Countless women's affinity groups have existed from the inception of the Women's Suffrage Movement, and we are now inundated with a plethora of organizations, from more traditional ones, such as the Junior League, to more recent groups, such as Women Who Code. Okay -- so women attend networking events. Good for us. There's only one problem: it's not the answer to advancing women's progress.
The number of women in corporate leadership positions in America remains small. And below that, the pay gap hasn't budged much, particularly in the South, where women have some of the largest discrepancies in pay equity and hold the fewest leadership positions and board seats. In my own state of Louisiana, women still earn only 66 cents for each dollar earned by a man in a comparable position.
As we head into the 21st century, the women's movement is in need of a serious makeover. Let's stop talking about empowerment like women aren't already powerful, and accept the diversity that each woman brings to the discussion. This will create a critical mass of voices across industries and political affiliations that will be able to ignite real, sustainable leadership and change!
So here's how we do it:
1. Get out of those professional lanes. Women continue to preach to the choir: they remain siloed within their own sector instead of engaging women in a cross-sector approach including private business, nonprofits, public, and global sectors. When the topic is leadership and equality, they have a lot to teach and learn from one another without competing for the same board seats and leadership positions.
2. Think Global, Thrive Local™. Women are so busy teaching one another to climb the ladder that they neglect the importance of traversing the jungle gym. This is excellent advice, but I would take it a step further: explore the whole playground. Take risks, expand your world, meet new people, go outside your comfort zone, and connect dots between people and projects that would seemingly never collaborate. Even if you do not have the opportunity to travel, exposure to a diverse environment will allow you to expand your range, connecting global issues and solutions to your own local work. It enables you to understand how international events impact your business, and it also makes you a more creative problem solver.
3. Girl Got Range™. Never underestimate range. Upward mobility does not trump the importance of intellectual exposure, breadth, and eclectic experience. The Girl Got Range™ movement theorizes that the depth and breadth of your intelligence, knowledge of current events, the books you read, your sense of style, and your humanity all contribute to your range. Just having talent is never enough: compassion, creativity, and courage expand the person instead of the career title. An example of this is confidence and talent as a corporate officer during the day, wit and intelligence in some killer Yves Saint Laurent heels at a gala in the evening, and compassion and patience as a mother at night. Developing Range is what will get you into the boardroom, not pursuing the steep and narrow ascent to the corner office. #GirlGotRange
4. Be visionary, not divisive. A current issue, which may also warrant some concern, is that we are experiencing a fraught political climate where women are now vying for the highest leadership position in the free world. The growing political and professional divisiveness could break apart these women's groups, rather than uniting them in the name of business and leadership. Women must get outside their comfort zones and expand their vision and approach. If women continue to sequester themselves by industry and political affiliation while neglecting the importance of changing policy, we will find ourselves having these same conversations over and over in the coming decades.
5. Mentor the person, not the career. Many of the women's affinity groups are "one-offs," meaning they have a very unilateral goal (such as 2020 Women on Boards, whose goal is getting at least 20 percent female representation on boards by 2020) with no long-term solutions. Mentoring is another story, however. Mentoring other women is essential to growing the next generation. The relationship is not simply about building business acumen; it's also instilling patience, respect, confidence, and how to use their strengths positively. Are we only teaching young women about business, or are we also emphasizing compassion, empathy, confidence, adaptive leadership, and flexibility? Also, teach your mentees to "bring themselves" to meetings. Although I've gotten in trouble several times for bringing myself to meetings, it's always wound up for the best in the long run, as I stayed true to myself. A successful mentoring experience should help the mentee succeed by being exactly the person they are.
A male mentor of mine once said, "One day you'll wake up and realize the power you wield, and we'll all be in trouble." Even though I already had a large corner office at that time, I didn't understand what he meant. What I lacked at that time was confidence. However, I gained my leadership and success when I realized that my power source was my adaptability, range, and resilience, and learned that collaborating with others and instilling confidence in mentees and the women around me was a more effective way to bring about change. Having a global perspective, using strategic dot connecting, and engaging partners requires movement and strategic action. With that in mind, I keep a post-it note on the computer that sits in that corner office with the phrase, "If you can read this, you're not doing your job."