The Power of 10,000 Women

Imagine 10,000 women coming together to help one another tackle the issues they face in their personal and professional lives - and at the same time inspiring, learning from and energizing one another. This is what I experienced at the Massachusetts Conference for Women last month. The conference, which just marked its 10th year, is the largest event of its kind in the nation, each year drawing amazing speakers and hordes of enthusiastic and motivated women.

For me, the Massachusetts Conference for Women is an opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, celebrate the significant strides that women have made and help each other to continue that momentum. Every year, 10,000 women leave the one-day conference feeling inspired to try something new, push themselves further and re-think what they may have believed about their future.

Today, more women than ever before have the choice to pursue their dreams - whether that means being on a public stage, in a corner office, at home caring for their family, or some variation of the three. Yet, that choice doesn't always come with equal opportunity, and this is where we need to focus next, whether it's about fair compensation, leadership opportunities, mentoring, etc.

Managers play an essential role by helping their organizations enable women to find the right balance so they can work as productively and effectively as possible. Here are a few steps workplace leaders can take to help women achieve their full potential at work.

  • Create the right environment. Organizations need to create an environment that allows women to achieve balance in their lives, whether through flexible work schedules or time off for family care. At my company, close to 70 percent of employees - men and women - participate in some type of flexible work arrangement, and we've found measureable benefits, including higher engagement, lower turnover and better productivity. Companies that offer flexible work arrangements make it easier for women to engage more fully and pursue their careers more aggressively. An environment that lacks flexibility risks driving women out of the workplace by ignoring their family's needs - clearly not a great option.

  • Instill confidence in your employees. You may have heard of the "Confidence Gap." Research shows that when it comes to taking risks or exploring new opportunities, women on average are less self-assured than men. At State Street, we work hard to make sure our employees feel it's safe to step into new roles and take on projects that stretch their comfort levels. Mentoring women and giving them opportunities to show they are capable of stepping up and trying something new can go a long way toward building their confidence and advancing their careers. Sometimes this encouragement comes from other women who can empathize with the fears and insecurities, but men can also play a very significant role in giving women the courage to reach higher.
  • Teach employees the value of criticism. One of my most valuable takeaways from the Massachusetts Conference for Women was keynote speaker Hillary Clinton's advice to take criticism seriously, but not personally. This is a really important lesson for everyone - particularly women, who tend to take criticism as a personal form of failure. Instead, we need to learn to view criticism - or feedback - as a valuable tool for development. As a manager, make sure your feedback is constructive, factual and real time. Back it up with specifics, identify the potential impact of the behavior to be corrected and follow up with an action plan.
  • Make employee engagement a priority in your company. When employees are highly engaged, understand the connection between their goals and those of the company, and have an ability to sense and respond to change, everyone benefits. Make sure employees understand how the work they do supports your organization's goals, and help them feel proud of their contributions. Praise and recognition are powerful motivators, so look for ways to celebrate successes, in addition to identifying opportunities for improvement. Describe what success looks like and help employees chart a path to get there.
  • The promise of the Massachusetts Conference for Women is about the power to help shape our workplaces, our world, and our mindsets to position ourselves for growth and success. It's about taking what we know about ourselves and the feedback we get from others and building on it. It's about seeing ourselves in a new light, having the confidence to try new things and reaching further than we thought possible - both professionally and personally. This is my wish for everyone in the new year.