Dig Your Heels In

Navigate Corporate BS and Build the Company You Deserve

Joan Kuhl (Author)

Publication date: 04/16/2019

Dig Your Heels In
Joan Kuhl helps women create a clear vision of what their career path deserves to be and make a convincing business case for equality to their managers and senior leadership. You'll learn strategies for overcoming sexist cultural attitudes about gender and leadership, as well as for dealing with self-limiting behaviors like Imposter's Syndrome (the feeling that you're never good enough despite a track record of success) and the Myth of Meritocracy (the idea that just doing good work is the only way to advance). Because relationships are absolutely crucial, Kuhl describes how to build support networks before you even need them and explains how to get actionable feedback that will help you get to the next level—the kind women rarely are afforded. 

Case studies, practical exercises, and inspiring stories from Kuhl's work with clients at companies such as Eli Lilly and Company, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Soccer, BlackRock, South Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association and top business schools make this a truly comprehensive guide. It's an indispensable resource for women seeking to build the confidence and conviction to secure the seat at the table they've earned and create a welcoming workplace for everyone.

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Overview

Joan Kuhl helps women create a clear vision of what their career path deserves to be and make a convincing business case for equality to their managers and senior leadership. You'll learn strategies for overcoming sexist cultural attitudes about gender and leadership, as well as for dealing with self-limiting behaviors like Imposter's Syndrome (the feeling that you're never good enough despite a track record of success) and the Myth of Meritocracy (the idea that just doing good work is the only way to advance). Because relationships are absolutely crucial, Kuhl describes how to build support networks before you even need them and explains how to get actionable feedback that will help you get to the next level—the kind women rarely are afforded. 

Case studies, practical exercises, and inspiring stories from Kuhl's work with clients at companies such as Eli Lilly and Company, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Soccer, BlackRock, South Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association and top business schools make this a truly comprehensive guide. It's an indispensable resource for women seeking to build the confidence and conviction to secure the seat at the table they've earned and create a welcoming workplace for everyone.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Joan Kuhl
Joan Kuhl is the founder and president of Why Millennials Matter and The Kuhl Company. As a champion for girls and women in leadership, she serves on the Girls Inc. of NYC board and is a #SheBelieves Champion for U.S. Soccer. Her work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the New York Times, and more. Kuhl is a contributing writer for [email protected] She was a board member of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute in honor of its namesake, who was the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Excerpt

Dig Your Heels In

1

The Case for Digging Your Heels In (Everybody Wins)

Women are a force in today’s economy, both as employees and as consumers. Globally, we control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending.1 That figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years. Women make the decision in the purchase of 94 percent of home furnishings, 92 percent of vacations, 91 percent of homes, 60 percent of automobiles, and 51 percent of consumer electronics. Further, 94 percent of women are making health care decisions for themselves and others.2 Our consumer influence touches every industry, product, and service.

We need to take control and use our influence.

Millennial women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four are twice as likely to support brands that showcase female empowerment.3 Say these statistics out loud. Repeat them to a friend. Bring them up at work or in casual conversations. I have included a section at the back of the book summarizing The Business Case for Change.

Women have enormous influence and power as consumers, and we are a solid force of talent in today’s economy.

Despite these clear indicators of our influence, we are unable to bring our voices and unique perspectives to the fore-front of the companies developing products and services to meet the demands of our global economy. We are not sitting in the front seat with the power to drive the final decisions for consumers and our workforce. What’s the result? Nobody wins—not the individual woman struggling to make an impact in her workplace, not women in general, and most certainly not the economy.

The Case for Business

Women lag behind men in representation across all higher levels of leadership in almost every single industry. Although women held 51.5 percent of management, professional, and related positions, Fortune’s 2018 published list shows that there are only twenty-four women in Fortune 500 CEO roles.4 This figure represents a fall of 25 percent, dropping from thirty-two in 2017, the all-time high.5 Women are the chief executives of just 4.8 percent of the five hundred most profitable companies in the United States. Even more discouraging, according to Catalyst, women make up about 20 percent of S&P 500 board seats.6 There are twelve Fortune 500 companies with no women on their boards whatsoever.7

This lack of representation in the highest positions of leadership doesn’t make sense for us or for business. Research has shown that companies with three or more women on the board outperform companies with all-male boards by 60 percent on return on investment, 60 percent on return on equity, and 84 percent on return on sales.8 In other words, a move from no women board members to 30 percent representation was associated with a 15 percent jump in profit! Yet we are not being represented and engaged at the levels where key decisions are made, and our voices continue to be stifled.

McKinsey reports that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025.9 This is roughly the size of the combined economies of the US and China today. Gender equality, besides being the moral choice, is an economic imperative. Our pay, our voices, our positions, our access, and our influence should be equally valued and represented. Anything less is just bad business.

As the North America head of Diabetes and Cardiovascular for Sanofi, Michelle Carnahan leads all commercial operations for the business unit in the US and Canada, which comprises Sales, Marketing, Market Access, One Trade, Innovative Solutions, and Business Operations Support. Throughout her over twenty-five-year career, she has demonstrated her skills as a passionate, patient-centric leader who consistently holds herself and the organization to high-impact results and better experiences for patients. Here is what she says about the powerful business impact of putting women in charge.

I spent a lot of time talking about the urgency for getting more women in key roles and needing to include a woman’s perspective before it was fully accepted, before everyone was fully on board. As a leader in the health care industry, the power of the purse had a clear influence on our business. I did get a bit of a reputation and for a while it felt like, “Oh, there she goes again on that women thing.” But what you learn when you keep pushing your point on the importance of diversity, including gender diversity, and back your voice up with enough evidence and results, through great women getting great roles then delivering solid results, it builds credibility and belief within the organization. And it really is worth it because it starts to change things, so I encourage everyone to keep pushing.

The opportunity to be a very small part of adding to a more diverse workplace and seeing that shift in a company is really exciting and highly rewarding to leaders, employees, and the bottom line.

The Case for You

I see the personal case for digging your heels in from the perspective of risk and reward. From my experiences and listening to the stories of so many women who struggled with this decision, I have concluded that the long-term reward of staying and engaging often far outweighs the risk.

Looking at the short term, it’s easy to see how leaving your company for higher pay and a better title will boost your career. But what happens when you hit the wall at your new company, and, once again, you have to make the decision to dig your heels in or jump ship? How many times do you think you can go through this cycle before you burn out?

The fact is, every company has its own issues, and today almost none offer the equitable and inclusive environment women need to truly thrive. The only way for us to develop such an environment is for each of us to make the decision to create change where we are. Yes, it will be for the betterment of all women, but do you understand the magnitude of the rewards that are also in it for you?

When you decide to dig your heels in at your company, you’re coming at the problem with insider knowledge. You know the pain points . . . intimately. You know the politics, you know the players, and they know you. You are uniquely positioned to make the case for change and to win. You are uniquely positioned to create exactly the type of change you need in order to attain the career you desire. You’re not stepping into somebody else’s plan for change and riding her or his coat tails; you are the one blazing a trail that you know will work for you.

Meanwhile, at your new company, you will have to rebuild all of your institutional knowledge and status from scratch. Why not put your energy into reaping the rewards of all the time and work you’ve already invested at your current company?

Another huge consideration is what being a change maker—a trailblazer—can do for your career. What do you think it does for your resume to show that you cycled through five different companies in ten years, versus crafting the career you desire, perhaps from scratch, and creating real change at one company over a longer period of time? What if you were the one who led the change to create more flexible work options, promote and retain more senior female leaders, and transform your culture to be more inclusive? What would that do to your professional status? But, perhaps more important, how would that feel?

Tiffaine Stephens, a senior marketing associate, leveraged her personal passion and commitment to diversity and inclusion to dig her heels in at a low point in her early professional career. Doing so gave her the opportunity to increase her visibility and reputation and to create real change for herself and for her personal cause.

After my first official year at my company, I pursued an opportunity on a popular brand with a rock-star team. I seemed to have all of the right things in place: a solid resume, personal advocates, and genuine enthusiasm for my next role. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that there was a sneaky thing called politics getting ready to wiggle its way into my career.

Though the decision to hire someone else was made with genuine business intent, it affected Tiffaine’s engagement and where she saw herself in the company. She struggled to find a place in the organization where she could have the type of impact she was looking for. Her creativity suffered, and her overall mood at work transformed from enthusiasm to resentment.

I was only twenty-three, with only twelve to fifteen months of associate experience, so I stayed even though I felt stuck and voiceless. It didn’t help that I was a black woman in the middle of America during the prequel to November 2016. The experiences that I had outside of work were now a part of the Tiffaine I brought to work.

I started to feel myself constrained by a mask. Inside I was angry about my work situation and the injustice against the black community. Outside, I smiled sweetly, nodded in agreement, and stayed enclosed. What I didn’t realize then is that I was hiding the best parts of myself. The organization was not able to see what I was truly made of, and I was a part of the reason.

That is when diversity and inclusion (D&I) started to become a bigger focus and passion for me. I shared these thoughts with a senior leader, and he encouraged me to leverage an existing platform to reach other associates and create a space where we could contribute to D&I.

Working in collaboration with an advisory team and leadership, Tiffaine led an all-day forum for associates across the organization. The goal was for them to champion D&I within their teams. The event drew about a hundred associates and leaders across the organization, who worked to build solutions. Tiffaine wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without building relationships with people around the organization who may have had different perspectives around D&I.

This experience did two things for me: It forced me outside of my shell and mask. It forced me to be vulnerable, and in turn I was able to demonstrate the ability to make sizable impact in a short amount of time. And it showed the organization what I was made of. My equity positively increased, which led to more opportunities.

There is a great sense of accomplishment and community that comes with digging your heels in and creating a job, company, and industry where you and other women can bring your whole selves without compromising your life priorities. This journey will unleash a much bigger and better feeling than any one-time pay raise or promotion. The ability to transform your company and your personal opportunities is life changing . . . and world changing.

The Case for the World

Our stories and our visibility shape perceptions beyond those of men and women currently in the workforce; they have the power to influence our communities and our children. When your story is one of breaking down old structures and gender biases to create a more equitable playing field, you empower other women to do the same. What is more, you lift up the next generation of girls and women to achieve more under even better working conditions.

Did you know that gender stereotypes become rigidly defined in children as young as between five and seven years of age?10 So, even in this world where women are making every effort to lean into their careers, cheered on by mantras to be bossy and run the world, by the time women enter the professional workforce, they are carrying some hardwired biases and expectations that conflict with their ability to simply be ourselves.

In 2016, I co-led a global study for the Center for Talent Innovation focused on the motivators and career expectations of college-educated millennials who were currently employed in the workforce.11 One of the most startling findings was when millennial women were asked, “What would you do if you were offered a senior leadership role in your company tomorrow?” they were 55 percent more likely than millennial men to turn it down!

Why is that the case? Shouldn’t women feel empowered and leap toward leadership? Is this fear a result of a lack of guidance, role models, and knowledge to pioneer a demanding vision for enterprise-wide change that would allow them a fulfilling career and be their own authentic selves? Is it compounded with the overwhelming reality of imbalance in the second-shift responsibilities of child care, aging parents, and partner and personal health? If so, what can we do to change all of this? The answer is clear: Lead by example and dig your heels in.

What if kids’ play houses were redesigned as doctor’s and detective’s offices? What if every public and school library had sections dedicated to women? What if the walls of our pre-school and kindergarten classrooms were decorated with more pictures of female firefighters, female doctors, female adventurers, and female business leaders? What if you were one of those business leaders whose portrait was on the wall? What could this do for helping the next generation break through the biases that hold our generation back? We need to start in the playroom to get more women in the board room.

Colonel (retired) Diane Ryan is currently the associate dean for programs in administration at the Jonathan M. Tisch College for Civic Life at Tufts University. Prior to joining Tufts, Diane was an academy professor, director of the Eisenhower Leader Development Program with Columbia University, and deputy department head in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. During her twenty-nine-year career as a US Army officer Diane served in a variety of command and staff assignments both stateside and abroad. During her last combat assignment with the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, Iraq, she founded a US-Iraqi partnership for military women and worked with several NGOs on peace and security initiatives. More recently, she served as a strategy consultant to the commander of US Army Pacific designing leader development exchange programs for several key US partners. She earned a PhD in social and community psychology and has studied the impact of stereotypes on professional identity and organizational commitment. Diane was in elementary school during the height of the women’s movement in the 1970s. Here is what she has to say about the power of representation:

I remember in fourth grade writing for the school newspaper at my middle school and my very first published article was about the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Clearly I understood this was a problem at the time, even though I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how it might affect me personally. In a way, I was lucky. I grew up in a rural area and, just to note, in my high school class, the women were the really high performers. All of the class officers were women as well as the valedictorians, National Merit winners, etc. I was oblivious to the fact that girls were “less than” at that time and consider myself fortunate to be somewhat sheltered during these formative years. My earliest ambition was to be a doctor and I can’t remember anyone ever telling me that I could not be. A lot of that had to do with the role models around me. Both my parents worked and I was a latchkey kid from third grade on. My dad got home first and put dinner on the table every night which was quite unusual for the times but definitely created expectations for me about equal partnerships. My pediatrician was a woman named Ruth Pagano and had a huge influence on my career goals. From the age of four years old I had these women in my life who worked and made it work. In the case of my doctor, I saw myself in somebody who I aspired to be like.

Another reason why digging your heels in benefits women is the correlated effect that occurs when we increase female percentages in the executive echelons. The research shows that more women at the top strengthens the effort to attract and hire talented women at the middle and bottom of the organization as well. This means that when you dig your heels in, you’re not only making it easier for the next women CEOs but also making the business world more hospitable to women at all levels—from the mailroom to the boardroom. Even if that woman in the mailroom has no desire to move up the corporate ladder and stays in the same position for the next twenty years, your creating change in the company will make her life easier and more fulfilling. Now how rewarding is that?

Your Unique Battle—and Opportunity

Women see the world differently, and it’s an extraordinary perspective we should share with the world. We should be able to channel our direct and indirect experiences into the creative, operational, and analytical processes within our companies. Beginning with our own ideas as examples, we can drive the case for enterprise-wide standards for diverse, inclusive, “gender-smart,” and “generation-smart” leadership and create a better world for ourselves, for business, and for women everywhere.

Digging your heels in is not an easy task, and I get that it doesn’t feel fair that you have to. Women didn’t create the problem of gender bias and inequality, so why should we be the ones tasked with fixing it? Simply put, it’s because it will never happen otherwise.

Digging your heels in may be an uphill battle, but it is your unique crusade—and your distinct opportunity to transform from being the victim to being the solution, to make your mark, to change your company, and to change the world.

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