In a previous blog we discussed three key factors that participants in the Brookings Executive Education (BEE) Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) felt helped them face challenges in the workplace. After a few inquiries we decided to continue that discussion with BEE Executive Director Mary Ellen Joyce, PhD. After five years of WLN, Joyce has heard plenty of stories about the challenges, successes, and failures women in government face every day.
What was BEE’s motivation in creating WLN?
After years of developing leadership programs, we recognized a trend in leadership development. An overwhelming majority of the literature was based on traits considered to be traditionally masculine. The research focused on the perceived development needs of women versus building on our unique strengths. At WLN we start from our strengths and build from there. Traits traditionally more common to women – collaborative, group-oriented behavior – are fundamental for executive success in today’s world. Too often we box ourselves in to what we are taught effective leadership should look like and then try to mimic it.
One of the WLN participants stated, “The Women’s Leadership: Strategies for Success course eradicated my ideas about what it takes for me to be an effective leader, and I discovered that I, too, can be a successful leader. Seminar leaders lead me to discover my authentic leadership style so I can stop trying to copy someone else’s.”
We can’t be effective leaders if we aren’t our best selves, and we can’t be our best selves if we aren’t authentic. Leading from our strengths allow us to do that.
What is the one challenge that comes up most during WLN discussions?
Ironically one of the most popular challenges we must work to overcome is internal. Research has shown that we tend to underestimate ourselves. One of the examples discussed during one WLN session covered applying for jobs. There is a job posting with six qualifications. The woman only meets four of the six so she will not apply for the job. On the other hand a man who also only meets four of the six qualifications will apply anyway. Of course it’s not guaranteed that he’ll get the job, but it’s a great example of how we take ourselves out of the equation. Several studies have shown the same when negotiating salary and benefits (Women Don’t Ask, 2003).
What are the benefits of participating in a program like WLN?
Over 90 percent of WLN participants are government employees. This make up allows participants to truly hone in challenges unique to public sector employees. Participants from agencies across government learn about challenges unique to their agency, but also what they share with other women in government. These conversations form the foundation for a network of support as they move forward in their careers. A recent participant summed it up best, “Perhaps the most impactful part of the experience was learning as a team with my colleagues from other parts of Federal Government. Many of us continue to call upon each other for advice, guidance, and support.” WLN Alumnae
Kimberly Hall is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
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