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Lisa Lutoff-Perlo Leads 7 Seas With Innovation & Soft Touch

She’s as comfortable navigating Twitter as she is interacting with guests from all over the world on one of her luxury ships. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, is the kind of inclusive, forward-thinking leader needed for the 21st century.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

We met on Twitter, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo and I. A fact that speaks volumes about today’s most effective leaders and their need to stay connected. Very naturally, our conversation about female leadership moved off line. Lisa had hired the first American woman Captain of a mega ship, Kate McCue, and we wanted to interview her, which we did.

But hiring Captain Kate was just one more way in which Lisa Lutoff-Perlo showed her role as an innovator and disruptor in the industry. At work, she’s always challenging assumptions, looking for more creative ways to open up the world through travel, to help bridge the many divides we are facing as people.

That powerful drive to break the rules of her field was behind the development and launch of next-generation cruise ships that Lisa led twice. Most recently, the just revealed Edge-Class, a completely new type of cruise ship experience.

Outside of work Lisa is constantly inspiring girls and women to dream differently. As she shares her own story of self-limiting dreams, you’ll see why she’s adamant about passing on the learnings. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, a true role model for the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo talks about her job

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises, is an innovative leaders who is constantly reinventing her industry.

What is the hardest part of your job and why?  

I have the best job in the world, so it is hard for me to say there is a hardest part. I think, though, it is fair to say that there are things about any job that make it particularly difficult. For me, the hardest part of my job are the things I can’t control. Geo-political events that disrupt people’s desire to vacation in the amazing parts of the world we visit and issues that can arise when something mechanical happens to one of our ships. After all, they are vessels that, like our automobiles and despite the best maintenance in the world, can have something happen. Given that I am also the head of our entire corporate Global Marine Organization as well as President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, I do have to ensure that our $45B of assets are running smoothly, safely and efficiently. I count myself very fortunate that I work with an amazing team of professionals who make the hardest parts of my job as easy as possible.

What aspects of the job of a CEO did you not expect as you were advancing in your career?

I didn’t expect to feel the overwhelming outpouring of support that I received when I was appointed to this position – both internally and externally. Nor did I expect to feel the immense gratitude each day for the people around me, who support the vision that we share for our guests, our crew and our brand. We live every day to open the world for those who want to join us as we explore each of the seven continents in modern luxury. We open the world so that people can experience different cultures and places. We also live every day to break down barriers that divide us. When I am on our ships and either meet our guests or watch our crew from over 60 countries taking care of each other and our guests I am filled with an unspeakable pride and grateful to know that I have the ability to create experiences that truly change people’s lives. I had not anticipated the magnitude of that. The other thing I did not expect is the opportunity and platform I have as a woman in this role to “pay it forward” and give back. That is another thing I wake up every day determined to do as I take that responsibility very seriously.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo with Captain Kate McCue and the crew take a selfie

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo with Captain Kate McCue and the crew take a selfie

What Was Lisa Lutoff-Perlo Major Career Mistake?

Tell us about one major screw up in your career and what you learned from it?     

My one major screw up in my career was in limiting my aspirations. See, my professional goal was always to be the head of sales. It’s what I dreamed of and I campaigned for each day. Then my world and dreams came crashing down when the SVP of Sales & Marketing at the time decided to move me into a marketing role. I was absolutely devastated and he knew it. I felt crushed. That I would never achieve my dream of being head of sales. But he also knew what I didn’t know. That it would be one of the best career moves of my life. He saw more in me than I saw in myself. And that’s something very hard to accept at the time when it’s happening. That perhaps this other person sees more potential in you than you see in yourself or that they can see your career trajectory much farther out than you can imagine. The rest is history as I moved from one position to another and finally as the President & CEO of Celebrity. I learned that you have to go where your career takes you, be flexible, be open for change, and never ever limit what you think you can achieve. All of the experience and knowledge I gained along the way gave me the foundation I needed for my current role and has made me a better CEO.

Lisa Lutoff Perlo inspirational quote RSM Hall of Fame

Lisa Lutoff Perlo inspirational quote RSM Hall of Fame

What is the best way to engage the executive men in an organization to support their female colleagues’ growth opportunities?

I happen to work in an organization that values diversity of all kinds. Being the only woman on the Executive Committee gives me a unique opportunity to ensure that we are always thinking about and promoting diversity. I have always said that having a woman at the table enriches and changes the conversation in a way that is powerful. I am fortunate that my male colleagues agree. And I have a VP of Marine Operations who has increased the percentage of women on our nautical team from 5% 18 months ago to almost 20% today. I am fortunate to work with people who share a common vision. And you need to hire for that.

Launching a new ship class- Lisa Lutoff-Perlo does it again!

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo led the development of the Edge Class, a ship that completely changes de travel experience.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo led the development of the Edge Class, a ship that completely changes de travel experience.

Ten years ago you launched the Solstice Class. This March you launched the Edge Class. What does it take to bring a project like that to fruition?

Launching ANYTHING new has its own unique challenges. For the Edge launch, I had a few key objectives. This new Class of ships had to transform Celebrity and the industry. And it had to transform the financial performance of my Brand. All of the feedback and booking activity has validated that mission was accomplished. From the design to the engineering and technology, we threw away the rulebook and took away every barrier for the sake of creating the most refined ship ever built. It took vision, determination, resilience and a village of outstanding people on my team and across our organization to make Edge happen. And a Chairman (my boss) who supported us every step of the way. We did it, I can’t wait for guests to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and I can’t tell you how.

Follow Lisa Lutoff-Perlo on Twitter.

 

In Historically Male Occupation, Ilya Marotta Leads Panama Canal Expansion

Her pink safety helmet and vest have become iconic in a a historically male occupation. Ilya Espino de Marotta is the Panamanian engineer who led the execution of the Panama Canal Expansion Program. Get inspired!

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

The new Panama Canal was inaugurated June 2016. An engineering feat that enables cargo ships with a capacity of more than double the current one, to pass between the Atlantic and the Pacific, which substantially reduces transportation costs of goods. Today we spoke with the leader of the project. An interview that will change your perspective on what you can or cannot achieve even when you enter a historically male occupation or field. This is why Ilya Marotta is in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

The first Step towards a traditionally male career

RSM Hall of Fame 2017 honoree: Ilya Marotta, Executive Vice President, Panama Canal Authority

RSM Hall of Fame 2017 honoree: Ilya Marotta, Executive Vice President, Panama Canal Authority

What awoke in you an interest for engineering? How did you start your career?

I had won a Fulbright scholarship to study marine biology in the U.S. The ocean is a passion of mine. I loved to scuba dive and I loved Jacques Cousteau. A year and a half after returning to Panama, when I saw the work opportunities in Marine Biology weren’t the best, I decided to change careers. I gave up the scholarship because it was for that specialty at a specific university. So, I started to look for schools in the U.S. that had careers that would have something to do with the ocean and ships.. I was always very good at math and physics and I chose Marine Engineering because I was going to work with ships. My father told me he would only pay for four years of college and I wouldn’t have the three summers required for the sail practice. I chose a school that wouldn’t require me to sail in order to get my degree. So that’s how I applied and got accepted to Texas A&M University, which would give me the Marine Biology degree without the sailing requirement. So, I ended up studying Marine Engineering not because it was my passion but because it was close to the ocean. Once I graduated and came to Panama and started to work on the Repairing Dock of the Floating Equipment of the Panama Canal, however I fell in love with my career. It was very gratifying to design something in the office, go to the workshops where they built it, and then seeing the ship in operation with design I had made.

We could say then that you came into this career path from the sideways and you found the pleasure in it along the way.

Of course! 30 years ago we had a different mindset. Today we value choosing something that you are passionate about and that you enjoy doing. But at that time it was more like: “You have to get a job”. It was a more traditional system. So I started with what inspired me (Marine Biology), and I changed to a more practical career (Marine Engineering.)

And did you have the support of your parents, especially your father, to pursue what at that time (even more than today) was seen as a historically male occupation?

Yes, 100%. Both parents supported my choice at all times.

In a historically male occupation, Ilya Marotta inspires women in the workplace

In a historically male occupation, Ilya Marotta inspires women in the workplace

The role of sponsors in a historically male occupation

As you progressed in your career, what do you think was the role played by sponsors? Do you think they are an important factor to reach the highest levels in a male dominated profession?

It’s what paves the way, especially in a profession where there are no women. If I had not had the support of my various bosses at different stages, I would not have been able to get to where I am. The way I won the support of these sponsors is with dedication, work, ethics and transparency. Once your boss sees your professional skills, it opens opportunities.

All the people who have given me opportunities for promotion have been men. So sponsors are definitely needed, but their support is earned by the work one does.

Leading the Panama Canal Expansion, Ilya Marotta broke gender barriers in historically male occupation

Leading the Panama Canal Expansion, Ilya Marotta broke gender barriers in historically male occupation

Overcoming obstacles

What were the most important obstacles you had to overcome in your career?

I remember that when I was in the repair dam, a professional diver position for the Canal opened. I was a professional diver. I had done outside diving jobs, and I applied for the job but they did not fill it. Officially they told me that they were not going to fill the post at that time, but I knew they did not want to pick me because I was a woman. But you overcome those obstacles and learn from them. It has happened to me in other positions where I wasn’t chosen because of company politics. You have to make yourself known, because otherwise you do not move. In order to get to my current position I had to have the support of my direct boss, and my boss’ boss, because it was a position ratified by the board. One of the administrators at the time was very candid and told me that these positions are not reached by merit and professional ability. You also have to do a little lobbying. I was fortunate that my boss did the lobbying for me.

Ilya Marotta inspires you to take on challenges to prove yourself

Ilya Marotta inspires you to take on challenges to prove yourself

Advantages of women in a traditionally male profession

The expansion of the Panama Canal must have been one of the biggest challenges an engineer can face. In a male-dominated profession what do you think was your advantage as a woman to carry it out successfully?

You have to have a lot of emotional intelligence. You can’t take things personally. It is a big project, and you have to deal with many people, many contractors, and in this type of projects problems always come up. Things are not easy and simple. So when something happens, you have to look at it from both points of view: Your own and the contractor’s. I think I had the ability not to take things personally. To think that they are just situations and everyone is defending their own interests. Throughout this process of many years that we have been at work on this project, I had the ability to negotiate and be conciliatory.

In a male dominated occupation, Ilya Espino de Marotta has shattered the glass ceiling

In a male dominated occupation, Ilya Espino de Marotta has shattered the glass ceiling

What do you think is the impact of resilience, a trait that is abundant in Latin American people and particularly in women?

It is extremely important because you cannot let failures or errors discourage you. You have to always go forward, have the ability to overcome obstacles. What I always tell people is that they shouldn’t do something to prove anything to anyone. Do it because it is what you want and because you want to prove yourself that you can do it. I did not choose this career to show anyone that women can do it. I chose this career because it was something that caught my attention and I wanted to climb its ranks because I like it.

I have seen some photos in which you wear a pink helmet and vest, which highlights what is evident: that you are woman in a male occupation. What has been the effect?

It has been fantastic! Although in the beginning I did it to prove to myself that I could reach this position. In Panama women in traditionally male professions have proliferated but reaching a high rank in a male dominated career is very hard. So when I was in NY, at one of my son’s medical checkups, I told my husband, “I feel like I should buy myself a pink helmet to show that a woman can get to this position.” I saw it in a catalog and I ordered it. Now it has become an icon and fills me with pride for what that helmet represents for many other women. I get messages from women who tell me that they have sent the photo to their 9-year-old daughters saying, “Look at how women can reach leadership positions.” It was not planned, but the result has been nice. It sets you high standards, because now people expect more from me. I have to show that it’s doable, no longer just for me, but for those who see me as hope for themselves, as an example.

Ilya Marotta supports #RedShoeTuesday

Ilya Marotta supports #RedShoeTuesday

Advice for young people and women interested in entering a historically male occupation

What advice would you give to a young woman today who is deciding on her choice of career or study?

Definitely do something that you are passionate about. I had the blessing that although Marine Engineering was not my first love, over time I found in my profession something that fulfills me and I am passionate about. When you do something that you like, it brings out the best in you. Also, do not be afraid of challenges or changes. Whenever you get a chance, never think that you cannot do it. When I applied to different positions, maybe I did not know everything that they asked for, but I knew I could learn it. Finally, be a transparent person, treat everyone equally, be the same person in all environments where you work.

Any particular advice for those women who are thinking of entering historically male dominated fields?

Don’t take offense at everything in a world of men because they have their way of managing themselves and of being with each other. You cannot expect them to change for you. You have to adapt, as long as they respect you. For example, if they joke in a certain way, don’t get scandalized, unless of course, it’s something that refers to you. I learned how to deal with that, and so I earned men’s respect. It’s not about becoming a man either. I’m happy with them giving me their seat or opening the door for me. It’s about making it so you can coexist like men and women together pleasantly. And trying to be conciliatory, rather than antagonistic, that has also helped me a lot in my professional career.

Connect with Ilya Marotta via Twitter @MarottaIlya

Alexia Keglevich: A CEO With Effective Red Shoes

Alexia Keglevich is the Global CEO of ASSIST-CARD. Today she reveals her journey from messenger at age 16 to CEO of the world’s leading travel assistance company.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Her offices in a smart building in Buenos Aires never keep her away from the reality of her clients. Alexia Keglevich travels all over the world visiting the 36 countries where her company operates, to evangelize a culture of help, from human being to human being, in which she deeply believes. Upon learning of my plans to go from her offices in the neighborhood of Saavedra to my next appointment in downtown Buenos Aires, Alexia Keglevich (or Alexia as she prefers to be called,) arranged for Abel, her personal assistant, to take me. “We’re here to help,” she said as if it where the most natural thing to do.

From the various positions she has held in the company, Alexia Keglevich has played a transcendental role for the consolidation and expansion of the business. At 16 she joined ASSIST-CARD, the company founded by her father, as a messenger. Her ability and desire for improvement led her to launch and develop the Marketing and Advertising area of the company. For 10 years she held different positions within the organization, specializing in new product development and in the design of commercial strategies. She also led the expansion of the business to Southeast Asia.

RSM Hall of Fame Alexia Keglevich Poster

RSM Hall of Fame Alexia Keglevich Poster

After leaving the company for a few years and continuing her professional development at Banco Río (now Santander Río) as credit cards leader, in 2000 Alexia returned to ASSIST-CARD as Executive Director. In 2006 she was appointed CEO for all global operations. Since her return, the company has multiplied its sales eight times, diversified its lines of business, and developed new sales channels, products and services.

In 2014 she was recognized by the Latin Business Chronicle magazine (LBC) in their annual ranking of “The Top 50 Executive Women of Latin America.” And today she’s in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame!

Alexia Keglevich holds a degree from the Universidad Argentina de la Empresa (UADE) and an MBA in Business Management from the IAE Business School.

Getting to know Alexia Keglevich

What personal characteristics make you an effective leader?

Perseverance and intensity. I am an eternal dreamer. I am convinced that anything is possible. Also, I think I have a contagious energy, which makes people follow me because they see me in continuous movement. The key to success is listening and talking to everyone in the company and approaching the “other” in a way that you are a peer side to side. That way, it’s easier and more rewarding to understand the situation or the ask of the other person. The ability to empathize, and to be sensitive also forge the type of leadership personality with which I identify. Leading by example is critical. Being consistent in what you do and what you say is basic.

Alexia Keglevich partners with TECHO organization to build homes for the less fortunate

Alexia Keglevich partners with TECHO organization to build homes for the less fortunate

What were some of the hard and soft skills you had to learn to become a CEO?

Hard: I had to learn all the financials of the company and the P&L, which bores me. But for this position I have to understand that since it’s a necessary aspect that I must master to make informed decisions (aside from the advice given by my collaborators, and specialists in this area.) Soft: I cultivated these skills as I went. I don’t know if a leader is born or made. I think it’s a combination of what your life and your experiences. Maybe you could be a leader as a kid and maybe something happened that prevented you from having the capacity to lead.

Personally, I was marked by the period of 1994 -1995 when I went to open ASSIST- CARD in Asia where the majority of the population was Muslim. That opened my mind early on and gave me the ability to adapt, which I don’t think I would have without these experiences. Just imagine, at that time I had to organize the entire trip and meetings via fax, without knowing before arriving at the scheduled meeting if it would come to pass or if it was canceled. Technology without a doubt is certainly a great ally for these issues (and many others.)

That made me grow a lot and have a ton of experiences. It taught me to be humble. I was 25 years old, and arrived to an unknown country where I would try to get customers, sell my services, etc. In addition, I was also a very young mom and that in itself gave me the ability to understand certain situations early on in life. Things were not easy. Coordinating family and my career… I learned in the school of hard knocks.

Alexia Keglevich has an open door policy. "I believe in been a peer. Standing side by side with every one"

Alexia Keglevich has an open door policy. “I believe in been a peer. Standing side by side with every one”

Successful negotiation according to Alexia Keglevich

How did you learn to negotiate?

One of the greatest negotiators I met in my life was my father. He taught me a lot! Now, when I see myself in the very moment of a negotiation, I see in myself many aspects of my dad when he was in those situations. With the great distinction that I am a woman, which has allowed me and continues to allow me to use my femininity as an advantage, and not a disadvantage. For me, entering as the only woman in a meeting is an advantage. I think I’m an excellent negotiator. I am clear on what I want to achieve, what I am willing to concede, and what I’m not.

What are some of the negotiation strategies that have worked for you the best at the highest levels?

Alexia Keglevich, CEO, ASSIST-CARD in her office at a green-building in Buenos Aires.

Alexia Keglevich, CEO, ASSIST-CARD in her office at a green-building in Buenos Aires.

Knowing perfectly where I want to go, what I’m willing to give up and what I’m not. Having a plan of action. Imagining myself in the negotiation. Doing a little role-playing in my head. It’s something very personal. What happens if you tell me something, how will I react and what will my offer be.

Can you project executive presence and maintain a feminine style? Tell us how.

Absolutely. It’s true that women have another sensitivity. We have an ability to multitask that is not easy to find in a man. Historically women have done the multitasking so that the ability to have your mind on several things at once is particular to women.

Sometimes women are self-limiting when they think about the family because they ask themselves: “What do I do? Do I have children now or later?” You can plan your family and grow in your work environment. One thing, though. You have to make it clear to the bosses because there is a preconception that a 30 year old woman will want to have children, and so she is not offered opportunities. They don’t even ask her if she wants it. You have to be upfront about it.

I read an interview where you commented that during the time you started working on ASSIST-CARD for your dad, his expectations for you were very high. And you said that at that time you became a perfectionist. How has perfectionism affected you in a positive and negative way?

I am an eternal perfectionist. I permanently question the status quo because I am convinced that we can always be better. It probably comes from when my father was the CEO of ASSIST-CARD. When I joined the company at age 16, he told me: “You have to be much better than the best, because you have to set the example and because you are my daughter.” If I came in a minute late, he made me lose the bonus that represented 80% of my salary.

Is it good to be a perfectionist? On the one hand it helps me because I’m in constant improvement mode. And on the other, the negative part, is that I demand of my environment as much as I demand of myself. That can cause teams to become frustrated because I ask more and more and the team that is giving their maximum feels that nothing is good enough.

Faced by bad news, the thought that helps me to get ahead and not to succumb is to think of how others have come out of worse situations. This helps me strengthen myself and come out ready to act with tactics that will allow me to get out of that bad situation. Holding on to that thought is crucial to getting out of any personal or professional crisis.

Raised to seek perfection, Alexia Keglevich is always looking for ways to improve.

Raised to seek perfection, Alexia Keglevich is always looking for ways to improve.

Alexia Keglevich on organizational culture

What are some of the most effective strategies you have implemented to accelerate the growth of women in your organization?

We are more women than men. However my direct reports, the C-level, are all men. The third line is more women than men.

Since I took lead in the company, machismo as a norm has disappeared. At the time my father was leading, there were no fathers taking their son to a school event, or to a doctor. That was what women did. Now, both men and women have a duty to care for their children, so the request to “go out for a school event” is even. For us the family is a critical support system of our people. If the family is not happy with the person working at ASSIST-CARD that employee will not be happy. I try to make sure that male collaborators are sensitive to the demands placed on women. I talk a lot from the heart. Not from the formality of a leader. I am Alexia. I hate being called CEO or when people call me by my last name.

I believe that this sensitive and from-the-heart part is what will serve us through this tough time of full-time technology, which is already here and will continue to grow. There won’t be any robot that gets excited like we do. I can no longer stand calling in to a customer service center in the U.S. and getting a robot. Something that is increasingly used because of costs. It is much more important to be “hearts tending hearts” than to be “robots tending hearts.”

Alexia Keglevich speaking at X Extreme. Always speaking up for equality and inclusion.

Alexia Keglevich speaking at X Extreme. Always speaking up for equality and inclusion.

How do you use technology to maintain the culture of the organization even when ASSIST-CARD was bought by an American company, Starr International?

The sale of ASSIST-CARD was the most important negotiation of life. And within that negotiation one of the things that I negotiated was to keep the culture of the company free of any external culture. This part of the negotiation is the one I’m most proud of. And I did it directly with Maurice R. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of Starr International. He understood that this company was different and that its greatest asset is its culture. We love helping. We love what we do. No one can come work for us if they don’t want to help.

We handle 36 countries from Argentina. Bringing our culture to all these places is becoming increasingly difficult, but the culture is becoming ever more important. Technology is a great ally, although nothing replaces the “face to face”. Nothing replaces being in the other person’s red shoes. In every trip I make I sit down with the salesmen, the couriers who travel on motorcycles, the people who serve coffee. Each city has a different reality but the culture must be the same. I have groups in Whatsapp so I can talk to everyone of our employees. I send voice messages so they can hear my tone. Technology helps to continue to expand and evangelize the values that make the organizational culture of ASSIST-CARD.

You can follow Alexia Keglevich on Twitter.

#WomensMarch: When Words Create Realities You Can’t Ignore

If you didn’t know there was a #WomensMarch in Washington DC and in major cities across the country and the world January 21, it’s time to get out of your head.

A powerful #WomensMarch with massive number of people marched peacefully in NYC on January 21, 2017

A powerful #WomensMarch with massive number of people marched peacefully in NYC on January 21, 2017

After the election of Donald Trump as President, many Americans and people around the world have been in shock. I have to admit I’ve been one of them. Wondering what’s going to happen to the rights of women and minorities once this man who has insulted just about everyone assumes office. Wondering if I could avoid the media for the next four years to avoid hearing yet another distortion of reality. As many people,  I didn’t even pay much attention to the #WomensMarch organization until the very last possible minute.

Words matter. Love is always a powerful word when hate speech threatens tolerance.

Words matter. Love is always a powerful word when hate speech threatens tolerance.

All that stops today. I’m an immigrant, I’m an American, I’m a woman. I’m a Latina. I’m a leader. So today I marched in the #WomensMarch in New York not to chant that Trump is not my President. Because he is. Right now he’s the President of all Americans.

Why I marched at the #WomensMarch in NYC

I marched in #WomensMarch NYC to show I care about words.

I marched in #WomensMarch NYC to show I care about words.

I marched in the #WomensMarch in New York City to show I care about words. That the words Mr. Trump said during the long presidential campaign meant something. That words create realities out of fake news and have the power to incite hate, fear and division. I marched to show that I care about open and implicit threats against Muslims, Mexicans, women, people with disabilities, and others. That this country hasn’t spent decades promoting tolerance around the world and at home to suddenly start advocating for the exact opposite.

And I marched because what we all saw and heard in the months leading to this election warrants vigilance on the part of the American people. It warrants that we all have our representatives on speed dial so that the moment we see something that goes against our values and beliefs we let them know. “This is what democracy looks like,” as many marchers were chanting today. Only by staying on top of sensitive issues and letting our voices heard in a consistent basis will we keep our democracy working for all of us in the long run. I marched to show that we can use words to help heal the divisions and the fear that has become evident as of late. That we can create a future that works for all of us.

If you care about Diversity and Inclusion, don't sit out this conversation.

If you care about Diversity and Inclusion, don’t sit out this conversation.

What to do after #WomensMarch

For those who sat this election out, it’s time to jump in. Find something you can do to be the change you seek. For those who voted for Mr. Trump believing he was the solution to all you think is wrong about our country, stay alert. Hold your candidate’s feet to the fire. Demand that he makes good on his promises.  For those who are feeling disempowered and think there’s little you can do, think local. Get involved in your local government. You can exercise immense influence in your local and state politics and stop your legislature from passing unfair laws that then move across the country.

Read about recognizing a hostile work environment here.

For anyone who cares about an inclusive world where America’s diversity is at the core of it’s global advantage, this #WomensMarch is just the beginning. We are in the process of redefining who we are and who we want to be. Don’t sit that conversation out. Your words can make a world of difference. Let them be heard.

Here are 10 actions you can do in 100 days to keep the conversation going.
Inclusive families are part of the fabric of our beautiful country. They marched to show they care about everyone's rights.

Inclusive families are part of the fabric of our beautiful country. They marched to show they care about everyone’s rights.

Being More Assertive: Finding the Sweet Spot

To be successful you must be assertive and confident. Women, however, tend to shy away from being more assertive for fear of being labeled as aggressive.

Assertive women support other women and men

Assertive women follow the 7 Red Shoe Movement Principles

This is similar to the behavior women exhibit when negotiating for themselves. A topic I discussed in the post: 3 Key Negotiating Strategies for Women.

As a result of avoiding being more assertive, women pay a harsh price— they receive negative evaluations, negative attributions and they miss major career opportunities. Watch this video clip “A Man’s a Boss, a Women’s Bossy” for a series of examples of how similar behaviors are perceived as negative in women and celebrated in men.

To avoid being penalized for behaving in ways that are contrary to feminine stereotypes, women hedge their assertiveness and use fewer competitive tactics. Inevitably, these adjustments have a backlash effect that hinders women’s effectiveness in their careers.

What is Assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a communication style in which people put forward their own needs, ideas, and feelings, while respecting the right of others to do the same. Different levels of assertiveness can be applied depending on the situation.

The challenge is that being more assertive goes against the training most women have received from birth – to defer to men and to stay in the background. This passive stand renders women ineffective and denies them of the opportunity to reach their unlimited potential. And even though as women grow these passive behaviors may change, in a professional setting women still tend to defer to men.

Assertive women quote by Lily Benjamin - Assertive women have found the sweet spot in the communication spectrum

Being more assertive offers enormous career advantages for women.

This accommodating behavior is very subtle and mainly communicated via non-verbal messages, which constitutes 93% of any communication (55% body language and 38% tone.) Several specific examples of body-language messages where women miss the chance to be more assertive are: Smiling too much, nodding in agreement even when they are not, little cooing, supportive noises (“mm hmmm, mm hmmm,”) and presenting a tilted head to signal listening, a pose that is recognizable in puppies.

A common example of how tone sends a message that lacks assertiveness is the odd upward lilt that transforms every statement into an insecure-sounding question.

And to briefly touch on the verbal aspect of communication (which only represents 7% of any communication,) a typical example is the use of ego-soothing expressions such as: “Just following up, or piggy backing, on what YOU said….” and so on.

All of these subtle cues, particularly those involved in non-verbal communication, sway women’s communication style to the passive side of the spectrum. As a result of being passive, women get themselves in a position of violating their own rights.

What is the Difference Between Being More Assertive and Being Aggressive?

Assertive quote by Sharon Anthony Bower

It’s critical to avoid confusing being more assertive with being aggressive.

On the other side of the spectrum lays aggressiveness, which is what happens when people (and in the case of this post, women) veer 180 degrees away from a passive style and they come across as forthright and blunt. Aggressive women try to get the upper hand in the conversation and attempt to punish others usually using a lot of “you…” messages and blame. They are often trying to cover their own feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and powerlessness. These women aim to win even if this means disregarding others’ rights, needs, or feelings. As a result of being aggressive, women get themselves in a position of violating the rights of others.

Take the RSM Communication Style Quiz and see where you are in the spectrum.

Key Distinction Between an Aggressive vs. Assertive Woman

There is a misconception that for women to effectively climb the corporate ladder they have to be like men. They need to dress, speak, gesture, use cursing words, have a masculine style of commanding others, etc. Those who give into that stereotype can be easily spotted when they overdo it and end up “eating their own” – being catty and stepping over other women. These individuals can be their worst enemies, sabotaging and undermining their own authority and effectiveness due to their inability of being assertive.

A good way to distinguish aggressive vs assertive women is that assertive women do not “eat their own;” they are actually very supportive of other women, as well as very supportive of men.

Check out the 7 Principles of the Red Shoe Movement

Assertive women don’t blame others, they own their viewpoints by using “I” statements (“I like,” “I want,” “I don’t want,”) they use cooperative phrases (“What are your thoughts on this?”) they make distinctions between facts and opinions (“My experience is different,” “In my opinion…”) rather than using “should” they make suggestions (“How about”, “Would you like to…”), and they seek others’ ideas (“How does this fit with your ideas?”) Assertive women have found the sweet spot in the communication spectrum.

The Sweet Spot: Being More Assertive and Improving Your Effectiveness

Assertive women are keenly aware of the gender-based effect whereas women are often misunderstood and penalized for behaviors accepted in men. They understand the importance of reading their audience, environment, and circumstances. They are like chameleons able to assess the social situation and adapt accordingly, oscillating within the communication spectrum to be more or less assertive. Notice that I didn’t say, “becoming more or less passive, or even more or less aggressive.” Those are never good options. Effectiveness resides on balancing the degree of assertiveness based on the circumstances.

Assertive definition Merriam Webster dictionary - Confident in behavior and style

Find the sweet spot in the communication spectrum to find your assertive style

Strategies to Find the Sweet Spot

Being assertive is not necessarily easy, but it is a skill that can be learned.

Don’t miss this Harvard Business Review article, How to Be Assertive (without loosing yourself).

Developing your assertiveness style starts with a good understanding of who you are and a belief in the value you bring.

1First, “know thyself”

Awareness is 50% of the change. Clarity of your strengths and opportunities always raise your confidence level, giving you a specific direction on what to work on. Here is an assertiveness assessment you can try.

2Learn assertive communication skills

Communicating assertively will give you confidence, strengthen your relationships, and help you be more effective. When done well, you gain the support and respect of others. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’, just do both taking others into account.

  • Reflect confidence: stand up straight, look people in the eye, and relax
  • Use a firm, but pleasant, tone
  • Check and validate your assumptions; avoid jumping to conclusions
  • Seek to understand other people’s point of views
  • Think in win-win terms and seek win-win situations

3Debunk myths about assertiveness

The Centre for Clinical Intervention trains on three myths that can be used as a tool to help you know the differences between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

Myths about Assertiveness
Myth Reasoning Fact
“Assertiveness is basically the same as being aggressive.” Some people who are aggressive think they are being assertive because they are stating what their needs are. Yes, both assertive and aggressive communication involves stating your needs. There are very important differences, however, in the words, the tone and in the body language used.
“If I am assertive I will get what I want.” Being assertive does not mean that you always get what you want. There is no guaranteed outcome. Being assertive is about expressing yourself in a way that shows respect for your needs and the needs of others. Sometimes this means you get what you want, sometimes you won’t get what you want, and sometimes you will come to a mutually satisfactory compromise.
“If I am assertive I have to be equally assertive in every situation” Understanding how to be assertive, gives you the choice to critically judge the circumstances and appropriately balance your degree of assertiveness. Sometimes, you may realize that you need to adjust the degree of assertiveness in order to be effective. Learning to be assertive is about providing yourself with a choice!

 

Everyone has the ability to learn how to be assertive, or effective when being more assertive than they currently are. The key is to self-monitor and adjust according to the situation, remaining fair and empathetic. Your power comes from your self-assurance and not from intimidation or bullying. When you treat others with such fairness and respect, you get that same treatment in return, you are appreciated, and sought out as a thought leader.