Women’s History Month: Letters from Leaders
To wrap up our celebration of Women’s History Month, two members of Goodwill of North Georgia’s executive leadership team – Elaine Armstrong and Jenny Taylor – have written letters of their journeys and perspectives as women in executive positions to highlight the challenges and possibilities presented to them and other women in the workplace. Their words encourage women to focus on the importance of speaking up to make your voice heard, listening when necessary, and adapting during certain situations.
Each letter encompasses their passion, determination, and resilience, reflecting the voices of many impactful female leaders from throughout our history. Readers will get advice from two successful women in corporate leadership while gaining knowledge from two diverse perspectives.
In honor of all the brilliant, resilient, passionate, successful women from throughout our history, we celebrate Women’s History Month this month and every month. Here are words from Jenny Taylor and Elaine Armstrong.
We have come a very long way since Women’s History Month was established to celebrate the contributions women have made to society and acknowledge the many achievements women have made over the course of American history. While we have made great strides, we still have a long way to go.
As an executive and a woman, I find it very important to share encouragement with others to know the path to your goals and dreams is an achievable one. It is first important to see people that look like you to know that those goals are possible. I am delighted to serve on our strong Goodwill executive team representing people of color, women, LGBT, and people with religious diversity. A team with married women and single women with biological children and adopted children. Many times, I have heard from staff asking me for feedback on their professional development plan that there must be a choice made between being a parent, particularly being a mother, and having a demanding, high-profile position. I can tell you that it is not without balancing and the need for a strong support system, but it is achievable, as clearly evidenced by this executive staff team.
There are so many established norms that women must navigate on the path to leadership roles, perhaps somewhat easier in the non-profit and social service sector but having come from the private sector and in companies and industries historically and pervasively dominated by men, I have experienced that harder path. For an executive role, one must be a strategic thinker, can communicate a vision and engender support from others, demonstrate the skill to develop others, work in teams, and plan and execute them well, achieving results. If you are a woman seeking an executive role, add on top of all of that everything from more complicated clothing choices to the expression of traditionally masculine (confidence, assertiveness) or feminine traits. Seems daunting when really it would all be easier if we could just gain the knowledge of the job duties on listed on the gender-neutral job description!
My advice? Know your audience, what the overall goal is for your interactions, and adapt. Women do this well. Very well in fact, Stanford University research suggests that being able to assess social situations and adapt actions accordingly is a behavior that has led to more women advancing through both promotion and raises, 1.5x over and above their male counterparts. The study showed this self-monitoring behavior leads to success, in other words, for women to be successful they must simultaneously present themselves as self-confident and assertive while tempering these qualities with displays of communal characteristics: teamwork, empathy, positive communications. Still not sure how to do all of that? Find a strong woman you admire and ask her advice and mentorship. Or are you a strong woman in a leadership role? Find a young woman aspiring to be in your shoes and help her be positioned to not only do that, but to surpass you by ten more steps to go even higher in her bright future.
–Jenny Taylor, Vice President Career Services, Goodwill of North Georgia
One of the nice things about working with high performers is that they push you. I write) this letter after having read the remarkable words written by one of my peers, Jenny Taylor. Her words were so inspiring I’m wondering if there is anything left for me to say. Thus, (yes, I just said “thus”) I’m going to give my best shot at trying match their level of awesomeness (and yes, that is a real word. Google it.)
So, we celebrate Women’s History Month because 98 years ago someone decided women should have the right to vote and the opportunity to allow their voices to be heard at the polls. But I believe we’ve always had a voice. Those in charge just decided not to hear it until then.
Jenny reminded us that we still have a long way to go, and she’s right. We still have work to do because not everyone is listening. So, we all need to turn up the volume. How? Remember you have a voice. You’ve always had one. Raise your hand. Speak up. Speak out. Be present.
As a child, one of the most important lessons (and there were many) my mom taught me was to use my voice. I think the combination of me being short in stature and her realizing that, as an African American woman, I’d be living in a world where things just weren’t equal was why she wanted me to learn at an early age how to speak up, advocate for myself and ensure I was not overlooked. You have something to say, and you have an opinion. Whether it’s short and simple or eloquent and verbose, what you say (or don’t say) matters. You count, and that goes way beyond the ballot box.
Oh, and while you’re doing all that talking, be sure to listen. Arguably, one of the most important communications skills is the ability to listen well. You won’t always like what you hear, and the good news is that’s okay. The key is to recognize that someone else is doing exactly what I just advised you to do – speaking up. Give them the R-E-S-P-E-C-T (thank you Aretha) we all deserve.
After you’ve opened your ears, don’t forget to open your eyes, and realize you’re only seeing things from your own perspective. Each of us view the world and our work from a unique vantage point that’s shaped and skewed by our individual experiences. It’s the reason that while in 1920 all women were guaranteed the vote, we don’t all support the same things, causes or people. Take for example this assignment to write a letter of encouragement in honor of Women’s History Month. The two of us approached it differently, and what’s great about that is you get a message brought to you by varied voices. Think of it as the ultimate collaboration; you know, “We are the World” style.
While you’re embracing all that diversity, beware the tendency to fall into the comparison trap. You don’t hear anyone pitting Cyndi Lauper’s performance on that song against Dionne Warwick’s. They are completely different performers, and yet, they both brought something amazing to that anthem. Your perspective is yours, but that doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse than anyone else’s. It’s just different.
This month and forever moving forward, celebrate by using your voice, listening well, understanding yours is a unique perspective and recognizing that it deserves its place alongside so many others.
– Elaine Armstrong, Vice President of Marketing, Goodwill of North Georgia