What can we all do to advance women leaders? The Language of Leadership


By Lori Mackenzie
2016 Women’s Leadership Conference Keynote Session Speaker

I developed the talk, the Language of Leadership, in response to the question, “What can we all do to advance women leaders?”

Advancing women’s leadership is a complex challenge. If it were easy, it would be done! And the more one knows, the more the issues intertwine and thus, feel inextricable. Understanding that cultural norms shape expectations—our own and those that others have for us—and seeing how those expectations can become barriers, sheds light on the cycle of inequality which has been maintaining the status quo.

In the face of this cycle, what can we do?

First, we educate ourselves. We learn how these structural issues work. Understanding is a foundation of change. When women understand the dynamics of inequality—such as bias, higher bars, and increased scrutiny—they often go through a learning journey. At first, they experience relief that the hurdles they’ve faced are not necessarily due to their own competence but also due to the unequal playing field. Wow!

The second phase is often a dip, when they realize that if it’s “not me” then it’s big and global. Ugh! The final phase is often a burning desire to learn more and find ways to shift the status quo, for themselves and others. My workshop is designed for women to go through all three phases, and arrive at solutions they can implement as soon as tomorrow.

Second, we decide where we want to focus. Do we want to work on making our teams more inclusive? Do we mentor a promising leader? Do we address women’s health issues? In order to create change, we need a constellation of educated, well-armed change agents, each addressing a piece of the puzzle.

Third, we engage in small, meaningful acts. Solving this huge challenge can feel overwhelming at times. There is so much to do. To further compound the issue, we are experiencing what gender scholars call a “stall” in progress toward equality. In the past decade, most measures of gender equality have made little or no progress. (Think about the percentage of women in Congress – the US is at an all-time high of 19 percent.). In the face of the enormity of it all, focus on one thing you can do – each day if possible – that will lead to new pathways and new opportunities, and in the end, to larger change.

Last, we engage others. We identify first steps to include others in our movement. Those small steps evolve into larger steps, and then, when enough people are involved, they result in broader action. We can have a workplace where women and diverse people thrive. We can change advertising to show women’s true, not enhanced, beauty. We can pass policy to advance women’s issues.

At the Clayman Institute, we have been working on creating sustainable change with a focus on blocking unconscious bias. In my workshop, you will learn what research has to say about bias, and then gain actionable steps to move you, your colleagues, your organizations, and your communities toward a world of greater equality for all.

I’d like to share some free online resources to help you on your journey:

Education for yourself and others:

  • Learn about bias and solutions to block bias, featuring Stanford University Professor Shelley Correll. Video.
  • Learn about your own implicit associations that lead to bias. Test.

Take one action:

  • Attend the ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference and find many new ways to take new actions!
  • As a manager, provide tools to block bias in the way talent is evaluated. I’ll share more resources during the workshop. Toolkit.

Create a Circle to continue engaging:

I look forward to sharing my Continuing the Conversation Keynote Session with you, and learning from you ways we can all work together to advance women’s leadership.