While hosting a recent webinar discussion on women in leadership with a panel of experts from T-Mobile, TriNet, Apria, Yext, and AuditBoard, I was reminded that we’ve all stood on the shoulders of great women. As the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
While Ginsberg blazed a trail, a gender gap remains. A recent study conducted by the CFA Institute shows that women make up about 51% of the audit departments in large corporate entities, yet they lead only 15% of S&P 500 corporation’s audit departments. Tellingly, only 28% of respondents to a poll we ran during the webinar say their organizations have a program in place designed to address the gender gap.
Still, many companies have come to view diversity as an essential ingredient in how well members of teams empower and influence each other. Two of the participants in our webinar, Danielle Ritter, Executive Director of Internal Audit at TriNet, and Patrick Farley, VP of Audit at Yext, have recent experience with new diversity initiatives. For example, TriNet has rolled out a diversity and inclusion rotation program whereby employees can apply for a temporary chief of staff role that allows individuals to interact and share new experiences.
As a leader, Patrick believes it’s his responsibility to give those same opportunities and resources to those working for him: “Lean on your leadership,” he said.
Being able to empower, build influence, and lead change successfully hinges on how you develop and influence your teams, mentor others, handle confrontation, and communicate — and whether you can remain authentic to your values as a leader. Some tips to use in your own development as a leader include:
Building and influencing teams
Assessing current team skills and requirements, team dynamics, and valuing diversity are aspects of successful hiring practices. Don’t be overly focused on hard skills. Be certain to look for soft skills such as:
- Emotional intelligence.
- The ability to ask good questions.
- Active listening.
- Eliciting information.
Influence through relationships and expertise rather than authority is important. When it comes to retention, a frank conversation about what someone wants is necessary.
“If I can’t retain that person, I can help them grow into their next opportunity.” – Danielle Ritter, Executive Director of Internal Audit at TriNet
Finding a mentor — and becoming one yourself
Mentors help provide different perspectives — roughly 78% of people we polled said they’ve benefited from being mentored.
Being mentored is a great way to figure out where you want to go in life and who you want to be. It’s essential to look for a mentor you respect or admire — ask if they’ve got a couple of minutes to grab some coffee but tailor your requests to the leader and keep it direct.
“The different mentors in my life have helped lift me up when I doubted myself.” - Alice Chuang, Sr. Director, Client Advisory Services at AuditBoard.
Evaluate what you want from the mentorship, then match with someone who can provide you with the right guidance. And remember to pay it forward and mentor other female members of your team.
Pushing past the discomfort inherent in certain situations can be difficult. Be authentic to yourself, and know that not every situation will be easy. Maintain composure and professionalism — try and be as objective as possible and know that this too, shall pass. Use pre-conversation thinking to go through the chess moves of what’s about to happen. Understand the nature of the conversation and its objectives, keep calm, and remain professional. Keep in mind that everyone is trying to work towards a common goal, and difficult conversations are just a part of this process.
Developing your communication style
Your communication style can help you become more effective. For example, Megan refers to herself as a communication chameleon — adapting her style to match each stakeholder’s preferences. Keeping a “cheat sheet” of how stakeholders prefer to receive information is key to communicating successfully.
Remaining authentic — while excelling as a leader
Finding the right role and team within the right organization that aligns with your values and where you want to go is critical to being authentic. Authenticity requires having depth, and that only comes with having individual leaders who can bring new perspectives. Authenticity is a key aspect of gaining the respect and trust of your team and your internal stakeholders. Based on my experience, being authentic to yourself as a professional, mentor, leader, or aspiring leader is paramount in building your brand. Building your brand (the right way) will pay dividends if you do it right. Learning how to leverage the strength of who you are and creating your own roadmap gives you a good place to start.
Building your brand
Your brand is important. When people correlate you to action and making changes happen, others will reach out. If you want to become a go-to person, build long-lasting relationships, become approachable, and make sure you’re listening and communicating.
“Create your brand and develop a high say, do ratio,” - Sarah Alhafidh, Sr. Director, Internal Audit at Apria.
Also, consciously spend time on your career and talking to your boss, team, and mentors about these things:
- Define what’s important to you and what you want from your career.
- Decide how you are going to help others in the longer term.
- Know who you are and relentlessly pursue those values: stay authentic.
We’re all in this together. It’s essential to be kind and respect one another and maintain professionalism — but have a great time!