What a year it’s been so far!
However, in this column I’d like to focus not on what we’ve gone through (and undeniably it’s been a lot), but rather what we’ve learned. Specifically, I want to share three major skill sets that have proven instrumental in career development for talented women in these extraordinary circumstances: tolerance for ambiguity, adaptability and risk-taking.
Using remote platforms, we have continued to support, uninterrupted, the development of female talent at all levels — especially needed during these times with an increased urgency to elevate women and particularly women of color. We are looking closely at the experiences of more than 780 female participants, and their male and female mentors and managers, to glean a treasure trove of information around successful strategies when work is no longer “live and in-person.” In our soon-to-be-published Impact Report 2020, we will share empirical and anecdotal research from these key constituencies. Here are some highlights.
Tolerance for ambiguity is front and center to success.
Our experiences dovetail with a recent Korn Ferry study that rated tolerance for ambiguity as the most prevalent leadership quality at companies ranked highest in corporate effectiveness. This tolerance is the lynchpin to continued growth and development of both individuals and corporations.
What exactly does “tolerance for ambiguity” mean for female talent during these times? One of our program managers observed it as a newfound “level of acceptance, rather than resistance.” It is a willingness to keep moving forward and to let go of “what was” and shift into an “active learning” mindset. One of our mentors offered this four-point strategy for dealing with ambiguity: 1) plan and set goals; 2) prioritize; 3) collaborate; and 4) make decisions.
As a result of participants developing a tolerance for ambiguity, they have made strides for themselves and their organization, not despite the new normal, but because of it. For example, one participant stepped up to run her organization’s worldwide initiative to deliver products to customers despite COVID-19. When brick-and-mortar stores started to reopen, civil unrest resulted in looting at a number of locations. Implementing some changes, she made the processes that worked during COVID-19 work after the looting. Her organization could resume serving its communities.
Becoming more adaptable is a must.
When COVID-19 first hit, many women were leaning toward a “shelter-in-place” attitude, not just for themselves, but for their careers. As it became clear that things weren’t going back to normal any time soon, they learned to adapt. That ability to adapt is showing up in a variety of productive ways. For example, women at all levels are adapting to new ways of managing their teams remotely, often letting go of perfectionism and micromanaging behaviors. They are taking different approaches to meshing work and family responsibilities. They are developing, as one program manager put it, “a strong virtual presence and discovering a new confidence to manage effectively.”
As a result, they are more than just adapting — they are transforming into the effective leaders their organizations need now and in the future.
Taking the right risks is the right move.
It is well-documented that women tend to be more risk-averse than their male counterparts. During these times, where opportunities to step up abound, that reticence can be a bigger career staller than ever.
We have found that, buoyed by their fellow participants and their mentors, many of our participants are becoming “risk ready.” They are more willing to take a seat at the virtual table to showcase their talents in new and different ways and are more proactive in reaching out to senior managers and mentors for needed insights. As a result, a number of women have enjoyed double-level promotions, and many have stepped out of their comfort zones to take on projects that have won them high visibility among key corporate influencers.
On a personal note …
I am grateful for the talented WOMEN Unlimited team who role model everyday how to successfully navigate this period of disruption. These leaders will bring both parity and prosperity to a broad cross-section of organizations for years to come.