Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo!, is all about doing things that you aren’t ready for. “Get in a bit over your head,” she says. “That’s how you grow and learn and stretch yourself.” This quality is at the core of what has made her an icon for aspiring female leaders in the past five years. When asked to take the helm of the massive, floundering digital company in 2012, she said yes -- even while expecting her first child.
I thought of Meyer six months into one of my past jobs, when the head of my department resigned. When I shared the news with my peers, on two separate occasions two of my male friends asked, “Are you going to apply for his job?” I laughed and shook my head. The thought never even crossed my mind, and perhaps my inability to entertain the possibility of a leadership role was the only thing holding me back from stepping into one.
This conversation points to a larger truth within today’s workforce: Research shows women have a tendency to not pursue opportunities unless they think they are 100 percent qualified for them, where men apply for jobs even when they only fulfill 60 percent of the qualifications. Perhaps the first step to empowering women to break the barriers in the working world is to help them recognize their ability to take on the unknown.
WomenAdvancing Boston Brings Together a Panel of Curious Risk-Takers
Women leaders in marketing, advertising and media gathered for a discussion at WeWork Boston. WomenAdvancing, a group that connects 6,000 female professionals in the media, marketing and advertising industries, works to give women the support and inspiration they need to succeed. At a recent panel discussion in Boston, top female leaders gathered to talk about their starts and stops and offer insight for women at all levels on how to find success and fulfillment.
Four of the top female leaders on the panel included:
Carol Capeci, CMO at Hearts on Fire (@heartsonfire)
Capeci worked on the agency side for 20 years, leading initiatives for DeBeers and Royal Caribbean Cruises. Now, she focuses her expertise and passion for the diamond industry in her leadership role at Hearts on Fire, driving integrated marketing campaigns that make the brand experience memorable for all customers.
Barbara Messing, CMO of TripAdvisor (@tripadvisor)
Messing leads the marketing efforts at TripAdvisor, the Boston-based travel site that brings in 280 million unique visitors on a monthly basis. Messing also serves on the board for Mashable and XO Group, Inc, and was named “Brand Genius” by Adweek for her vision, leadership and ability to differentiate TripAdvisor in an overly saturated market.
Anne Potts, EVP of Global Services and Standards at Racepoint Global (@atmpotts)
Potts is grateful for the unexpected twists and turns throughout her career. She worked at eight different companies before finding her role at Racepoint Global. Her experiences have given her a strong and varied skill set, including corporate communications, public affairs, media relations and social media. As EVP at Racepoint Global, Potts dedicates her time to boosting the firm’s market presence and ensuring the success of all its clients.
Patricia Travaline, Vice President of Marketing at Skyword (@travwin)
Now entering her third year at Skyword, Travaline leads its content marketing strategy. Prior to Skyword, she held a variety of senior marketing positions at companies such as Be Free and RSA, the security division of EMC. (Full disclosure: I’m lucky to have her as my boss, as she possesses what you need in a leader: A listening ear, a sense of humor and a passion for our company, technology and customers.)
Here are a few bits of wisdom that came up during the hour-long WomenAdvancing panel:
1. Follow Growth Opportunities
The only way to improve is by putting yourself in situations outside your comfort zone. This is why Messing moved on from her role at Hotwire even though she loved her team and her responsibilities. By joining TripAdvisor, a company known for its rapid evolution, she’s been able to stretch herself and her skill set. Growing companies offer the chance to tackle new, unknown problems and collaborate with smart, creative people.
2. Go Into Your Day Knowing Your Priorities
We all have to-do lists that seem to go on for days. The trick to productivity is going into the office knowing what matters most and focusing our energy there. How do you determine what’s critical and what’s a distraction? Think about what you’ll worry about most when the day ends if no progress is made, Capeci said. By zeroing in on what’s most important, the rest of your day tends to fall into place.
3. Don’t Worry About What You Have No Control Over
Many variables impact the success of that sales deal, that media pitch and those quarterly Web site metrics. Even a hiring decision can lay on the shoulders of someone you’ve never met. This is why Travaline stressed the importance of only focusing on the outcomes that you can meaningfully impact and then moving on.
4. Share Your Opinion
“Even when you’re sitting in a room full of executives, your thoughts are valuable,” said Travaline. “I love when someone in a meeting, especially a young person, challenges the way I’m thinking about a topic.” Keeping your thoughts to yourself not only deprives you of the opportunity to showcase your knowledge -- it’s also a detriment to your team.
5. Don’t Read Off the Powerpoint Slides
“I see a lot of junior people do this,” Messing said. Reading directly from bullets on the computer screen is a good way to invite your audience to check out. Take the time needed to distill the key points of the content and invite attendees to review the slides later if they need more information.
6. Start Your Day Early and with Exercise
Since Potts learned this secret, she hasn’t turned back. Numerous studies point to morning exercise as a way to boost brainpower, shed stress and energize you for the day. By clearing your head before the daily chaos sets in, you’ll be more equipped to handle -- and even thrive -- throughout any unexpected challenges.
7. Be Curious
All four panelists look for genuine curiosity in the candidates they hire. It’s hard to blame them: Studies show curious people are more willing to learn, are able to overcome anxiety and generally lead happier lives. Capeci talked about how following her early curiosity for the diamond industry and learning as much as she could continues to serve her today.
8. When You’re Doing What You Love, the Unknown Takes on a Different Light
The one common thread that runs through the success of these female leaders is they are all doing what they love. They love their industry, the people they work with, and most of all, they are excited about what the future holds, no matter how unknown it is.
I never applied for my boss’s job, but I did continue to think about that moment and consider possibilities that I was not 100 percent prepared for. A few months later, I took a different risk, joining the marketing team at Skyword. Now, I’m doing work that I love, but that I am also by no means an expert in. As they say, a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor. Oftentimes, the only way to move forward is to dive into the tidal wave and embrace the process of figuring out how to get back up.
This commentary was previously published in the Content Standard.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com management or associated bloggers.