By: Lili Gil Valleta
It has been proven that mentoring improves performance and women are better suited for leadership. However, while women may have the natural ability to lead they are often more self-critical compared to their male counterparts and therefore hold back from jumping into opportunities or leadership roles; unless they feel 100% ready. This is exactly why the International Women’s Forum and the Knight Foundation engineered a program that challenges women leaders not only intellectually but emotionally as well to make the jump. A two-day session, hosted in Miami, reframed typical training and panel forums by turning the room into a safe space for ideas, stories, partnerships and innovation to flow.
Over 25 women entrepreneurs gained one on one access to inspiring women leaders ranging from Kashi’s co-founder Gayle Tauber to Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro CEO of the Global Fund for Women, Olympic silver-medalist Dr. Judi Brown Clarke, retired United States Air Force Brigadier General now Harvard lecturer Dana Born, among others.
Putting the need to pitch or impress aside, attendees and speakers alike opened-up to share the full reality of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and leader. This is what made the forum effective going beyond an impressive line-up into building an environment where women gained business strength from the power of vulnerability.
Moderating the two day session was inspiring, so much that it moved me to create flip-chart art to capture the essence behind every presenter. However, this learning should not be only limited to those hand-selected to attend. This is why I felt compelled to capture seven key learnings that can help inspire even more entrepreneurs.
1. Create a movement not just a project. Dr. Kanyoro of the Global Fund for Women knows first-hand what it takes to create real and sustainable impact. Impact happens through collaboration and by making the sum of the parts greater than the whole. Movements don’t come from one project or one person, they come from rallying up like-minded people moved by a common spirit. Whether you are moved to stop human trafficking or moved to revolutionize the fashion industry, entrepreneurs must play for something bigger than themselves and bring others along the way.
2. Find the innovation side door in corporate America. Startups and small businesses often find it hard to get the meeting at a large corporation or be considered for a corporate contract because size, paperwork and lack of immediate scale may get in the way. NextHealth Ventures CEO Nina Nashif, shared an insightful trick to get access and potentially be evaluated through the lens of innovation and not size; find the innovation department. Many companies today have their own internal incubators and that may be the side door that works for you instead of the lengthy traditional routes. CEO of Cook’s Warehouse Mary Moore also emphasized the importance of vendor partnership for win-win business propositions and Global Diversity & Inclusion Procurement director Theresa Harrison from EY educated attendees on the importance of making the Supplier Diversity professionals your internal champions.
3. A boss brings the goodies and masters context. Two breakthrough leaders broke down the fundamentals of being a boss. Former CEO of Grey Group Europe, Middle East & Africa Carolyn Carter set the stage with a basic yet profound concept, “bosses bring the goodies!” Whether it is bringing pizza for the team or a new multi-million dollar contract, bosses bring goodies that inspire and motivate their teams. Additionally, Major General Linda Singh, responsible for the Maryland Military Department, shared the inner workings behind Baltimore’s riots and her role as a newly appointed boss. At a time of chaos, her emotional intelligence and ability to master the context of the situation, equipped her to read the room, maneuver emotions and help refocus peers and even supervisor in the middle of the storm. Her unique ability to bring clarity during chaos turned her into an agent for peace and a spokesperson for the city.