Recently I attended the Women in Leadership panel at the American Manufacturing Summit. The panel included senior leaders from Caterpillar, Cummins, The Boeing Company, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Philips, and Johnson & Johnson. The conversation focused on sharing personal experiences - both accomplishments and challenges - about being a woman and an executive in male-dominated industries.
For starters, I loved that this panel was 100% in-person. While I enjoy virtual or hybrid events, there is a different feeling to live, face-to-face events. I also really appreciated the fact that the audience included many men eager to show their support.
For each theme that the panelists addressed, there was a clear takeaway for women to adopt as leaders in business and supporters of one another. Here’s what they highlighted:
- Find mentors early: Being successful in a male-dominated environment, or really any environment, comes with demands that will benefit from mentorship that begins early in your career. Don’t expect those mentors to seek you out though. Be proactive and find someone whose experience and story resonate with you. Then ask if they would be willing to support you in your own journey.
- Know and embrace your authentic self: Sometimes there are expectations about how women should show up at work, and with that come interpretations of leadership based on stereotypes or past experiences. The best way to overcome these barriers is to understand who you are, what you bring to the table, and how you want to show up every day as an authentic leader. That consistency will help others see you as the leader you are, not the one they might have imagined based on preconceptions.
- Ask for the support you need: At various stages of life, women have distinct support and growth needs. Don’t be afraid to ask your organization about your options for leadership development, or for the type of work arrangement that will help you navigate life changes such as having children or attending to elderly parents. Women are more likely to be the primary caregivers in the family, so their need for flexibility is often unique. It’s okay to recognize and own it.
- Say "yes" to opportunities: As women, we sometimes overthink things before committing because we want to show up as our best selves. However, it’s good to be open to new projects or roles, even when you don’t have all the answers or qualifications. Trust that you’ll grow with every opportunity to learn and develop skills. This is how you embrace and design your own career path.
- Champion your position as a role model: Many women leaders are in a great position to actively mentor other women who are more inexperienced or junior. We should always strive to actively support one another’s career journey, and keep in mind that others are likely to watch and learn from us. It’s easy to get so hyper-focused on our own limitations that we underestimate how much other women can benefit from us sharing our stories, knowledge, and perspective.
- Be resilient: The demands on us as women and as leaders shift all the time, bringing in new challenges and barriers. While you won’t have control over all the variables impacting your life and career, you can navigate and actively embrace the flow of change to make the most of every situation. By staying the course with your authentic self and personal goals, you will see that your journey is worth taking, and you can count on many expected and unexpected rewards.