Why women need to toot each others’ horns

10 February 2016

The following speech was delivered by YWCA Canberra Leadership Programs Manager, Clare Conroy, at the She Leads Diploma (April 2015 intake) graduation event.

SL Diploma class_Cropped

I’d first like to take a moment to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we’re celebrating on today, and to recognise the contribution that Indigenous people, and in particular, Indigenous women, have made, and continue to make to the Canberra region.

At YWCA Canberra we know that developing women’s leadership capacity is fundamental to addressing the under-representation of women in decision-making and formal leadership roles and to advancing gender equality. The She Leads Program, of which the Diploma is our flagship initiative, has been specifically designed to support women to reflect on and develop their potential as a leader. Over the last 7 or 8 months that I’ve been lucky enough to work with these students, I’ve been delighted to see how confidence has grown, networks have developed, strengths have been revealed and self-reflection has deepened. It’s been an absolute please to get to know you all and to support you through the completion of this course, which hopefully has led and will continue to lead to further opportunities at home, work and in the community that engage and challenge you.

Victoria and I commented to each other on several occasions that we are so grateful that we get to spend days with a group of interesting, kind, smart women to learn and share and reflect. I thank you all for the generous, supportive way in which you’ve contributed to the class. I’ve learned so much from you.

I think it’s probably obvious, but you’re never ‘done’ with leadership development and this is something that has really been reinforced by our wonderful panelists throughout the course who have all demonstrated a commitment to ongoing self-improvement. While this program has helped to fill you ‘toolkit’ with a range of strategies, skills and resources that you can apply now and into the future, it couldn’t possibly provide you with everything you need to know about management and leadership. Rather, I hope that through this course you’ve learned about the importance of taking time for self-reflection, about the value of having peers to share with and support you, and why investing in yourself in an ongoing, deliberate way makes you happier, healthier and more effective at home and at work.

Now I know that most of you were feeling very glad to reach the end of all of the Diploma assessments, but as this is the last time we’ll formally be gathered together, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to set one final assignment!

As we’ve discussed previously in class, women in leadership face a trade-off between competence and likability. Highly competent successful women are seen as less likable, and very likable women as less competent. Some of you may have read Shery Sandberg’s Lean In and this is one brief story that I highlighted and wanted to share… “In October 2011, Jocelyn Goldfein, one of the engineering directors at Facebook, held a meeting with our female engineers where she encouraged them to share the progress they had made on the products they were building. Silence. No one wanted to toot her own horn. Who would want to speak up when self-promoting women are disliked? Jocelyn switched her approach. Instead of asking the women to talk about themselves, she asked them to tell one another’s stories. The exercise became communal, which put everyone at ease.”

So, the assignment I’m going to set for you is to find at least one opportunity each week to toot the horn of women in your workplace, community or friendship group.

I think a wonderful example of this comes from Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales. After Annabel’s book, The Wife Drought, was published, Leigh tooted Annabel’s horn by personally purchasing 100 copies and sending them to business leaders all across the country with a personal note encouraging them to read it.

Ian Narev, CEO of Commonwealth Bank was one of the recipients of Leigh’s mail out and he told a Male Champions of Change event last year what happened when he picked it up one Friday night. He said:
“… after 15 minutes I was in the first conversation with my wife, an extraordinary woman who worked for 15 years, became a senior partner in a law firm, then made the choice to step out of the workforce for a while to raise our children. And we started having a great conversation.

Then I went further through the book and we invited Annabel to come to a small dinner of women and men who had recently had children. And as a result of that dinner one of the women wrote to me the next day and said “I went home and that night my husband agreed he would go and ask his work to do a nine day fortnight and the next day they agreed”. And what Annabel’s book did is teach us why actually we should believe this.”

Now, you may not have personal connections to CEOs of ASX200 companies, but highlighting the achievements of other women can set in train a series of events that, while they may seem small or be unforeseen to you, actually have a positive impact on other people’s lives. And that’s what being a leader is all about.

Congratulations to you all, and please stay in touch.


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