“Pursue the Opportunities That Thrill You”
Many women in senior management have developed their potential in IESE, creating an international legacy of female leadership / Photo: Archive
The traditionally male-dominated corporate world is becoming increasingly heterogeneous but women still face specific challenges in the pursuit of leadership roles. This was the finding of top female executives who came to IESE NY in February to share their experiences, and advice for women building a career in business.
The panelists are business leaders who have sought to optimize their competencies at IESE’s Madrid, Barcelona, New York, Brazil and Munich campuses, creating an international legacy of female leadership.
To reflect on the lessons learned at IESE and in the corporate world, the panel members laid out some fundamental principles for any woman striving for a leadership role.
While it is prudent to think about career plans early on, over-planning can be an impediment to personal and professional growth, according to Michelle Naggar Reichenbach (MBA ‘05). She advocated an open-minded approach to any career plans. "Pursue the opportunities that thrill you," she said. "Do not feel trapped into following any predetermined career plan."
Yasmin Namini, senior vice president and chief consumer officer at The New York Times, agreed, saying that passion will build any career. In her opinion, it is certainly important to have a dream and to have drive but "the details can and should fluctuate."
The panelists noted that approaching career planning loosely allows women to adapt to changing roles and changing industries – a particularly salient skill in today’s progressive technological age.
Radha Subramanyam, president of Insights Research and Data Analytics at iheartMedia Women, said that women, more than men, were subject to a "do-it-all" expectation with regard to balancing motherhood and a career. As a successful executive and mother, she warned that this doesn’t come without sacrifices.
"You can be a mom, a partner, and an executive, but you have to be able to forgive yourself. The bottom line is that you live a fulfilling life," she added.
Managing people is a balancing act in itself. Weighing the wishes and expectations of others is, according to the panelists, the most challenging part of any position.
Dr. Paloma Duran, director of Sustainable Development Goals Fund at the United Nations Development Program, condensed team management into three key steps: First, look for the best in every individual; second, be honest – give recognition when it is due, but speak up about what needs improvement; third, promote and empower every team member.
According to Subramanyam, as people grow in their careers their responsibilities shift and they have to adapt their management style. Namini added that there is a fine line between the roles of leader and manager and that it is imperative that women understand their roles and communicate appropriately.
Networking has become a sort of "dirty word", moderator Noelle Sadler Delory (MBA ‘07) said. But networking is not about using people to promote success in your own career; rather, a network is a web of relationships, she said. As such, they must be two-way streets.
Cultivating a strong network of relationships requires making yourself memorable. Although it can be tempting to speak up just to be heard, said Reichenbach, just "saying things to say things" is not the way to go or grow.
There are two simple ways to be remembered, the panelists agreed. One is to deliver great results, said Namini; do great work and give credit where it’s due. The second is to be able to communicate who you are and be excited about your story, said Delory; be true to yourself and be confident in your professional narrative.
Empower Yourself, Empower Others
Each of the panelists agreed that, particularly as women, it is important to lead confidently. However, empowering others is as important as empowering yourself.
They advised that it is crucial to show team members that you are invested in growing their careers. A manager who always has all the answers leaves no room for others to grow. An employee who doesn’t make it a priority to support their manager is perceived as disloyal.
In this way, leadership is one large balancing act: be true to yourself, embrace change, do your best work and foster the people around you. Because, as Namini said: "What goes around comes around."