When it comes to business, women not only compete.
Women graduate from college and obtain advanced degrees in larger numbers than men. We are well represented in traditionally male occupations such as medical scientists (53 percent), physicians and surgeons (36 percent), and personal financial advisors (31 percent). And when a 100-year storm shuts down Washington, D.C., it’s the women who show up to run the country.
A recent study conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that the common reasons given for why women aren’t aspiring to top corporate positions—they’re less ambitious, they don’t have the confidence, they want to spend more time with their family—just simply aren’t true. But there are some very real obstacles: a persistent and widening wage gap, hostile work environments, and a perennial glass ceiling.
When I founded my company at age 26, I was largely naive about the realities of the working world, thinking that sheer will alone was enough to succeed. In hindsight, my blindness was actually a blessing. I believed then, as I do now, that I can create my own destiny, as long as I make certain sacrifices, challenge myself and accept that failure is a big part of success.
Last week, I was honored and proud to stand alongside some of the most accomplished women in the communications industry at PR News’ Top Women in PR reception. Being surrounded by these incredible women—each of whom has traveled a different, yet no less extraordinary path—I understood that I was part of something larger than myself and that my beliefs are shared by many of my peers.
One of the topics we discussed at the reception was advice for our younger selves—and for women just starting out. This is what I would say:
Find a need and fill it. I recognized early on that financial communications was a good entry point for me if I was going to compete, successfully, in the big, bad world of PR. It was an overlooked area of practice. By and large, most financial companies were struggling to communicate effectively, primarily due to industry regulations. I was of the mind that just because an industry is regulated, doesn’t mean PR and communication strategies should be dull and ineffective. I saw an opportunity where I could make a difference right away. Figure out what you’re good at and where you can make the most difference—and then go there.
Shape your own future
You hold the keys. It’s often second nature for women to put themselves second, third or fourth—behind the needs of their clients, spouses, children, families, etc. I remember an old boss telling me to forget my dreams, that I could never have it all if I wanted to have a successful career. I thank her today, because her comments—and seeing first-hand how miserable she was having given up everything for her career—made me even more determined to find a way to lead a balanced life. Women shouldn’t have to choose between being a mom, a spouse and a successful businesswoman, but they do have to know how to manage all three roles and what it means to tackle them together.
It’s 2016. Innovative thinking is not an elective. When I started my company, social media was in its infancy. (Remember MySpace?) If our agency had not expanded our capabilities and mindset, we would be a dim memory to our clients by now. If you can consistently identify and solve problems, you’ll pave the path to success.
In her landmark book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg wrote that “in the future, there will be no female leaders. There will be just be leaders.”
While we continue to remove the obstacles that block our (self-defined) success, women should continue to help each other out. We can do our best work, forge our own path and challenge everyone to judge us on the results we achieve—not just our gender—while still supporting and championing the women around us.