Female executives encourage women: ‘Don’t shy away from the word power’

Cindy Kiser-Murphey, president and chief operating officer of New York-New York; Kathleen Ciarmello, president of Coca Cola’s North American brands; Carol Evans, president of Working Mother magazine; and moderator Gail Becker, chairwoman of Edelman Communications, talk during the President’s Panel of MGM Resorts International’s 7th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference.

Women's Leadership Conference

Women's Leadership Conference attendees are seen during the second day session, Aug. 8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

There’s no reason a woman can’t take the leading role.

That was the takeaway of MGM Resorts International’s 7th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference this week.

Sponsored by the nonprofit MGM Resorts Foundation and moderated by Gail Becker, chairwoman of Edelman Communications, the Aug. 8-9 conference featured a President’s Panel, calling up the advice of three powerful women from a variety of disciplines.

Here are the highlights from their discussion:

Is there still a gender gap?

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother magazine: There is a huge gender gap, especially at the highest levels. It’s really a wonderful story in many ways, though. Women have really entered every job market. We’ve exceeded expectations. We’ve done tremendously well. But what’s happened is this large middle of women in corporate America. Some people call it the frozen middle. We’re just not moving out of that middle-management arena. The numbers are brutal when you get to the top. But I believe there is a lot of hope for the future because we are gaining such knowledge and such training.

For women in corporate America, is it more like a jungle gym or a ladder?

Cindy Kiser-Murphey, president and chief operating officer of New York-New York: In our industry, we have 475 job titles. You can learn them deeply or you could move across the organization in more of a leadership perspective. You can pick a career path and move your way through that. You can work your way up. Or you can take more of a broad view and become more of a leader. I think the jungle gym versus the ladder notion is really important to consider when you’re selecting your career. Just because you picked a path doesn’t mean you have to stay on it. If you don’t love it, don’t stay on it. For me, changing disciplines was very helpful. For others, it’s not so much. Find what you love.

How do you define success beyond money and power?

Kathleen Ciarmello, president of Coca Cola’s North American brands: It’s about happiness. Being happy with what you’re doing is the most important thing. My favorite Ghandi quote is: “Happiness is when what you think and what you say and what you do are in harmony.” And I really have held on to that. If you really think hard, you can figure out when those moments are there and when they’re not, and you’ll be able to find more things that make you happy.

Kiser-Murphey: I think being passionate about what you do every day. We only have so many hours and minutes in our life. Spend it doing what you want to do. Do what you want to do with the people you want to do it with. It goes back to being happy. Don’t stay in a job you don’t love. Don’t do that every day because the balancing is tough.

Evans: I love being a powerful woman because being able to make decisions, being able to guide others, being able to lead, being able to build what I want to build, being able to carve out my vision, as opposed to following someone else’s vision — that’s where I get my strength. I don’t want women to shy away from the word power. You can’t have influence without power. So get used to the word. You want to feel power just like when you have things in your life going well. But to me, the ultimate third thing we’re looking for is the ability to have a family. It doesn’t matter how you define family. You have to be able to have the combination of a challenging career and the warmth of a family. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

What do you wish you would have known 20 years ago that you know now?

Evans: I wish I had known that failure is just a part of life. I encourage you to fail, to acknowledge failure, to feel like it’s OK to fail. I have failed many times in my career, and I had to learn the hard way: that only by failing would I get to the next level. And I just wished somebody had said, “It’s OK to fail.”

Kiser-Murphey: I think there is a lot of self-doubt. Fifteen years ago, I had a 2-year-old. Trying to juggle changing clothes in a car and showing up for activities and being on the cellphone. I think trying to juggle too much and trying to cover that up and having doubt about whether I was really showing up in an executive kind of image. And on a personal note, I wish I said more to my mom.

Ciarmello: Lose the guilt. Fifteen years ago, my daughter was 4, my son was 1. And I tortured myself. I had to be at every, every, everything. I had to be the mom who volunteered for this and for that. And the real epiphany for me, unfortunately, just came last year. For you, it could come now. My daughter, who is now 19, was going off to Clemson. And she presented me with a scrapbook when she was leaving. The way she described it was, “It captured our life together so far.” It had pictures of me with my husband, it had pictures of me with the kids. At the very end of this scrapbook, there was a letter that she wanted me to read whenever I felt like I was missing her. In that letter, she talked about what a great mom I had been, what a great wife, what a great business executive I was for her to look up to. The part that really grabbed me was, “All my life you made me the priority, and for that I will always be thankful.” My first reaction was to be very touched. My second reaction was, “Crap! All that time I wasted worrying that I wasn’t doing enough!” Lose the guilt!