This is a story about what a man can do — about what men can do. Surprised I want to talk about men on International Women’s Day? Well, I’m an incredibly determined woman, who is generally fearless about taking on challenges and surrounding myself with exceptional people. I always love learning, and try to maintain a healthy degree of humility about all the ways I can still improve. And, I’m almost ruthless with my time and using it in ways that match what I believe my priorities are – which very much include being a really present and active mom to my two young children, and a good partner to my husband. Much of this has helped me succeed.
But it’s International Women’s Day, and it’s Women’s History Month, and for all the progress we’ve made, the pace is still agonizingly slow. Women only make up about a quarter of leadership roles in business and less than 20% of C-suite and board positions.
We aren’t going to bend the curve until men feel as accountable and committed as women do to make inclusion a real priority. Women are ready. Arguably, we’ve never been more ready. It’s not about what women must do. Now it’s about what men must do. For men, who own the majority of leadership positions, and who themselves are fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends, bosses, mentors, sponsors and so much more, the time is now. This matters in the aggregate, but it also mattered on my own personal journey to success.
So, let me take a minute to talk about Manuel Medina Mora. Manuel was a president at Citigroup, and he was my boss. My success at the company was my own, but Manuel laid the track and was there at many points to make sure I had the room and mentoring to grow. He went out of his way to ensure that I was connected to the right people. He gave me more responsibility than I thought I could handle. He often pushed me center stage. He trusted me as a confidante, which gave me an inside view into what the real priorities and sensitivities were around any given agenda. He made certain I was always well rewarded. He gave feedback thoughtfully, freely and often. And perhaps, most of all, he allowed me to craft my job and my travel in a way that enabled me to be a present mom to my two children who were toddlers at the time. In fact, he encouraged my seemingly endless stories about my family.
Manuel is exactly the kind of leader who makes inclusion and diversity an agenda, and not just lip service. He walked the walk, and thanks to him, I grew as a leader.
Now, as the Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, I see many Manuels here too. And that shouldn’t be a surprise, as IBM has earned its reputation for being at the forefront of inclusion in the tech industry and global business.
The example Manuel and others set for me has led me to some core principles, which I embrace in my own leadership style.
First, you aren’t worthy of the title of leadership if you aren’t recruiting, motivating and retaining the most diverse and exceptional talent you can find. A culture that fosters inclusion isn’t on the women who work for you. It’s not about what they must do to fit in. It’s on you as a leader and what you must do. So, I regularly examine my own behavior, asking: Am I creating an environment that fosters real innovation and change — where my team feels encouraged to try new things, bring their ideas forward and make mistakes? Am I creating a culture of empathy and inspiration, where authenticity and hardcore drive to achieve great things at work successfully coexist? Am I setting the example of embracing coworkers for their differences, recognizing that I will ultimately learn the most from those who are most different from me? In the end, am I building people up?
Second, it is possible — and I would say even strongly beneficial — to strive to excel at work and in your personal life, without fear of your failures, and to encourage your team members to do the same. As a mom of two — an eight year old boy and a nine year old girl — I know that balancing it all is easier said than done. And I am exceedingly confident that I have more failures ahead of me than behind me. But I bring my whole self to work each day with a huge passion for what I do. I am very disciplined about how I use my time so I can be home for dinner, homework and bedtime each night. And I seek to make sure those around me do the same. What keeps me assured that I am doing the right thing is the satisfaction I get from work fueling my head, and my family fueling my heart.
Third, find a mentor who challenges you and teaches you things that you could never teach yourself. Feedback can sometimes be painful, but it’s also the greatest gift you can get. It gives you a chance to stare in the mirror and make a commitment to change and grow. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have multiple mentors and role models who have introduced me to different ways of looking at the world, and through their words and actions, have helped shape me.
So, my best hope for this International Women’s Day is that the #PressforProgress isn’t perceived as a women’s issue, but rather a call to action for everyone, and most especially for men.
If all of us who want progress raise our hands and get to work, we will make the world better and smarter for all. Will there be some blowback? Yes, of course. But this is a moment that challenges all of us – regardless of gender and rank in leadership – to roll up our sleeves, confront what must change and discover the power in progress.