(Photo by Albert Hong)
The last time we at Generocity heard a panel of women discuss the “glass ceiling” was last year at a women in leadership panel hosted by Here’s My Chance featuring four nonprofit execs.
One year later, the topic came up once again at the seventh annual Women in Leadership Panel hosted by Peirce College this past Wednesday, which featured five professionals from a range of industries:
- Nicole Ross, the Mid-Atlantic region head for private wealth management at Goldman Sachs
- Jane Slusser, chief of staff to Mayor Jim Kenney
- Susan Van Buren, the former assistant general manager for the human resources division at SEPTA (she just retired two weeks ago)
- Eloise Young, senior VP of strategic planning and information services at Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW)
- Dina Galeotafiore, senior VP of executive search at Comcast
This time around, the topic of the “glass ceiling,” while not explicitly stated, was brought up when moderator Dr. Rita Toliver-Roberts, VP of academic advancement at Peirce, mentioned that the number of Fortune 500 companies with women CEOs was at a record-breaking five percent last year. The follow-up question: How do we celebrate this achievement while still attending to the gender gap issue in leadership?
That number is still definitely low and while there is room to celebrate, Van Buren said, there are ways women can work to increase that percentage.
“Don’t lose sight that we have a responsibility to the organization, to teach one another as women and bring each other along, and also to help men understand how they can bring us along as well,” she said.
Young chimed in with a bit more context for that Fortune 500 percentage: The first-ever Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company was just appointed earlier this month, while there are now zero women of color in CEO roles after Ursula Burns stepped down from her role at Xerox Corporation. But Young believes the potential for women of color to become leaders is actually infinite, considering that the fastest growing number of entrepreneurs happen to be African American women.
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“So the celebration is that even if corporate America isn’t feeling us, in the words of Beyonce’s grandmother, if life gives you lemons, what do you do?” Young said.
The similarities between the two panels don’t stop there — a graduate student at Peirce asked the panel about mentorship and building relationships, for which the consensus at last year’s panel seemed to be that yes, it’s important for encouraging the next generation.
Ross answered by stressing how “critical” mentorship — including sponsorship — is, but in addition to finding mentors you can relate to, she said it also important to find mentors who are different from you.
“I do believe having diversity amongst the perspectives that you seek is important,” she said. “So I’ve got plenty of mentors who look like me but also plenty who don’t look like me at all — I value each and every perspective that I get.”
Some other bits of advice heard throughout the panel:
- “I think one of the important things is to not be afraid to try new things,” said Slusser, who went through five or six different careers (from cofounding a startup to editing history textbooks) before campaigning for former president Barack Obama. “It’s likely you’re going to have different careers — it doesn’t mean that it was wasted time. … I think it’s good to not be afraid to fail sometimes and switch tracks.”
- “Your network is your net worth,” Galeotafiore said about working in the talent acquisition space.
- “I think it starts at the grassroots [level]. In order for the external customer to be satisfied, you have to pay attention to your internal customer,” Van Buren said about companies creating more inclusive frameworks. It was something she witnessed firsthand after hearing individually from SEPTA employees what changes they would like to see implemented within the company, which led to something as little, yet impactful, as allowing bus drivers to go to the bathroom more frequently.
And here are some books each panelist recommended for future leaders:
- Ross: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey
- Galeotafiore: “Grit” by Angela Duckworth
- Young: “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones” by John C. Maxwell
- Van Buren: “Mutant Message Down Under” by Marlo Morgan
- Slusser: Any biographies or autobiographies (“The more you read different biographies, you learn about people’s insecurities, the things they messed up, the things that shaped them. … History, yay!”)