Women of LeadHERship – Interview SeriesMHS Talent Development
A Conversation with Owner of Nautilus Leadership Development, LLC., Michele Olive
How many of your organization’s leaders are women? Have you ever worked for a female CEO? Have you ever stopped to think about female representation in leadership positions? According to a study we conducted with HR.com, the Women in Leadership Survey 2020, women are not only under-represented in the leadership ranks but gender diversity in leadership positions is not a priority for most organizations.
At MHS, we take pride in the progress we have made in providing equitable opportunities and gender diversity amongst leadership ranks. In 2020, we are proud to say females comprise of 48% of our leadership team, 60% of our executive team, and we are led by an incredible female CEO, Hazel Wheldon.
We connected with Hazel and our Chief Product Officer (CPO) Jenni Pitkanen, as well as several other inspiring women across various industries who have made the climb up the corporate ladder. Each of these women has taken risks in environments that didn’t always feel safe to do so. They looked at barriers as new challenges to overcome while building their resilience and gumption along the way. They shared their stories, their advice, and took this chance to empower each reader – no matter their age, gender, or career path – to take the risk, harness their internal power, and aim for the top.
The following is a snippet of the “Women of LeadHERship” interview, featuring the responses of Michele Olive, Owner of Nautilus Leadership Development.
IS THERE STILL A GLASS CEILING?
WHAT WAS YOUR “GLASS CEILING MOMENT”?
HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED A BARRIER AS A RESULT OF STEREOTYPES OR LINGERING STIGMAS, MAKING YOU WORK HARDER OR DIFFERENTLY THAN A MAN WOULD FOR THOSE POSITIONS?
I am a firm believer that proof lies in the data and the data shows a glass ceiling is real, so the question is not “does it happen” but why does it happen? Is it due to women choosing flexibility for family roles, not negotiating for themselves well or undervaluing themselves? I suspect the answer may vary depending on corporate culture and the ever-changing societal norms.
In my work, I get to speak with many successful working women and often hear stories like my own. As a working mother, I made a career-changing decision-based on the need to care for my youngest child when he needed heart surgery. It was a temporary change that I don’t regret, but it also changed my career trajectory for a few years.
I don’t subscribe to the thought that people who hold the same job title should be paid the same. However, I think the imbalance suggested in data could mean that women are not performing or producing the same quality as men, which I also don’t believe.
Having spent most of my professional career working in a ‘female-dominated’ field of mental health, I have had minimal barriers based on gender. My input on this topic comes from hundreds of confidential conversations with women (and men alike) who struggle with both the reality and perceptions around this topic. The best method to overcome gender bias almost always include building a “tribe” to have the confidence and support to keep leaning upward. I believe it will serve us well to focus on the effort and brains behind the work rather than the gender of the individual.
THERE IS A LOT OF WORK BEING DONE TO ENCOURAGE AND HELP WOMEN SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER. HAVE YOU BEEN MENTORED BY A FELLOW FEMALE IN YOUR PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
HOW WERE THESE MENTORSHIPS ESTABLISHED AND FOSTERED?
WHAT ARE THE 3 MOST INSPIRING QUALITIES OR COMPETENCIES YOU SEE IN OTHER FEMALE LEADERS?
I am fortunate to have had a few female leaders who provided their guidance along the way. One of the most influential of these leaders is the CEO of the COMMIT Foundation, Anne Meree Craig, who spends most of her waking hours aiming to ‘support others’. While the bulk of the population her organization serves are male, she makes intentional efforts to support females both inside and outside of the Foundation.
Her actions show commitment to “doing the right things” and the passion behind her actions is palpable.
While it’s her job as my CEO to mentor me to some degree, we all know that mentorship can come in various degrees.
What I have consistently observed from Anne Meree is a commitment to excellence in her advice and mentorship to me. Sometimes this advice is to not sell myself short when I’ve wanted to at times. At other times, it looks like pressure to make sure I’m growing personally and professionally. I have presented my professional development goals in the past only to have her say “is that all?”, “what else can you do?”, and “take some time to spend with your family because you’ve been working too hard.”
The 3 most inspiring qualities I see in female leaders are connection, communication, and leading by example.
Connection: Some climb to the top and lose their relational skills in the shuffle. Maybe it’s too hard for them to manage boundaries, or maybe they believe it will generate more respect to no longer relate to those “below” them, or maybe it’s a maladaptation for their stress tolerance. I most respect a person who can be their authentic selves throughout their career progression.
Communication: This quality includes listening and messaging in ways that your audience can hear. There are several EQ-i elements that weave together to make this flexible and interpersonal quality admirable, especially when under pressure.
Leading by Example: This quality shows up best when it requires standing up for oneself and others because it’s the right thing to do, especially when it’s hard. It requires confidence and the insight to have goals aligned with your passions and purpose.
HOW CAN WOMEN LEVERAGE ASSERTIVENESS WHEN BATTLING CLICHÉS AROUND BEING BOSSY?
HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO JUSTIFY YOUR DIRECTNESS?
DO PEOPLE ASSUME YOU WILL BE MORE LENIENT, KIND, AND PASSIVE RATHER THAN A FIERCE, ASSERTIVE LEADER? DO YOU BELIEVE WE HAVE OVERCOME THIS STEREOTYPE ALREADY?
All professionals walk a fine line around assertiveness and levels of emotional expression. If you are too direct, you are bossy. If you are not, you are viewed as passive or meek. If you don’t show emotion or the wrong kind of emotion you are cold or rude, but if you show more than the receiver likes or is comfortable with you are viewed as overly sensitive and reactive.
I likely have people expect me to be more passive than I present. Perhaps they see the LCSW and assume I’m a ‘typical social worker.’ I rely heavily on my ability to read others before leaning into a communication style. I will use a direct style for those I perceive to be receptive to that type of communication. I’ve been told more than once my direct nature was a surprise but has (usually) worked out for the best.
I don’t know if stereotypes fully go away. Whether it’s the information we learned from our peers or beliefs we subscribe to based on our own experiences, it’s hard to fully squash stereotypes. I believe it’s my job (and all women) to continuously prove it wrong. An intelligent leader will be able to make their assessments of a person’s value and character. Our culture and norms have many stereotypes, so it can be hard to fight them all. I recommend you don’t waste your mental energy trying. Know what you believe, know what you value, and balance observed cues with your message delivery. This will allow you to do great work with authentic drive and be open to growing along the way.
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY BE?
“Grit and Grace”
My personal (and professional) story is something I’ve been told to write a book about more than once. Our stories make us who we are regardless of how colorful the journey. Grit and Grace are the two things that have gotten me through it all. Maintaining passion and perseverance in the hard chapters of life is where the real progress happens, and character develops.
Equally having grace for yourself and others in the process is the key to maintaining your sanity and self-regard.
I love the comparison to making a pearl. When an irritant or barrier enters your life, you make a precious gem out of it.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, OR EVEN JUST 5 YEARS AGO, WHAT CAREER OR EVEN PERSONAL ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?
I would tell myself to open my aperture. At one point in my career, I was doing exactly what I thought I ‘should’ be doing based on my perceived expectations. I invested time in getting degrees and a license to work within mental health. I gained a position working within a coveted population where I had income security, minimal administrative requirements and an amazing team within my department. It was reading the book “Designing Your Life”, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans that finally challenged my perspective. I had many boxes checked, but I also had areas that were not a ‘good fit’ for me. I’m not sure who was the most surprised when I resigned from my safe government role to work for a non-profit and expand my LLC. Before this move, I was blind to the need of having autonomy of my schedule and the guilt from missing important events for my family. We all have different needs, but we can often be blind to the ones not being fulfilled because we think it is part of the package.
I am now able to scratch all my itches (needs) and avoid the areas that drain energy from me. I wish I was open to this concept earlier.
WHAT’S ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
Semper Gumby – ok that’s 2 words, but I mean flexibility.
THE WAY FORWARD
Each of the women we interviewed has been supported by colleagues, friends, and family, but most importantly, they have supported themselves. It is vital that we celebrate the triumphs of female leaders but also to work towards a future where:
“There will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
-Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
Read the full report on The State of Women in Leadership 2020 here. Help prioritize the development of women leaders and shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.