The path to being a #BOSSLADY
As a budding doctoral student, I was told to pick a topic which I was interested in and had a passion for because I would be living with that topic for the duration of my degree. It took me a good year to narrow down what I had an interest in, but finally it emerged – Mentorship! I was inordinately pleased with myself. Then my committee chair burst my thesis bubble by informing me that my topic was too broad. Bummer! So eventually I would narrow down the topic and my eventual doctoral thesis would be entitled: The Impact of Race and Gender on the Mentor Protégé relationship as it pertains to the leadership attainment of African-American Women. That sounds awfully impressive, right? Actually boiled down it was about how Black/African-American women got into leadership roles. Did mentorship play a role? And if it did, did the race and gender have any influence?
Those 3 years I spent living with this topic took me on a journey that I’m still travelling today. I was convinced that my personal experience was true for everyone. That because I’d been mentored by white men, that had something to do with my rise into education leadership. It was my research that led me to an even deeper love of empirical data backed up by research and logic. My gut instinct was wrong. My research indicated that it was (a) the field I was in and (b) my degree which had propelled me into leadership, not who managed or guided me through the process. That was a watershed moment for me, leading me to realize that there was, in fact, a very systematic way that women could get into leadership. And while I am a minority female, and my research was restricted to this narrow view; in my professional life, I could see how this could become a tool for helping women to empower themselves into leadership.
There are a number of articles and books which have been written on this topic and each woman who writes has a unique experience which she shares with other women so that they too can create their own leadership and empowerment reality. For years, empowerment was a term used in relation to women who simply wished to climb the Corporate ladder. I prefer a more inclusive term to mean that women should empower themselves to achieve whatever outcome and desire they wish regardless of societal pressures for them to bend to the norms. Some women wish to be the CEO of their home, others to be entrepreneurs/business owners, while others wish to make an impact in the Corporate or Not for Profit world. All desires and outcomes are valid; and it’s up to each woman to determine how she will consume this information and then create her own blueprint for success.
Below are some things that work across the board and then some can be customized for individual application.
1. Educate yourself. We live in a rapidly changing and evolving world. Keeping oneself informed and educated is the key to making good decisions, both personally and professionally. Education can be formal in going to school to learn specific skills as well as reading magazines, periodicals and websites. There are also a plethora of free trainings online that can be very beneficial to the end user.
2. Create a blueprint. We tell High school students and college students to have a plan. Today’s Gen Z students have elaborate plans and notes for all the things they need to do to get into college. But you need to have an idea of where you want to get to. Then some general steps to getting there. BE flexible because life will throw some curveballs and you’ll need to fold those into your experiences. Just always remember that everything that you encounter is an experience. Your goal? To figure out the lesson in the experience. It will eventually become part of the tapestry of who you are.
3. Network. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. The old adage of “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know” is very accurate. Networking allows Moms to build a network of support as they manage a household; it allows female business owners to build a stronger and wider client base; and, it allows current members of the workforce to help grown their company influence and profit through their interactions with others. There are entire networking apps that you can download to keep up to date on meetings, happenings and meetups in the local community.
4. Find a mentor. This was the entire crux of my thesis - Did mentoring help? The resounding answer is YES, it does! Some organizations have formal mentoring programs and those are excellent, provided that you are matched with someone who is (a) a good mentor (b) knows the goals you wish to achieve and, (c) has the ability, power and influence to help you to get to your goals. You should also know if the organizational mentorship program is meant to acclimate you to organizational culture vs grow you as a professional, because those are vastly different roles.
5. Hang with your Squad. #Squadgoals is a thing and it needs to be recognized, both socially and professionally. Keeping your relationships with friends and family is critical. These are the day to day experiences that help to center us and ensure that we keep our priorities straight. These relationships keep you constantly demonstrating the mantra of #womensupportingwomen which will be invaluable in your growth – both vertical and horizontal.
6. Pay it forward. Karma is real. You want to make sure you only see the positive side of that capricious element. So if you can help someone, do so. Regardless of whether or not, there’s a benefit to you. If it helps someone else on their journey, then it’s a valuable to thing to do. Remember that you are standing on the shoulders of those who came before you so you have an obligation to share, teach, enrich and empower. Always look behind you to see whom you can bring along on the journey of growth.