Women Leading Differently – March 10, 2016

The following was published previously on HuffingtonPost and is reprinted here with permission. 

Katie Walsh and Amy Dacey live in Washington, DC and work in politics. They are close friends with similar jobs. Like most close friends, they share perspectives, give each other strength and encouragement, and even tough love when it’s needed. They travel together, debate the issues of the day, cover topics from substantive policy issues to shoes, and they agree to disagree when they have to (which is often). Katie and Amy are both high-powered political operatives, they run opposing parties as chiefs of staff to the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee respectively.

Like many of the women who spoke at the recent All In Together#WomenLead pre-Super Tuesday event at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, Katie and Amy exhibit the traits that make women uniquely well-suited for leadership – traits that are increasingly valued in organizations large and small, public and private especially as the world grows more complex and more global.

In one of the largest research studies of its kind, The Peterson Institute found that organizations with women in senior leadership and key business unit positions actually produce better investment returns for their shareholders. PwC’s own 2016 survey of Global CEOs found similar results, and showed how CEOs are more keenly aware of the value greater diversity of gender, perspective and thought can have on the company bottom line.

To put a finer point on it — qualities like openness, curiosity, agility, putting yourself in another’s shoes, risk management, and certainly multi-tasking are all areas where women naturally excel. Those are the qualities that are increasingly needed and recognized as more desirable than ever.

As Katie and Amy illustrate, the value of these skills and traits extend to the political context as well, where women use their innate ability to connect with each other and look for areas of agreement in an effort to create paths forward, and to make themselves smarter (by understanding the other person’s point of view) even while fighting it out on the political “battlefield.”

Our democracy was built for compromise. It was designed to encourage debate and discussion, and it was designed to value the skills and leadership traits women in particular bring to the table. Women lead differently than men and those leadership traits that come so naturally to women are needed now more than ever.

Trouble is, the number of women in Congress still falls far short of where it should be (about 20 percent if you add both the Senate and House together). Having been fortunate enough to know many of these elected women, I set out to gain a better understanding of their views and to figure out what PwC and I could do differently.

Women candidates I talked to described a number of challenges unique to them – from raising money early enough in a cycle to dealing with irrelevant criticism of their hair, their clothes, and their shoes. Interestingly, only women candidates (and I have found this to be true in other democratic countries as well) must answer how they plan to manage family obligations while their male counterparts, who also had children, never received that question. They also lamented the lack of a strong enough pipeline of female talent, as otherwise qualified women often take a pass on running because they don’t believe they can make a difference or because they see their skills as more valuable elsewhere.

Based on this input, we refined our political engagement strategy to work on areas that I saw as being within our control, and areas where we could use our brand and reputation to encourage others to join us.

Like most smart investment strategies, investing in increasing the number of women in congress is a long-term investment. Our efforts may only yield an additional seat or two (if we are lucky) in the short-term, but the real value will be realized down the road when there is a higher level of engagement, additional voices, and more corporate entities who put their brands and reputations on the line and who use public policy engagement resources to move the needle to increase women’s voices in the political process (and in elected office).

At its core, our efforts are aimed at magnifying women’s voices to create richer, more diverse, and better-informed perspectives in the halls of congress. We believe that is critical for our democracy, serves our business and the economy, and empowers women in a way that contributes to the betterment of society. And, like the example set by friends Katie and Amy, who are also political adversaries, we hope to see stronger relationships that lead us to more productive debates around the issues that matter.

Because I still believe in the political process, I know each person, each vote and each investment matters and can make a difference. It took me longer than I care to admit to find my voice and to recognize the responsibility I have to think more creatively about how to engage differently on behalf of women. Now that I have, I hope to continue to support creative approaches to moving the needle in support of women. 

Photo: With Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX) and moderator Rina Shah Bharara, at All In Together Forum, Bush Institute, Dallas, Texas

On Twitter: @lauracoxkaplan

Women’s Leadership: Building & Maintaining Confidence


Speaking at PwC “Aspire to Lead” with Susannah Wellford, President of Running Start, and Cathy Merrill Williams, CEO and Publisher of the Washingtonian Magazine

Each year, PwC hosts “Aspire to Lead” as part of its women’s leadership series. This year’s event kicked off our celebration of of International Women’s Day by bringing together college students from around the world with PwC leaders for a conversation on components of success and leadership. We focused on confidence and the barriers than can undermine it, especially for women.

Our featured guests – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman — wrote a terrific book on the subject (The Confidence Code) complete with academic research on how one can literally rewire the brain to be more confident and ultimately, effective.

As I reflect on the conversation, there are several take aways that are worth sharing. I’ve narrowed down the list to those tips that have worked well for me, and that I often share with others. While seemingly simple, many of these suggestions can have a profound impact on how you deal with day-to-day ups and downs.

First, know yourself. Develop a plan for evaluating your key strengths and priorities. What do you do well and what makes you happy – at work and in life? This list will change and evolve just as you do, but it’s likely that your core strengths and interests will remain the same. Refer back to this list a few times per year – maybe as you set new goals, or as you reflect on your accomplishments from the year that has just passed.

Second, stop counterproductive rumination. Everyone has personal and professional setbacks. Little things like flubbing the way you introduced yourself at a meeting to making a major mistake at work can create a damaging cycle for many women if they continue to dwell on mistakes, no matter how small. Accept the fact that these things happen and find a process for putting these mishaps into perspective. In The Confidence Code Kay and Shipman discuss how “rumination” (essentially mulling over a situation or disappointment to the point of blowing it out of proportion in your head – something many of us have a tendency to do) can erode confidence and overall mental health over time. Johanna Barsh provides similar observations in How Remarkable Women Lead. So what can you do to stop the cycle of rumination? There are a few tried and true tactics. I prefer a process of reflecting in my journal, essentially getting what’s in my head out and onto paper – even if it’s just a few lines. Actually seeing what’s in my head, helps me put it all into perspective. I was amazed at how something so simple could be so effective, especially when used over time. As a working mom with two active, young children, time for a few lines is often all I have. Even that small investment in myself yields significant returns. Now, even online options (I like the DayOne ap) are available, so it becomes especially easy to capture a few thoughts even while on the go.

Third, develop a strong network and ask for help when you need it. There are a couple of important things to say about this. First, a strong network can help you solve problems and gain much needed perspective (especially in times of great stress). Second, by asking those you trust for their insight, you also help boost their confidence. It’s a win win for both of you. Finally, just as there are benefits from having diversified management teams and boards, the same can be true of your network or mentors. You’ll benefit from different points of view and perspectives related to career and personal decision making.

Fourth, help others succeed. Volunteer, mentor, contribute in whatever way is meaningful to you, but most of all find a way to share what you do well with others. Not only does it help the other person, but it also boosts your own confidence.

Fifth, make sure your self talk is positive (if it’s not, reframe it). This point is related to the point I made about rumination. Writing down your self talk can really help. Rather than saying to yourself, “My presentation was really weak. Why am I so stupid? you might write, “That wasn’t my best performance, but I learned a lot and now have some great insights for next time.”

Sixth, be honest with yourself about your priorities. There will always be competing demands on your time, especially if/when you embrace the responsibility of having a family. Find a way to get comfortable with those demands and learn to effectively delegate tasks that can be handled by someone else on your team who is looking to grow. By setting clear priorities (i.e. not trying to do everything yourself), you can create additional time and capacity which is critical for making sure you have the time you need to be well prepared.

Seventh, make time to continue learning and actively seek ways to build broader business and global acumen. Sign up for lectures, web- or podcasts that enable you to broaden your knowledge beyond your day-to-day portfolio (TedTalks are great for expanding your horizons and sparking your interest in ideas and concepts that you might not otherwise have been exposed to. I also like a terrific new podcast series “Smart Women Smart Power” at The Center for Strategic and International Studies moderated by Nina Easton). Develop the habit of seeking out a deeper understanding of issues beyond your immediate day-to-day portfolio. In addition to building confidence, it makes you better prepared to talk with those outside of your current network, thus giving you the ability to expand and build your relationship base.

Finally, and this point should be particularly obvious, hard work and preparation are key to helping you feel more confident. That said, as Kay and Shipman note in their book, women have a tendency to over-prepare to the point of diminishing returns. You’ll have to be your own judge of this, but I think it’s an important consideration.

PwC is back on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work for the 10th year running. One of the things that makes PwC a great place to work is our focus on supporting the whole person – who you are at work and at home. Many of the tips I’ve included are things I’ve learned and have employed in my role at PwC, but that I also use at home. These are also things that I like to share as part of our Aspire to Lead program. I hope you find them useful as you pursue whatever is important to you and that you remember that a set of tools can make all the difference in putting day-to-day challenges into perspective.

Laura Cox Kaplan is Principal-in-Charge of U.S. Public Policy and a member of PwC’s U.S. executive management team

Twitter: @lauracoxkaplan