Women’s Leadership: A Lifetime of Tracking Our Progress

Alea book

Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we have Pat Alea focusing on Women’s Leadership: A Lifetime of tracking our progress. Pat is a co-founder and moderator of the Women’s Executive Leadership Summit at the Center for Advanced Studies in Business at the University of Wisconsin, The Madison School of Business.

Pat has gained significant insights from the remarkable women and men who are leading change within their corporate culture. She is a frequent speaker and advisor to executives in key leadership positions in business, education and government, aligning career and organizational success for themselves and those they lead.

She’s the co-author of The Best Work of Your Life. Pat has maintained an active commitment to improving the status of women in the workplace and beyond throughout her career. Previously, she chaired the Lt. Governor, Barbara Lawton’s, corporate advisory board. She did a regular segment on Wisconsin’s Public Radio for seven years called Career Talk, along with her co-author of her book.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Today we are going to focus on generation and gender differences to help create strategies for managing your life and your boss, and self-management tools and tips to be your best.

Pat and I recently met through a mutual friend at the University of Wisconsin. We are delighted to have Pat Alea with us. Her book, The Best Work of Your Life, obviously is a transformational book that helps us understand more about how we can get the best out of ourselves.

About 30 years ago, Pat Alea, like many of her contemporaries, both men and women, believed that the Berlin Wall of gender discrimination was coming down hard and fast. Women were speaking out and politics were changing and it was really hard to argue that 51% of the population didn’t deserve equal opportunity in a modern world. With barriers down, women would quickly level the playing field and our men would generously share the corporate suites across America.

Well, today, certainly women have made significant progress as small business entrepreneurs and the increasing numbers of MBAs, MDs, and lawyers graduating and in breakthrough roles in sports, and the media, and certainly all fields previously dominated only by men. Women today fill over 40% of middle management leadership positions, yet top corporate leadership roles continue to change at a glacial pace.

During her career, Pat Alea has dedicated herself to improving the lives of women. She has just led initiatives to address financial, sexual, and domestic wellbeing. She has helped to form national networks to connect with women and increase their influence within universities, government and corporations, and she has conducted workshops on building strategic career trajectories and has worked with 100’s of women and men who have the courage to change the workplace rather than to cope with these antiquated practices.

Pat’s work is personally fueled by leaders who are working to cultivate healthy cultures based on diversity and inclusion, and particularly when coupled with strategic alignment for business success. A statewide initiative, Wisconsin Women = Prosperity, led by Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton, was coordinated by Pat who also chaired the Governor’s corporate advisory board.

We are so pleased and honored, Pat, to have you with us. Welcome to the show!

Pat Alea: Thanks Cathy. We look so forward to having you out in Madison with us in the Fall.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Pat, I wanted to start off our questions. We always like to do this. It’s to get a little bit about yourself, your background. How did you come to work in this field of leadership?

Pat Alea: Well, you know, leadership is fascinating, and I think for me, it always has been. When I reflect about why this is the case, it goes really back, for me, basics of family; family or origin. The family values when I was growing up were really centered on authenticity; everybody had to be truthful and be who they were, integrity and commitment.

When I think back, those are the conversations that happened at our family dinner table with my siblings and today with our kids. Even within our family email, there are about 12 of us on email, those are the kinds of conversations that keep continuing, so I think there’s something really core in my experiences.

My husband calls me a truth and justice person, so I think leadership, for me, has just turned in to kind of a constant interest.

Then I also think that it’s an accident of my age. I’m a baby boomer. I think my generation has had a lot of opportunity to create social change and that change has been in our communities, in our schools and universities, politics. I’ve been particularly fascinated by how corporate America has had and used the resources to create some of the best models, I think, for change.

Seeing passionate people who have the ability to generate resources and build the advocacy and get results is an ongoing fascination for me.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You’ve developed this, if you will, truth and justice, I want to say, philosophy; it’s a great little tagline. You probably get to use that a couple of times during our interview here.

Have you thought about who in your life may have actually put that kind of stamp of how you see the world inside of your thinking process?

Pat Alea: That’s a good question. I think, as I said, I think of my mother, it sounds like somebody from the Academy Awards—I thank my mother; but actually, it really is very personal at some level. But also, there are plenty of contemporary scholars and practitioners who I draw, from Deming, and Peter Schultis, and Cotter, the work of Sally Helgesen in the field of Women’s progress.

But really, in the last seven years, the privilege of working with University of Wisconsin Center for Advance Studies in Business has provided me an opportunity because I moderate our women’s summit every fall, to listen to dozens of people, men and women, corporate leaders, who we tell what we call face stories. They tell how they have created and sustained change that has leveled the playing field for women and for men.

I also have my own consulting practice and I work with individuals and coach as well, so I am constantly inspired by the people who have the courage to be respectful but also unflinching. I mean, I see this, I support this, when people simply will not back down. I love that.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Pat, we wanted to get into some of the content a bit. What surprised you the most listening to corporate leaders talk about women and diversity. It sounds like through the summits and also through your coaching; what surprises you the most when you hear them speak?

Pat Alea: You know Relly, the thing that has probably surprised me the most is that there isn’t a conspiracy against women. There isn’t a Cabal of white men, you may know this already, who are saying we don’t want women to succeed. When I was much younger and when women were deciding to be warriors for their rights, I mean I think there was a feeling that there was an intentional imbalance.

I think sometimes there’s negligence and sometimes there are people who don’t want to know what the data says, but truthfully, most of the women and the men who lead diversity and inclusion, say that there is very little push back from the top once you sort of get the data and get a plan in gear.

One thing that surprised me and I think is part of what I just was saying is that, playing fair is profitable. You two are both committed to evidence based findings in terms of leadership, and I think there is plenty of data now that shows that when you become a diverse company and include and give everyone a fair chance, that of course the bottom line is effected in a very positive way.

One other thing, though, that I want to mention, and I think this is just fascinating, there is a double standard in expectations of leadership of men and women by women. I’ve seen this again and again, and have heard other women talk about it. When men disappoint us as leaders, women will say, ah yah, that really disappointed me, there’s kind of a loss of faith, but I wasn’t that surprised.

When women who are leaders disappoint us, women are devastated. They, I’ll never work for women again, they get very upset and I think it’s because there’s a loss of hope because they thought it was going to be different with a woman leader. So when women get into leadership and don’t behave fairly, they aren’t good leaders, they really lose the faith of their women who are working for them.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s really interesting. I think both you know, and our audience know, that it’s just about expectancy and how that maps in the brain. It sounds like you are saying there is an expectancy that they are going to be treated fairly, maybe better with their co-women. When it doesn’t happen  there is a big let down.

Pat Alea: Yes, exactly. That’s right.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Not only that, but it sounds to me, and having managed, at some point, over 800 people on 3 continents, it was clear to me that often when I would disappoint another woman who worked for me, that it was also very hard for me to recover, because your reputation becomes your character and your character becomes that which people base their expectations on.

Pat this is really a key issue for not only people who are going to be working in the workforce for women, but women who are in fact managers expecting a different outcome as well if they don’t see and understand many of the concepts you are going to talk about today.

Pat Alea: Well exactly. It must have felt like a huge burden, because when you are leading women, 800 women on 3 continents, I mean you are carrying the weight of having to represent all women and leaders. It’s a little bit of a unfair burden that we put on women leaders to be iconic and represent so much.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I know that Relly has a lot of coaching clients who I am sure have had their expectations mismatched whether they are men or women, and I know that it’s the values that we hold around diversity, it’s the values that we hold around how we want to actually interact with people on a fair basis that would, you’d think, drive our behavior towards more of what you’ve already identified as truth and justice.

I know we don’t really have a formal way of talking about this, but what might you think, before we get into some of the research, might take women off task?

Pat Alea: You know what, there’s a saying that I heard recently that I just love, the comment was, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s a good one.

Pat Alea: I think that is so vivid because if there is prevailing culture that isn’t based on good values, then no matter how strategic you try to be, the culture will prevail. So I think culture and climate are really at the heart of sustaining a good corporate performance. I don’t know that this gets directly at what you were asking, Cathy, but I just feel like when women disappoint or when we get off track it’s often because we are being tugged at by the prevailing culture and it really hasn’t changed, and that’s why I’m very interested in change that is evidence based and is sustainable.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I know Relly and I are both resonating with that. One of the things that both of us share with our audiences frequently, is the difference between culture and climate. So for those who are listening, the culture is something that is very what we might call, and Pat you can correct me if I’m wrong, historic; something that is a relational way of being in that company. Whereas a climate, is how an individual leader behaves and responds within that culture and then around them creates a climate of, if you will, values such as diversity and treating people with truth and justice so that strategy that they use in their climate, is what gives other people the opportunity to really perform at their best.

Pat Alea: Yes, well said.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I know you have some interesting research about women in leadership roles today and business. Maybe you could share some of that? Is this some of this in your book or is this some new information?

Pat Alea: You know, my book is really a book about personal career strategy and career planning, and so my book launched me further into leadership issues because you know, it’s like I said, there’s such a correlation between how people lead how people’s career is going.

My book as sections, clarity, strategy and action, which is a really a very pragmatic way to identify and constantly reframe your life and career planning. So put that aside, it’s almost like it’s a platform on which I do the rest of my work. But the research, in relation to women issues, I go to Catalyst, the 40-year old organization in New York City and now internationally, CatalystWomen.org is the source that I use when I want a snapshot of what’s happening because they do so much research.

In their 2008 census, do you want to hear a few little highlights from it?

Dr. Relly Nadler: Yah, that would be great!

Pat Alea: This really focuses on Fortune 500, although they have research on any number of topics related to women, but in this one, they find, surprisingly, that 15.2% of board directors are women, in Fortune 500. So I’m going to paint a little picture here that shows that we haven’t come a long way baby. I think it’s interesting because women have come so far in other ways and in middle management, but not at the top. Only 3%, approximately, of board directors are women of color, most Fortune 500 companies have between only 0 and 3 women on the board. Many of them still have none. 16.7% of corporate officer positons are held by women and this is up from 15.4%, so only a tiny increase from 2007 and 2008, but that just waffles back and forth. It’s been around 15% or lower for a long, long time.

Of top earners in Fortune 500 companies, only 6.2% are women, and that’s down from 6.7% in 2007.

You can listen to the entire interview above, without commercials.





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