Listen to Some Female CEOs Tell You About How To Be Successful

How can women best advance to the top of corporate America?

The Wall Street Journal’s John Bussey had the rare opportunity to ask 18 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.  I spoke with Selena Rezvani, the author of, The Next Generation of Women Leaders and Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—And Stand Up For What They Want, to learn from her extensive research on women leaders.  Rezvani gave me quotes from her newest book PushbackHere is what every Levo Leaguer should know.

From The Wall Street Journal’s article How Women Can Get Ahead: Advice From Female CEOs:

On how to get ahead in the boardroom:

  • Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint: The most important factor in determining whether you will succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you.  Be open to opportunity and take risks.  In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment that you can find, and then take control.
  • Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup: I developed a strategic process for my career plan that set the final destination, developed the skill track, identified skills to build, took line positions to gain experience, and sought leadership and management training on the job, through special assignments, coaching, and networking.
  • Gracia Martore, CEO of Gannett: In order to lead an organization, you have to be incredibly comfortable in your own skin and the only way to do that is to be confident in who you are.
  • Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications: For a lot of women, they think the myth is true, that if they just do a good job and work hard, they’ll get recognized.  That’s not the case.
  • Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan: I had a very strong work ethic and was willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  There is simply no substitute for hard work when it comes to achieving success.

On the gender bias they faced and how to overcome it:

  • Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications: Men selectively listen.  When that happened, I’d stop the conversation and say, ‘Do you realize I said that 10 minutes ago?’  Women have to take responsibility for the dynamic around them; you can’t just say ‘Woe is me.’
  • Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan: My experiences with gender bias are probably the norm.  What I found was that expectations of women were simply lower, and this resulted in being overlooked for certain opportunities.  Now as a leader, I strive to create an environment different than the one I faced, an environment where good ideas come from anyone—young, old, men, women, assistant, executive—and the opportunities are open to everyone.
  • Ilene Gordon, CEO of Corn Products: The biggest myth that I’d like to set to rest is that women can’t have a family and a successful career.  The skills that make a good business leader—organization, drive, trust, delegation and compassion—also go a long way to balance the responsibilities of work and family life.
  • Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint: The myth is that women and their families don’t have to make tradeoffs to have an ‘extreme career’; they absolutely do.  How you prioritize your life and career is your choice.  Once you make a decision, stick to it; don’t always second-guess yourself.

From Selena Rezvani’s book, Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—And Stand Up For What They Want

  • Barbara J. Krumsiek, President, CEO & Chair of Calvert Investments, Inc. I believe that women resist trial by error. That kind of avoidance of trying new things can be a career roadblock. You can’t always know 100 percent of the information about something before you do it; it’s okay to just know enough.I think it’s important for women to respect their résumés. I will try to weave into a conversation that I have math degrees or that I served on a national development team, for example. You might relate an anecdote that demonstrates your competence, without fully name-dropping. This is something we need to do skillfully; it’s not merely reciting our credentials and it’s not bragging either.
  • Deborah Simpson, CFO of The Boston Consulting Group: The best advice I ever heard was that when you’re too busy, always take on work that interests you. Somewhere, somehow, you’ll sort out how to get the rest done. There are many career rewards for taking on meaty, tough assignments with complex problem-solving components; plus it’ll be more enjoyable for you…don’t sell yourself short; you’re no different than anyone else who wants engaging work, so have a nose for searching it out!
  • Irene Chang Britt, CSO of Campbell Soup Company: Not that I would have listened, but I wish I’d known that it was okay to make mistakes earlier in my career. I went on to make some real doozies but I wish that rather than being embarrassed, which I was, I appreciated it was all part of learning and developing on the job.

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