A few days ago, I sat in a room with 500 other women, and some men, waiting to hear the wisdom that women at the top of their professions would share. Nothing compares to the energy in the room when women are eager to learn career secrets from other women.
This year, The Commonwealth Institute South Florida, not only announced its Top Women-Led Companies in Florida at its annual event, it also revealed some interesting trends in its new report:
These are some of the trends:
*At least 20 percent started companies because they had a passion for something that no one else was doing.
*The majority of women who lead companies have only 1-5 employees
* The number one issue women leaders are focused on this year is winning new business
However, it was the advice from the women panelist that I found most fascinating.
Moderator Janet Altman, marketing principal for Kaufman Rossin, with enthusiasm and elegance posed the questions in bold below. This is an edited version of the panel presentation:
What was your first leadership experience and what did it teach you?
Kirsten Dolan, president and COO of One Parking-- My first leadership experience was as a Resident Assistant (RA) in college. I was in charge of overseeing 150 coed college students. That experience taught me how to lead as a peer.
Carmen Perez-Carlton, former president of FPL Fibernet -- My first leadership experience was when I worked for an accounting firm. It taught me regardless of what level you are in an organization, everyone has a valuable role to play.
How did you prove yourself early on in your career?
Tina Brown, Executive director of Overtown Youth Center - My early career was as an accountant. I had to prove to myself and to others that my work could be trusted. I had to show them that I could be accurate and meticulous. As an African American women I have always felt I had to prove myself. From the beginning I took it as a challenge, gracefully and with a positive attitude. I did it and excelled and gained friends and mentors.
Kirsten - As a woman in a male dominated business, the men didn't know what to do with me. I wasn't want they envisioned. But I worked hard and learned from the good skill sets men have.
The TCI survey asked women leaders if they feel there is a difference between men and women leaders and if women leaders are better or just different? Most women said female leaders are not better, just different. Do you agree?
Hilarie Bass, Co-president Greenberg Traurig - Women are consensus builders. Men want to come in and be the smartest in the room. Women want to be liked, to convince others it's in their best interest to do what they want them to do. That approach creates more loyalty among employees. It's a different approach to run a company on consensus rather than directive.
Carmen - Women more intuitive. They take notice of things that might impact strategy. Men are more prone to take risk but women are more thoughtful. Sometimes that's looked at as not enough of risk taking. When there is a position open and men have five of the necessary qualifications, they will apply for the job. If a woman has eight, she will wait to apply. The men believe they can learn as they go. I have noticed that women are less likely to wing it. They want to feel competent going in.
Kirsten - I noticed that men exaggerate their successes. Women are reluctant to boast but playing up your successes is a good skill to hone.
We all need networks to thrive. Who is part of your support system, your network?
Tina - My TCI (The Commonwealth Institute South Florida) network has become my family. They are people I can lean on for advice. I have learned that networks are extremely valuable.
What are your strengths as a leader?
Carmen - Transparency and openness. I was always open and specific about goals. I would say this year is about 'x' and they could trust that it would be about that.
Tina - My ability to weigh and measure and think analytically about decisions and how decision affect everyone. You have to foresee implications when you make decisions.
Hilarie: My strength is as a consensus builder If you get consensus about goals, you can ask people to make decisions that may not be what they want to do. For example, if you are able to say "we're trying to get our firm to look like this in five years" and you get buy in, it's easier to get people to make the tough decision along the way to get where you need to go.
What are obstacles or challenges you faced on your way to the top?
Kirsten- Perception. Prior to starting One Parking more than 12 years ago, I worked for another company and was responsible for the profitability and operations of more than 200 locations on the West Coast. I commuted from the East Coast to the West Coast for eight years and worked really hard. One day they told me I wasn't committed because I didn't live in L.A. I knew I proved myself extremely committed but I was battling perception. I left after that to start my own company.
Tina - For me a challenge has been developing my staff as leaders who can work for profit or non-profit and be successful. I feel like I have done that.
Carmen - A big challenge for me was when my company realized it was time to sell the company I was running. It was like selling my baby. It was an extremely exhausting year in 2016, going through deal making process. Now after 35 years working for companies, I am going to take time off to dedicate time to my personal life, I am going to pick up a hobby, spend time with my family and figure it out
What advice do you give to ambitious young woman?
Kirsten- A lot of young women worry about whether they are where they are supposed to be in their career path. I tell them no matter where you are, you are where you are supposed to be. Now, go forward from here.
Tina - Allow integrity and passion to drive your success. Do what you want to do, take risks, work hard and be a life long learner. Take something from everyone you come in contact with good and bad.
Carmen - Never underestimate your potential. Dream big.
Hilarie - Think about what you want to accomplish in the next 12 months. If you don't know you can't make decision about how you spend your day. Oh, and also, don't personalize rejection. Don't make it about you...simply set a new goal and move forward.