A Seat at the Table
10.17.19 · Deanna Harms
The first time I visited a major aircraft manufacturer’s headquarters some 20-plus years ago, there was no mistaking the gender divide. Impeccably groomed men wearing dark suits occupied private offices and led meetings. Support staff sat in large open spaces that bustled with activity. They were all women.
Recently we attended a meeting at another major aircraft manufacturer. Our team sat at a large conference table filled with decision makers. All were women.
We celebrate this blurring – and outright rewriting – of workforce gender lines. Greater diversity brings broader perspectives, enhanced collaboration and an enriching of the talent pool. When all can contribute, top performers rise without discriminatory barriers holding them down.
Individuals are not the only ones to reap the rewards of diversity. Companies do, too. Management firm McKinsey reported in January 2018 that companies with management gender diversity are 21% more likely to experience above-average profits.
A Platform for Success
Our office is atypical in that it’s led by a woman, three women constitute its chief operating group and women outnumber men five to one. This may have happened because we offer a good work-life balance – something particularly important for colleagues raising children, serving as a caregiver or heavily invested in outside causes.
Early in the life of our 30-year-strong agency, we worked ourselves ragged. We had to. We were a small team spread thin. As we’ve matured, we’ve learned to staff appropriately, to be right sized for the high-quality work we deliver to select clients. Within our agency we talk a lot about leadership, showing up and speaking up. Here are a few lessons learned that might be helpful to women on your team still working to earn their seats at the table.
Early in my career, my boss – a woman – gave me a great piece of advice: “Never let them see you cry.” In other words, don’t take things personally. Process input rationally, not emotionally. Develop a thick skin. Learn to accept constructive criticism, defend your position and talk through points of difference. Working as a team requires trust and full, honest communication. Jimmy Dugan was right in “A League of Their Own” when he said, “There’s no crying in baseball!” There should be no crying in the workplace either.
I’ve never found women to shirk from work. Quite the opposite. They pull their weight and more. Advice for anyone wanting to rise – don’t wait for a promotion before you contribute at your highest level. The title and accolades (and paycheck) come after you prove yourself, not before.
I’d never ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t myself. With two younger sisters, I’ve always felt like a leader. But I also know that just being bigger, older or bolder doesn’t make you a leader. Others won’t follow if you don’t provide a clear path and ultimate destination. There needs to be a “why,” and a leader’s job is to help others find theirs. Loving what you do helps, too.
Look the Part
Invest in a professional wardrobe. Men learned the power of the suit long ago. Wear a jacket to show you mean business and shoes with sensible heels. Create a section in your closet just for work clothes – apart from your leisure and evening wear. The wrong attire diminishes your authority and calls your judgment into question.
Amplify Your Voice
If you’re invited to a meeting, speak up. Contribute. We want – and need – to hear your informed ideas and possibly contradictory opinions. Differing points of view can spur creativity and innovation. Listening to all voices helps ensure the best solutions are heard – and acted upon.
No mention of professional women in aviation would be complete without lifting up “The First Lady of Aviation,” Olive Ann Beech. As a woman in what was then very much a man’s world, Olive Ann was one of the first women to head a Fortune 500 company. She guided Beech Aircraft through its expansion in World War II after her husband, Walter, was hospitalized. He never regained full health and died in 1950.
While she was respected and admired for her vision and business acumen, she had her challengers. She squelched a corporate coup. Overcame order cancellations. Dumped a dismissive NY bank. Olive Ann prevailed, serving as chairman and president until 1968 and as chairman until 1982. She and Walter both received aviation’s highest honors, including induction into the Aviation Hall of Fame.
Fellow Wichitan Marge Setter and longtime friend of Olive Ann’s once asked why she always carried so much cash. She replied, “Maybe I don’t want to go back to the house if I decide I want to travel around the world.”
Here’s to expanding our table. To seating the best and the brightest around it. And to always being ready to fly.
This column originally ran in the Oct. 17, 2019, issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.