Two global, economic powerhouses – Amway and Microsoft – just took an historic step forward, together, for womankind. They teamed up to host a women’s leadership event at Amway’s massive World Headquarters in Ada, Michigan.
What’s so historic about two corporations inviting 200 aspiring, achievement-focused women professionals to spend the day together building leadership skills and networking? In some parts of the country, no one would bat an eyelash.
But for Amway, it was the first time they have EVER hosted a women’s leadership event. Microsoft has dipped in these waters before, but never in the Midwest. I sense the start of something big.
When two global corporations with the economic impact and cultural influence of Amway and Microsoft – both reach and employ millions of consumers and change agents all over the world — recognize that the women’s leadership engine is revving up and they’d better get on board, the possibilities for paradigm shifting change are enormous.
The women behind Amway/Microsoft’s first joint women’s leadership event
It Started With Four Women Talking
This important step down a new road happened because four women, three Amway leaders (Tina Abdoo, Kary Lucas and Donna Stoutjesdyk) and their Microsoft Account Exec, (Lorie Munson, Premier Support Manager) started talking. Maybe it was over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or lunch. The point is, they imagined new possibilities. And they have the vision, the courage and the credibility to lead their companies into important, uncharted waters.
“It started really small, Stoutjesdyk told me. “We were thinking about a workshop; and then it started to grow.”
Candace Matthews, Amway’s Chief Marketing Officer and a key, senior executive, gave the event her blessing and blocked her calendar to speak. Fox Sports Anchor and reporter Dara McIntosh agreed to fly in from NY to moderate a panel. Copies of my book, Powering Up!, were purchased as gifts for every attendee.
The night before, our hosts invited all of the speakers and panelists to get know each other at a Grand Rapids steak house. The energy sparking from our group was so infectious, a table of men couldn’t resist sending shots over for all of us.
By the morning of the event, the mood at Amway headquarters was electric. One of the male senior executives told me, “There’s a great buzz all over the company about this that our executives can feel.”
Why Women Matter
Of course the business case has been building for years. Women are now 40% of the world’s labor force and, as one Microsoft executive pointed out to the audience, “Women make 85% of all consumer electronic purchases.” I was encouraged by another theme that echoed throughout the day: it is not enough for companies to hire diverse talent. The next essential step is to build an inclusive culture where diverse perspectives and backgrounds are truly valued. Otherwise, diverse talent won’t stay and you are right back where you started.
Here are a few of my favorite insights from the two outstanding keynote speakers, Amway Chief Marketing Officer, Candace Matthews; and Microsoft’s Kelly Rogan, Vice President America’s Premier Services.
Candace Matthews, Amway Chief Marketing Officer
Candace Matthews: Backbone is Essential
The youngest of 18 children, Matthews intrigued the audience when she placed a colorful, plastic container on the podium that she considers her Leadership Toolbox. She opened it and proceeded to hold up 12 very familiar items that she sees as symbols of key leadership qualities, including:
•A sponge –Keep your mind open to absorbing and learning from others. You can always wring out what doesn’t work for you.
•A camera –Image and exposure are critical. According to Matthews, most promotion decisions based 10% on an individual’s performance, 60% on image and 30% on their exposure to the decision makers.
•A yo-yo – Giving and receiving, through mentoring, is essential.
•A rubberband — For flexibility, resilience and the importance of continuing to stretch yourself beyond your limits.
•A metal clip — As a reminder of the importance build a team of highly connected great people. “Relationships are critical. Together, each will achiever more.”
•Two, fist-sized wiffle balls — This metaphor was my favorite and drew a rousing laugh when Matthews pulled them out of the box and told the audience, “Every woman leader needs . . . a backbone!”
Kelly Rogan, Microsoft Vice President, America’s Premier Services
Kelly Rogan: Who Says Boys Don’t Like “Try-Hards”?
A high-achieving, high-tech “geek,” Rogan told us, “It’s not enough just to be great collaborators. Women leaders have to also know when to be street fighters to be effective.” And:
•“Embrace a culture of constructive contention.Don’t shy away from courageous dialogue; healthy conflict can lead to better outcomes.”
•Rogan also shared a story that reinforces the need to encourage our girls to achieve and inoculate them from peer and media pressure. “Microsoft has a program called DigiGirlz to encourage high school girls to pursue math and science classes and technology careers. Several of the girls at the high school where I was speaking told me, ‘We love math and science. But we have to be careful because there’s a name for girls who ask lots of questions and are too smart. They call us, try-hards. And boys don’t like try-hards.”[/entity]
That story breaks my heart. What more evidence do we need that girls must still slog their way through deeply-ingrained gender bias and toxic peer pressure? Rogan and Microsoft are doing their part with the DigiGirlz initiative. But we can all help.
Every girl you come in contact with, regardless of her age, will benefit from encouragement. She doesn’t need you to tell her how pretty she is; ask her what she’s reading and her favorite subject in school. Tell her how much money grown-up “try-hards” earn to help them and their families have a great life!
That’s just a taste of the conversations that are happening these days, not just in corner offices in New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, but at the grassroots level in the Midwest.
Men often ask, “Why do we need these special female-only events or “women’s affinity groups” in today’s workplace? The answer is that, even today, most companies, conferences and business gatherings are great big “men’s affinity groups.” But when a women’s leadership event, hosted by two globally-respected brands and employers, creates this kind of excitement in a quiet, Midwestern community, you know that something powerful is stirring at the grassroots level. I head home after gatherings such as this one with my batteries re-charged and my creative synapses snapping.
Can you feel the momentum building? I can. And when the likes of Amway and Microsoft start supporting women powering up and leaning in to greater leadership roles, forget the ceilings. The sky’s the limit.
Anne Doyle is the author of POWERING UP! How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders, a keynote speaker and a City Councilwoman in Auburn Hills, MI. She has been tested in multiple-leadership laboratories, including men’s sports locker rooms, the auto industry, political office and parenting (which she insists is “the toughest!). http://www.annedoylestrategies.com. facebook.com/poweringupwomenbook.