Leaning On

Written by Susan Hatten

Sheryl Sandberg certainly made the most of 2013, with the release of her book “Leaning In.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a businessperson, female or male, who hasn’t heard of “Leaning In” or the overall concept of women, work and the will to lead.

I was reminded of this over the past few weeks while attending networking functions and organized business group meetings, and after listening to a TED Talk on “disruptive leadership.” While leaning in is important for women of all ages to understand and interpret as their own, I believe that leaning on is just as important.

I’m a member of the newly formed Lead Like A Lady professional networking group. We’re in the process of defining our goals as an organization and deploying a strategy to make the most of our time together. The women in this group inspire and humble me with their achievements. They are the definition of “leaning in” to me. And yet, although Iowa is home to so many successful women, the number of women in leadership positions in our state still falls dramatically below those of our male counterparts.

In 2012, the Nexus Executive Women’s Alliance (a group of esteemed professional women in Des Moines who have taken us under their wing) unveiled their Women’s Research Index, which included shocking statistics of gender equity in the workplace. In 2010, the Research Index reviewed Iowa’s 11 largest companies to gather data. Women made up only 16 percent of the boards of directors for these companies.

According to Catalyst.org, as of January 2014, women hold 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 CEO positions. This number is unfortunate, as the success rate once women are placed in C-Level positions is invariably high.

Entrepreneur listed the 10 fastest-growing women-owned businesses and calculated that the number of these firms with $10 million or more in annual sales has increased 57 percent over the past decade.

Perhaps the women in these roles have achieved such success because they have chosen to lean in—as well as lean upon their colleagues.

Leaning in could be categorized as a mindset—a personal framework for women to embrace their leadership ambition. Leaning on is how you go about doing that.

Are you leveraging your resources and tools that are made available to you? Are you creating your own personal board of directors and checking in with them quarterly? Are you asking for input from colleagues—both male and female, old and young—and seeking to understand differences in opinion and issue positions? Are you branding yourself to be the leader you truly aspire to be? All of the above are sources for empowerment found by leaning on your surroundings, which can help drive success.

I could clearly go on here—and may do so in a future post. The conversations on leaning in that are happening in coffeehouses, around boardroom tables and over glasses of wine in cozy restaurants should be happening more often. Power and success are not gender specific, yet we interpret them to be. Allow confidence to be supported by the networks that surround you.

I believe that all professionals and aspiring leaders can gain value in understanding the concept of leaning in—and on—our fellow colleagues. After all, aren’t we all working toward a better tomorrow?

susan hatten

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