Advice from the top: How to succeed as a (woman) executive
15 August 2012
Phyllis James glanced up toward the ballroom banner that read "Women's Leadership Conference."
"I've never heard of anyone having a conference for men where they say, 'Come and we'll tell you how to be leaders,'" said James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for MGM Resorts International.
Author and television reporter Lee Woodruff was even more frank.
"It's kind of offensive to me that with 48 percent of the workforce, we're having a women's conference and calling it diversity," she told the crowd of 700 gathered Tuesday at the MGM Grand Convention Center.
The group had convened for a two-day conference of speakers, seminars and workshops centered on the theme of "Be Inspired." It continues today.
Despite making up nearly half the workforce, James noted that:
• Women earn only about 80 percent of what men make for similar jobs.
• Women fill only 3 percent of chief executive positions at Fortune 500 companies.
• Women aren't predicted to reach workplace equality with men for two more generations.
"In some cases, the glass ceiling seems to be more like titanium," James said.
For all the strides women have made during the past 40 years, they're still being told they can't have it all and must choose between family, relationships and a career, the speakers said.
"Many industries are structured to support traditional roles of the man who works and has someone at home to take care of everything," Renee West, president of Luxor and Excalibur, said during a morning panel. "But that traditional structure isn't working for men anymore either, as they want to be more involved in their families. Businesses are having to change their structures and their rules for people, not just women."
As a woman who made it to a corner office, West suggested that women be assertive and vocal to succeed.
"One of the things men do very well is let their bosses know what they're doing," West said. "Women just do it quietly and expect to get noticed by what they have done. One thing we have to learn to do is tell people what we've done, especially if you're working for a man."
Telling people what they want is crucial to employees who want to climb to the top, said Gwendolyn Turner, a consultant for women-owned businesses.
"If you want to be a CFO, you need to tell someone you want to be a CFO," said Turner, a former Pfizer executive. "You need to create your own personal board of directors who can help you get there."
Leading by a positive example is another way to become an effective leader, said Paula Eylar, vice president of business technology for Boyd Gaming.
"We've all learned both from good and bad leaders," Eylar said. "We tend to think of people who are negative as jerks. But I've seen some very nice people who were very negative leaders. They would take credit for work others did, and they wouldn't be honest. People appreciate the truth, even if it's not what they want to hear. They appreciate straight talk."
And while women can have both vibrant careers and personal lives, they will still likely face difficult choices along the way trying to balance their responsibilities, Woodruff said.
"It may be going very well at work and you may be a great employee, but you may also be late for a baseball game," she said. "It's all about having everything rise and shine to the top — but all at different points in time."
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