Two weeks ago I found myself standing at the Cobb Galleria alongside 14 women at the Northwest Georgia YWCA’s Tribute to Women. This annual event honors women who have made extraordinary contributions to family, community, charity and their professions. I felt incredibly honored and humbled to be recognized among Georgia’s most outstanding female leaders. But it also got me thinking: How did I get here?
The role of women as leaders in the workplace has become a hot topic recently. Just look at all the attention being paid to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” I admire Sandberg and the incredibly successful career she’s built. But I know how difficult it can be for women to navigate a business world that is still dominated – for the most part – by men.
I would never have been recognized as an honoree that night without the professional (and sometimes personal) guidance and support provided by female mentors throughout my career. These incredible women helped guide me during critical periods of my career. Ellen Lindeman, a past YWCA honoree and retired head of HR at the Southern Company, helped me hone my strategic thinking and goal setting. Vera Arthur, Senior Vice President of HR for SWM International, mentored me as part of a Pathbuilders program (great resource for developing women), providing direction during my transition from manager to executive at Gas South. Sometimes their advice addressed issues particular to women. At other times, gender was irrelevant. Looking back, it was all invaluable.
I’m fortunate now to work at Gas South, where women are well-represented at all levels – even in the executive suite three of the company’s six senior leaders are women (including me!). We foster a progressive, results-focused work place, leaving no room for any cultural baggage surrounding gender.
At this point in my career, I have transitioned from mentee to mentor, offering my counsel to young professional women as they seek to climb the ranks. Here are some of the tips that I often pass on:
Tip #1: Always dress at least one notch more formal than is required, whether in the office, at a business lunch or charity gala in order to be taken seriously.
Tip #2: Be conscious about apologizing too often. Women tend to say “sorry” too often for things that don’t really warrant an apology.
Tip #3: If you don’t make an issue that you are a woman, it reduces the chance others will.
Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor. Most people are flattered and will eagerly accept. Make sure to identify a skill set you need to work on and approach a person who is influential in your line of work.
At this stage of the game, I am passionate about the importance of giving back to other women. I encourage all, both men and women, to seek out opportunities to mentor others who are earlier on in their careers.