would care if I got through with B’s. Such a smart woman with practical and pointed advice. No one ever asked about my grades in college…ever.
As a sociology major who now works in technology/engineering, I can recall my first opportunity to take on a technical role. My father said to me “Leslie – you are a smart and intelligent person. You are curious and love to learn. You will learn this position just like everything else – ask questions, be curious, and listen to those who do the job.” Simple, practical advice that has carried me through 20 years of a career in technology and engineering operations.
The blessings of belief have provided me with a confidence (if I am self-aware enough to pay attention) that knows I am smart enough, I am good enough, and I am deserving.
Along with those blessings of belief came the affirmation of happiness – were we happy doing whatever it was we chose to do? That was most important, especially to my father. It is an approach to life that has helped me weather some of life’s storms. This is now my approach in supporting my adult children – are your choices making you happy? There is no greater way to live your life.
As it has been quoted “If you love what you do – you will never work a day in your life.
I thank my parents often for the model and example they led as parents – strong work ethic, hard work, and practical advice – that begins with belief.