At the September ProWIN Luncheon, Susan Hitchcock, a successful businesswoman, management consultant, and women’s leadership advocate, spoke to a large group of ProWIN members and guests at the Hyatt Atlanta Perimeter, reflecting on the key components of women’s leadership and career advancement.
Susan began her career at Southern Bell Company in the late 1960s after graduating as a psychology major from Agnes Scott College. Unlike women in management today, Susan had no role models in business, no women in management to mentor her, no women Fortune 500 CEOs to follow, no research about the keys to women’s success, and no women’s business organizations. She told how she had moved up three levels of management by the mid-1970s and was invited to an outdoor team building retreat on the Flint River in middle Georgia. As the only woman at the retreat, she was faced with sleeping in a tent with five men, wading into rivers to clean polluted barrels, no showers and no secluded areas in which to change her clothes. She persevered and never complained, showing the men that she could be a team member and was committed to the company. After that year, the company recognized that retreats needed to be held at cabins with indoor plumbing and more women needed to be included. At that retreat, Susan built relationships that lasted her career and garnered the respect of her colleagues by showing that a woman could handle the physical and mental challenges as well as the men.
In her many years of research about women in business, counseling, coaching, and teaching women, Susan has determined that women are perceived by their colleagues as being stronger than men at certain essential qualities: dependability, drive to achieve, integrity, humility, sharing information, acknowledging the performance and contributions of others, and emphasizing excellence. Conversely, women are perceived as falling behind men in the areas of emotional mastery, having an external focus, having business acumen, and exhibiting confidence. She stressed that both societal mores and women’s personal weaknesses are holding women back from moving forward in leadership positions.
Reflecting back on her own success, Susan has concluded that there are seven principles that have propelled her forward and that she believes are essential for women to become strong leaders:
(1) Competence – women must do whatever it takes to master their jobs and to show that they always get results at the highest level of competence.
(2) Commitment – women must be focused, must persevere, and must be 100% accountable for the work assigned to them. They must learn to say “no” to some opportunities at work and at home so that the tasks that they accept are done with complete commitment.
(3) Confidence – No matter how little a woman feels about her abilities, she must exhibit confidence to those in her work environment. Women need to ask themselves “what do I need to know and do to be confident” and then must work on a daily basis to be exhibit confidence.
(4) Connections – making connections and building relationships is the most important part of becoming a leader in one’s field. Susan emphasized that creating relationships on “LinkedIn” and having numerous Facebook friends are not sufficient. It is not about exchanging business cards after casual conversations at networking events. Creating connections, Susan stressed, means getting to know people and having them get to know you and care about you. Susan recommended “Netweaving” – a book written by Atlantan Bob Littell, whose approach is to help introduce and promote colleagues and friends to others, knowing that such assistance will come back around to enhance your relationships.
(5) Courage – it is essential for women to take risks and jump at opportunities even when it might mean giving up stability, income and status. Susan took a huge risk 20 years ago by leaving her prestigious management job at Southern Bell to join Turknet and has never regretted that she had the courage to make a change.
(6) Credibility – women must constantly take steps to leverage themselves into positions where they can influence decisions being made by their companies. By using the influence they have earned through day to day hard work, women will be in positions at key moments to sway the decisions at the highest levels.
(7) Character – defined as “who you are when no one is looking,” Susan admonished the audience that one’s character and integrity are the most important qualities in people. You must truly stand for what is right and know in your heart every single day that you are living according to your moral compass and that others can trust in your integrity.
Susan believes that women will continue to grow as leaders, will continue to have more influence at the highest levels of business, and will bring a more collaborative style of team building to the work place. She emphasized that women are continuing to be educated in higher percentages than men, that we are defining and redefining our concepts of “success,” that we are growing more supportive of each other, and that as women assume leadership roles in all spheres, we will change the world.
Synopsis by Elaine G. Levine with Koufman, Levine & Greiner, LLP.
ProWIN Meeting on September 16, 2015 Hyatt Atlanta Perimeter, Atlanta, Georgia