She Works

with Rachel Braun Scherl

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Finding the apex of an uneven playing field

Rachel Braun Scherl

Founder, Fundraising Heavy Hitter, Public Speaker and Market Strategist

Lessons Learned

It is not enough to put your head down & do the work. Building relationships is the key to success.

Be engaged in discussions, whether casual or planned, where decisions are being made.

Networking takes a lot of work & time. Go to events with the goal of forming one good relationship.


Lesson: She Works with Rachel Braun Scherl

Step #8 Advance: Finding the apex of an uneven playing field

There has been a lot of discussion about leadership and what makes an effective male leader and what makes an effective female leader and how we spin adjectives. You're assertive on one hand, you're aggressive on the other. One has a positive connotation, one has a negative connotation.

I think these conversations are going to continue to go on. People are unique. We make bold statements about how different genders behave in the workplace and I think some of those stereotypes are true. My feeling is to advance, for women to advance . . . There are now so many different programs that support leadership and teaching and all those things, but at the end of the day, for women to advance and an individual woman to advance – in my mind, she has to understand what it requires to be successful in the environment that she's in.

I don't mean that you should put up with having inappropriate things said to you, but you have to figure out how to use your skills in the culture that you're in. I didn't make up this expression but, "You can't fight city hall". You can't change an entire organization unless you started it. Many women don't have the opportunity to do that. So I think you can never lose your cool, and I think that you really have to make sure that your performance and your relationship-building is going to get you where you need to go.

I think we women are trained that, I think historically, at least when I started my career, we were trained to be the best that what you do and you will get noticed. Women can't go into organizations like that and put their head down and say, "If I do the work I will be rewarded." So much of what goes on, so much of what makes people successful is this building of relationships, is the camaraderie and I don't just mean the stereotypical on the golf course. I mean being engaged in discussions, whether they are casual or planned, where decisions are being made.

I don't think it's a negative to be aggressive, because I think when people say that, I chuckle to myself and say that would be a positive. If I were a man, I would be assertive. So I'm going to be still be assertive and they could call my behavior whatever they want. But you have to keep a laser-like focus on what the objective is.

You have to figure out how to be successful in whatever environment you're in. In consulting we use the expression all the time, "Know your audience." Who're you speaking to, who're you speaking to internally, who are you speaking to externally, and figure out how to get your message across.

The other thing I think is critical for women in general, is not just "networking" but networking that actually builds relationships and builds businesses. So when I started working in a female sexual-health business all of a sudden I became aware of all these organizations and all these businesses and build relationships, in a much more focused way than I had earlier in my career.

When I go into a networking event my objective is to leave having learnt one important fact that is going to stay with me and having one person that I want to follow up with. This idea that relationships just happen or networking just happens, I think, is a fallacy. It requires a significant amount of work, it requires a significant amount of time and sometimes I think it requires more for women than for men.

There are lots of issues, right now the Girl Scouts and Lean In are focused on eliminating "bossy" from the vocabulary of the universe. I think it's a great objective. That's not something that I would spend time on because I don't think I can change how an individual is going to interact with me. All I could do is change how I'm going to interact with them. So I think it's wonderful that there are all these supportive interactions and I remember my son happened to see that. He says, "Why would someone spend time eliminating a word?" Clearly, not understanding what that means, and what these implications are for how people treat women when they call them bossy.

I would say the best advice is to have a thick skin. People are going to say things that are offensive. People are going to say things that you would never dream of saying – men and women. I think you really have to stay true. It sounds like a cliché, but you can't ever be in a situation where you are acting in a way that you're not proud, that you're not consistent with whatever your core values are, and you can't ever lose focus on what it is you are trying to accomplish.

I think it's really important that, certainly publicly, women are supporting other women and privately. So when Lean In became the rage, I think it's wonderful that a conversation is being started. I think it's fabulous that Sheryl Sandberg took her platform and used it as a way to start, what I think are, very important conversations. My challenge when any story or any style is put up as the model, there is still an opportunity for women to feel, "If I'm not like she's describing what I am going to do? If her style doesn't work for me how am I going to advance?"

I think there are some specific anecdotes in that book which are incredibly illustrative and important for women to know. One of the things that stands out is Sheryl Sandberg talked about a time where she was giving a presentation and she was running out of time and she said, "No more questions." And every men and every women in the audience put their hand down but four more questions were asked and they were from the men.

Now, you could spend all day analyzing what that means but the point is everybody obeyed the rules and some people still got their points heard. I think that's important. I think it's important to find someone who champions your career like Sheryl Sandberg did with Larry Summers. Not everybody can do that and not everybody is able to do it even if they try. I think that's important. What I find challenging is that there would be one model set-up, as the way a woman needs to behave, to be successful.

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