It’s a topic relevant for any company – and one that business executives and rising leaders consider relentlessly: How to develop new talent, and in particular, how to enhance career growth opportunities for women executives.
This was the subject of the recent Lean Forward women’s leadership summit for Clayton, Dubilier& Rice portfolio companies. The summit was organized to enhance career growth opportunities for women executives, gathering 35 current and next-gen women leaders from CD&R companies at the Core & Main Training and Event Center in St. Louis.
The discussions covered a range of topics – and delivered actionable insights, including the importance of speaking up and creating networks within companies. As Diane Flynn, ReBoot Accel Co-Founder and CEO, noted: “If the leadership doesn’t understand your problem, they’re not going to put the right interventions in place to make a difference.”
Said Core & Main CEO Steve LeClair: “We look for concrete, proactive ways to create diversity in our organization. We know that by increasing diversity in our company, we gain new perspectives, which help us make better business decisions. Practical ways to do that include events like this leadership summit, having an active Women’s Network and consciously recruiting diverse leaders in our mix as well as reaching the next generation of associates.”
Added Flynn, “Today’s workplace doesn’t always offer strong practices, policies, or support for women. We help companies move the needle by creating cultures that value diversity and ensure that each voice is heard. We also support women through training and coaching that gives them the confidence to succeed.”
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So what do business executives and other leaders need to know to build an effective framework and culture for growth?
Mentorship vs. Sponsorship
While career growth networks often discuss the importance of mentors, one insight from the program drew a keen distinction: The difference between mentorship and sponsorship.
Said Jennifer Strauss, a Principal at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice: “It’s important to have mentors and sponsorship. Mentors will sort of share their experience and teach you things you may not know or coach you along. But then you need [sponsorship, and] someone that’s actually going to say, ‘I’m going to go to bat for this person when it comes to being promoted or looking for a new job. I’m comfortable… to stake my reputation on this person.’”
Added Morgan Schmit-Sobeck, a Principal at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice: “There’s that quote that says, ‘Women are over mentored and under sponsored.’ It’s so important to have a balance, and I think it’s up to you to go out and seek out who is going to sponsor you at your company. Because some of the most valuable mentors might not work at your firm. And for me that’s been the case. I like to get external advice, get their thoughts, get people who aren’t in the day to day, and get some high level perspective. But those sponsors, at your firm, those are the ones who… will help you get promoted and help you in your day to day when your career is on the line.”
Said Schmit-Sobeck: “It’s so important to have a brand – how you want people to think about you. How you want to be remembered? What you want people to say about you? You need to go about establishing your brand with intention, because you want to make sure that it’s a brand that you want. Thinking about that and going about it actively and proactively is a really important piece of advancing.”
Of course, one cannot sit around and wait for success to find them. Sometimes, as CD&R Chief Operating Officer Jillian Griffiths advised, one needs to proactively seek those positive interactions: “Don’t be afraid to step up yourself…. Just because you’re the one that is in the minority, so to speak, doesn’t mean that you can’t be the one that’s having the forward conversation.”
From Role Models to Perseverance
Other topics addressed included the importance of:
- Role Models: “Often times we hear over lunch, ‘I don’t know if I’ll stick around because I don’t see anyone in leadership that looks like me.’ And that goes for any type of diversity.”
- Key Personal Attributes: “Be kind, authentic and generous – generous with your time, giving back, participating with some of the educational moments, the training, the summits, the things that you get can involved in and share.”
- Risk Taking: “Don’t be afraid of risk taking. Raise your hand, get into a project, be involved.”
- Flexibility: “Flexibility is not just for women. Millennials want flexibility every bit as much as working mothers and fathers.”
- Perseverance: “If you come up against roadblocks, and you will, instead of complaining and mind you, you can complain for a little bit. But then hang it up and stop complaining. Don’t turn around and try to build a door through that wall that you just experienced.”
8 Tips to Enhance Women Executives’ Career Growth Opportunities
So what exactly can companies, business leaders and employees themselves do to grow careers? Eight tips to enhance women executives’ career growth opportunities came out of the meeting:
- Create your personal brand and act on it
- Step up to be included
- Ask for feedback… even if it’s hard
- Find both a mentor and sponsor, and know the difference
- Build your squad
- Reframe having it all
- Say “Yes!” to the difficult project when others don’t
- Embrace failure
Kathy M. Mazzarella, Chairman, President and CEO at Graybar, summed up the key advice: “You can obtain whatever it is objectives you want to do, and whatever dreams you want to do. And understand that none of us are at the finish. There is development that all of us need to do, male or female, for the rest of our lives. Because all of us have unlimited potential as human beings, and unlimited gifts. It’s a matter of finding the right people to help you develop it and having the courage to step forward to take the chances to learn, and in some cases, learn and you make mistakes and fail.”
A complete infographic for future reference is included below: