Susan McDonnell and Oonagh O’Grady joined a cohort of MBA students from around the world at Haas Business School, University of California, Berkeley in early June for an intensive 5-day module titled Women’s 21st Century Leadership. This module was offered as part of the Global Network for Advanced Management week.
Professor Laura Kray in her introduction to the week outlined how the reality remains that the career paths of men and women still diverge in complex yet systematic ways. With more women in the workforce than ever before – and even more joining top leadership ranks – the need for women’s voices to be heard has never been greater. Professor Kray put out a “call to arms” at the outset of the course – What will YOUR role be in advancing gender equality?
The programme was designed to help us to promote gender equality in the workplace but also to cultivate our own authentic leadership style as women. Authenticity is a key pillar of modern leadership. We were thought that teaching women to act like men in order to get ahead is misguided. It ultimately results in women becoming overly focused on their self-image and not on the leadership task at hand. This course sought to over-write outdated scripts about power and push past the usual stereotypes, for example, the perceived need for women to “fit into” a masculine world.
Our first guest speaker, Haben Girma, was utterly inspiring and personified the concept of a growth mindset. Haben was the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was named by President Obama as a White House Champion of Change. She advocates for equal opportunities for people with disabilities and encourages us all to resist society’s low expectations of those with disabilities. Instead she asked us to choose to create our own pioneering story. She provided us with a master class in public speaking on the first morning despite being born deaf-blind. During the presentation, she received constant feedback from her interpreter who typed a description of the happenings in the room. We then had a chance to ask Haben questions through a keypad which translated our queries to braille.
Penny Kreitzer, an accomplished stage actress, thought us tips to improve our leadership presence through the strengthening of our voice and stance. She also thought us a five-step grounding exercise which she assured us would become second nature through practise. Christine Carter shared the secrets of “How to Achieve More By Doing Less” by highlighting a number of limiting beliefs and unmasking the truths instead:
- Limiting Belief #1: busyness = importance
Truth: In fact, the truth is that busyness equals cognitive overload – Single tasking is the way to go
- Limiting Belief #2: Doing nothing is a waste of time
Truth: Our brains benefit when we waste time – it’s called strategic slacking
- Limiting Belief #3: More is better
Truth: Often less is more – acknowledge abundance using gratitude
We learned about the “Future of Work” from Sally Thornton and in particular about the work-life blend as opposed to work-life balance. Carolyn Buck‐Luce outlined how we needed to “Celebrate the Leader Within” and introduced us to the secret to her success – The Decade Game. This involves her outlining at the start of each decade her purpose for the next decade. The key questions she asks herself to define her decade strategy are – why are you on the planet? And how would you like to be known by the world at the end of this decade? She recommended that you thought about your strategy as a multi-level computer game where you set targets or levels to achieve every 90 days. With regards to executive presence, she noted how gravitas accounted for 67% of an executive’s presence. Gravitas includes things like grace under fire, decisiveness, ability to read and command, ability to inspire others and the importance of integrity, authenticity and reputation.
Our final guest speaker Sanez Mobasseri helped us analyse our social network under the 5 pillars – depth, breath, structural configuration, dependencies and perceived status of contacts. She also thought us that building and maintaining your network is a lifelong task and that connections need to be made before you actually need them.
The third day of the course entailed two company visits to tech multinationals located in San Francisco. First up was DocuSign, an electronic signature technology and digital transaction management services company. Chief People Officer, Joan Burke and a number of members of a group called Women at DocuSign joined us to explain what makes DocuSign a great place to work. They outlined how diversity and inclusion was driven from the top by their CEO Dan Springer who was motivated by his experience of being the son of a single mother. This shines through in the company’s HR policies and in particular with regards to maternity and paternity leave which are much more generous than US standards.
We then travelled across town to Uber’s offices where Bernard C. Coleman, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, talked to us about the journey the company has gone through over the past year since the highly-publicised Susan Fowler case. Along with a panel of Uber employees involved in Women and Diversity initiatives, he outlined some of the innovative diversity and inclusion programmes they have introduced.
On the final day, we presented our research project finding on topics which included – Gender differences in values, attitudes, and beliefs – Implicit bias and its consequences in organisations – Women working with women – Work-life balance and Engaging men on gender equity.
No MBA experience would be complete without a networking opportunity and this trip provided this in abundance. We were part of a truly international cohort with representatives from US Business Schools – Haas and Yale as well as people who had travelled from Ghana, Mexico, Russia, Spain, UK, Portugal, Denmark, Brazil, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and China. Not only was there diversity in geography but also in industries with all of the major industries represented as well as NGOs and the Art industry. Most importantly the class contained a number of male colleagues who leant a balanced and insightful voice to the week.
We both feel we gained a new level of confidence and greater sense of ownership over our own leadership development. We also feel we are now more able to diagnose multiple causes of gender inequality, better equipped to develop techniques for influencing others, and understand the critical role of mindsets in collaborating effectively with others to lead change. We also now have a full itinerary of class reunions scheduled for the coming years….first stop Ghana in 2019!
Oonagh O’Grady, EMBA 2018