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Call To Leadership: Advice From Women Leaders

Call to Leadership: Advice from Women Leaders

In June of 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation that would allow women the right to vote the following year.  It was only fitting that we celebrated that vital milestone with a celebration on Women’s Equality Day!

On August 26, we were honored to be joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, for a Fireside Chat and an amazing panel of women leaders from both the private and public sectors – each blazing trails for others to follow.

To conclude our festivities, we invited the speakers to share one last piece of advice for the next generation of women leaders. Here’s what they said…

April Arnzen, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Micron

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

As I look at my 12-year-old daughter, I can’t begin to imagine the challenges she will face. But she will be challenged. My advice to her and all other women is to turn challenges into fuel – fuel for your passion to succeed. Don’t be afraid of these challenges, embrace them. Be bold. Take risks. Expect to fail and expect to become better because of your failure. That’s how we all grow as individuals. Collectively we become stronger, increasingly our voices are heard and together we create a greater impact with each generation.

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? (other than a relative)

Although not all of the amazing women out there choose or are able to pursue the path of motherhood, I am inspired by the many who do. The obligation a mother feels at work and at home is indescribable. There is no work-life balance, and yet we tirelessly strive to achieve it. How we measure our success (or failure) at work and at home needs to change. My son’s cross-country (long-distance running) team motto is “finish on empty.” If we give it all we’ve got – at work and at home – we WILL have the impact we desire. We WILL have success in work and in life. And we should not apologize when we don’t have balance.

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

One leadership lesson that I think is often forgotten is kindness. Leaders lead people. Some days your people will have tremendous success and other days they will have epic failures. In all cases, they want to feel supported. I believe kindness is the pathway to create a deeper connection with people, to show your support. I was reminded of this by none other than former First Lady Michelle Obama herself. I had the incredible opportunity to host a veteran’s event with her as the keynote speaker. It would have been easy to get caught up in the flurry of activity that day – the security protocols, the media and the guests we were hosting – but after Michelle arrived, she quickly pulled me aside for a brief conversation. What might surprise you (or perhaps not if you have met her!) is that our entire conversation had nothing to do with event. She wanted to get to know me, as a person. I was touched by her kindness. In today’s connected world, people have never been so disconnected. Like Michelle Obama, we should all lead with kindness.

Ruth Cotter, Sr. Vice President, Worldwide Marketing, Human Resources, Investor Relations, AMD

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

Embrace every opportunity to learn something new! Don’t hesitate.  Push yourself to volunteer for opportunities that may be out of your comfort zone. A whole new adventure and journey awaits when we step up and raise our hand. So many of us wait for the right time to take on a project or to provide the perfect solution. But what are the odds of that right moment happening? Stretching our capabilities are fundamental to life learning and growth. Go for it!

In addition to pushing yourself to try new things, make time to reflect on lessons learned around past projects. Stepping back, reflecting on what worked and having the curiosity and interest to think of how it could have gone better will stay with you throughout your career and differentiate you from others.  Redirect your time sitting in traffic, or looking out an airplane window and…..reflect.

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? (other than a relative)

Every day, I am fortunate to be surrounded by strong female role models, which includes AMD’s President and CEO Lisa Su.  Lisa was named one of “The World’s Best CEOs of 2019” by Barron’s. She is credited with the technological, business and cultural turnaround of AMD all while being an inspiring leader. She works to create an environment of opportunity for all genders – to be ambitious, take risks, learn from mistakes, and really differentiate themselves. That’s the culture we are building at AMD…where the very best ideas are brought to the forefront no matter who you are. Lisa challenges and inspires me and our AMDers to foster a collaborative culture in the tech industry that encourages an inclusive, empowered and motivated workforce to bring their multi-voice experiences to the table each day.

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Each of us has the power to be a “MAC” – to be a Mentor, an Advocate, a Coach.  It doesn’t matter where you are professionally in your life, we all have so much to give.  Whether you are an experienced leader able to coach someone early in their career or you are a new graduate able to reverse mentor an experienced leader, let’s take the opportunity to raise each other up.

Lisa Ferrigno, Vice President of Internal Audit, Chief Audit Executive, Netgear

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

To the next generation of women leaders, take risks and make mistakes!  Do not worry if you have not mastered every line item on a job description!  Accept the job and take the promotion!  Be confident!

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? 

It is too difficult to name only one woman who has inspired me.  The many women who have inspired me in my life are those who are visionaries that advance and create pathways for women to succeed by including both men and women in the process!

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Be a lifelong learner!  Your team is valuable!  Every person regardless of their level or years of experience should know how they add value to your organization!  You can learn from all levels of a diverse organization!

Jennifer Friel Goldstein, Head of Business Development, Technology and Healthcare, Silicon Valley Bank

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

This may sound cheesy, but it’s so important to BE YOU. It wasn’t that long ago that early career advice I received was “Wear a black skirt suit, pearls, and act the way people expect” to give yourself the best chance at being accepted into the boys’ club. Thank goodness we are no longer giving this advice! Being a woman means you bring unique experiences, perspectives and networks. Let it shine and be valued.

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? (other than a relative)

There are many, but I’d definitely put RBG on the list. She refused to let people put her in a box, and we are all so much better off because of the battles she took on. Also, for those with children (or even those without!) I love the Rebel Girls books and podcast series. These short stories celebrate amazing women from all walks of life and sharing these heroes with my children has been an incredibly powerful opportunity to shape their world view.

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Don’t hesitate to push people outside their comfort zone. To really help others develop, you sometimes need to nudge (or forcefully shove) people to take risks. The best way to do this is to let them know you have their backs, that you’ll do all you can to help them prepare, and that even if the experience goes horribly wrong, everyone learns and gets better. To watch others face opportunities that scare them, and have the courage to go ahead anyway, is just about the most rewarding part of leading others. And by the way, I need these shoves and encouragement too! When others see something more in us that we don’t always see in ourselves, we have the exceptional opportunity to test our personal boundaries. But, we need to be willing to leave the comfort of what’s known and be open to taking risks.

Hannah Gordon, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel, San Francisco 49ers

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

Be curious. Entering every situation with an open mind and desire to learn will serve you at every stage of your life and in every field.

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? (other than a relative)

Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in federal office as the first female Congressional representative. I am inspired both by Rankin and by American men and women that Rankin was elected in 1916, before the passage of the 19th Amendment. Rankin got things done: she helped gain women the right to vote in Washington in 1910 and, in 1914, in her home state of Montana that she would go on to represent. She inspires me with her words, “I may be the first, but I won’t be the last.” Rankin opened the door for others.

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Autopsy every project you work on. Take the time and be honest about what went well, what didn’t, and most importantly, why. You and your work will grow faster.

Loni Mahanta, Vice President for Public Policy Development, Lyft

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer to the next generation is to be willing to take risks. I’m a lawyer by training, and risk averse by nature. My lawfirm career was middling at best. But when I took the leap to try something new, and go in-house at a tech company, the entire trajectory of my career changed. Today, I still need to actively push myself to go beyond what I already know how to do. I remind myself that unless I have failed, I won’t know how far I could have gone. This advice is something I share with my 7 year old daughter as well. Don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Raise your hand, volunteer, try new things, and don’t be afraid to take risks.

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? (other than a relative)

Kristin Sverchek, Lyft’s general counsel, consistently inspires me. We are peers – we were in the same class in law school – but what she has accomplished never ceases to amaze me. She took Lyft from a team of one to a team of 125 in under 7 years, handling some of the most challenging issues the company faces. She leads that team with grace and a strong hand, creating one of the most stable departments in our hypergrowth company. I’m consistently inspired by her strength of conviction, her innate understanding of when to gently guide Lyft’s founders and when to draw a hard line, and by her composure in stressful situations. And I’m grateful for her day to day demonstration that it is possible to be a wonderful and involved mother in a high profile position at Lyft.

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

I once asked a mentor what makes a great leader. He, of course, said there is no single thing, but that I should be aware of actions I see in others that I seek to emulate and those I seek to avoid. Two things immediately jumped out at me. First, I cannot stand leaders who step into new situations, and start with answers before asking any questions. Conversely, the best leaders I’ve seen observe, ask questions, and listen before deciding. Second, strong leaders have the trust of those above them and below them. That balance can be hard. We’ve all seen leaders who manage up really well, and are terrible to the people below them. Rather, the best leaders I have seen give direct feedback, even when conveying something hard to hear, and make hard calls. These leaders are also supportive, empathetic, admit when they are wrong and actively work on developing those under them.

Dr. Megan McArthur, Astronaut, NASA

Question #1: What advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?

Find a trusted mentor who will give you constructive feedback, and be that trusted mentor for others. Receiving and giving difficult feedback are critical to improving your skills and those of your team.

Question #2: What woman inspires you and why? (other than a relative)

My colleague and friend Holly Ridings, NASA’s Chief Flight Director. Her tremendous technical knowledge and calm assurance under pressure are quintessential Flight Director. Her ability to really listen to people, and work toward common ground even when their views seem diametrically opposed, creates trust and builds relationships across communities.

Question #3: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Give the credit to your team. I didn’t get to space on my own – a cast of thousands working on the ground were needed to make it happen. It’s important that they know I know it!

August 27, 2019

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