The women who entered business and law two and three decades ago were the groundbreakers setting a stage for women in the workplace today. At the time, there were no rules for how to succeed--or even a definition of what success for a woman meant--because it had never been done before.
"We knew we had to be twice as good, twice as reliable, and twice as tough-minded as the bright young men who surrounded us, and we worked like horses to prove our worth," says Ellen Kaden, senior vice president, law and government affairs at Campbell Soup. "But few of us had any idea of what success might look like, or feel like, for people like us."
Kaden, along with like-minded women of her generation, had to create their own rules for success.
At the Aiming High luncheon hosted by Legal Momentum, a group that seeks to advance women's equality, Kaden, along with three other honorees, shared their views on what helped them become successful executives.
Besides Kaden, they include Bridget Healy, executive vice president and chief legal officer of ING, the insurance and online banking company; Deborah McWhinney, president of Citi Personal Banking and Wealth Management at Citigroup; and Vicki O'Meara, executive vice president and chief legal and compliance officer at Pitney Bowes, the software, hardware and services provider.
While they all came from very different backgrounds and work in unrelated fields, their rules for success are surprisingly similar. Here's what they had to say:
Recognize Your Opportunities
"I grew up in the Middle East, largely in Egypt, at a time and place that carefully circumscribed the behaviors, opportunities and rights of girls and women. During those years, I attended either local or missionary schools, keenly aware that by accident of birth and a U.S. passport, I would have choices and opportunities not available to most of my classmates. --Bridget Healy
Draw on Strengths Gleaned from Parents
My dad was deputy chief of police and chief of detectives in Minneapolis. He was my first and best role model of an innovative change agent leader. My mom, an architect and champion dog trainer, inspired me with the strongest work ethic I have ever seen. Decades before 'Take Your Daughter to Work Day,' my Dad would bring me to the Minneapolis Courthouse, let me watch trials in progress and tell me that I could be a lawyer someday. My dad gave me wings and my mom that vital air traffic control system. --Vicki O'Meara
Don't Over-Plan Your Career
A great many women of my generation will tell you that the most important steps in their careers were opportunities that came their way entirely by surprise and took them in completely unforeseen directions. That was certainly true in my case. I hope younger women leave some space on the road map for the unmarked turn that appears out of nowhere but just feels like it might be interesting or worthwhile because it really might be. --Ellen Kaden
Learn From Personal Struggles to Take Everything in Stride
Four years ago I was in a battle with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer can be tough, but I learned from it to approach difficulties with a "this too shall pass" mindset. --Deborah McWhinney
Find Your Own Leadership Style
It's a very good thing that the world is moving beyond the previous short list of [leadership] choices for women--which were either field mouse or fire-spewing dragon. But I worry that too many young women are twisting themselves into pretzels to demonstrate that they fit the new bill of particulars. I urge each young woman to find her own leadership voice. Trust the person you are and remember that the things that are fundamental to your identity are what drive you. I'd wager than when (my work colleagues) talk with each other about my leadership style, the Earth Mother profile that is now so much in vogue is not the image that immediately comes to mind. --Ellen Kaden
Don't Let Naysayers Stop You From Doing What You Want
When the financial crisis hit, I was living in Montana where I grew up, after having left my prior job at Charles Schwab. My friends said "Aren't you glad you aren't in financial services anymore?" when Lehman Bros. collapsed. But I thought "I worked in that industry for 30 years and I want to be part of fixing it." --Deborah McWhinney
A Loving Husband, Children and Friends Can Help You Bolster Your Career, Not Detract From It
My husband and our four children keep me grounded and make me laugh. --Bridget Healy