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Helping women thrive at work

Breaking through: Redefining workplace success for women.

Susan Mackenty Brady

Chief Executive Officer, The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership

Recent research from The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership shows that, when they are thriving, women employees are more productive and more likely to go above and beyond. So, how can we create a workplace in which women can thrive? Susan MacKenty Brady shares a few key actions that can have a big impact.

Thriving at work is the antidote to many of the challenges women face that have led to burnout. That’s the opinion of Susan MacKenty Brady, the founding CEO of The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership, where she holds the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women and Leadership. Here, she tells us about the important steps that businesses can take to foster an environment in which every woman can thrive.

Can you explain the evolution of workplace culture that has led to the rise in instances of the ‘great breakup’, ‘quiet quitting’, and burnout in general? And precisely the impact on women?

The pandemic has created some deep challenges for women, particularly those who have a second job or who do the lion’s share of the childcare and household chores. In fact, many women had to leave their jobs during that time. What’s more, it’s still the case that women must work harder to get the same attention, promotion accolades, and the same level of sponsorship as men. As a result, too many women are exhausted and burnt out. It’s time for change.

What our research has uncovered is that women thrive when they have more flexibility at work. That doesn’t mean going part-time – it means creating a professional life that works for them. Women likely have more opportunity to negotiate working terms that work for them. Often, women will make assumptions about what is possible without asking their employer. In a world where many organizations are working hard to retain top talent – especially women – there may be more flexibility than meets the eye. It’s time to put the locus of control in the palm of women’s hands and help them execute life the way it works for them.

Are there certain principles you would advocate for women to help them thrive in today’s workplace?

In my book Arrive and Thrive, my co-authors and I outline seven impactful practices for women navigating leadership. Let me give you a brief overview of three of them.

The first is investing in and returning to your best self. What does that mean? Well, it’s where your strengths and talents come together with where you can add value, and where you feel joy and vitality. Leading from your best self means you stand in respect of your own value and the value others bring too; no better than others, but you’re no less than others, either.

Another practice is embracing your authenticity. We mature and change over the course of our lifetime, which means that the way we honor ourselves changes. It’s important, then, to regularly check in with your values to make sure your work aligns with what you want and need at your current life stage.

Then there’s cultivating courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the presence of vulnerability. It’s what we do to flex our muscles during a moment that feels risky or scary to return to our best selves. It’s calling on the narrator in your mind to tell you that you are not just good enough; you’re fantastic.

What are the most important steps that organizations can take to foster an environment in which women can thrive and where there is a focus on inclusivity?

Supporting women to thrive takes resources and tools, but – most importantly – it’s about checking in with the women you’re currently employing. Do they feel they’re making a meaningful contribution? Do they feel valued? Are you helping them learn and grow? Are you giving feedback in a positive, constructive way? These are some basic management tenants and often, they are missed. We’re solving the big global problem of advancing more women into leadership, when in fact, some of the work organizations can do is double down on their management leadership capabilities to ensure the women who are already employed remain in the organization.

What are the primary motivations for this – what do organizations gain?

There’s a lot of data that shows that advancing women’s equality can add to global GDP. A McKinsey report, for example, found that we could witness a US $12 trillion growth globally if women were participating in the workforce at the same rate as men.

Other research has found that gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to earn more than their competitors. In the US alone, if we hired and promoted women at the same rate as men or the same rate as countries like Norway, the economy could grow by 8%.

Can you share some specific examples of how organizations have built an environment that allows all employees to thrive?

There is great progress being made among organizations that are seriously working on developing the mindsets of leaders to make workplaces work for everyone.

Some recent research found that one of the top challenges for women is microaggressions – for example, talking over someone, taking credit for their idea, or not asking for their opinion in the first place. These are very fixable moment-to-moment behaviors.

What we have found is that best-in-class companies hold people accountable for how they interact with one another. We can’t have belonging or inclusion when human beings are not respectful and  thoughtful in their behavior toward others. Best-in-class organizations are investing in human-centric leadership practices.

What can organizations do to maintain positive momentum around inclusivity?

The new frontier of leader readiness is helping all leaders understand how their mindset needs to shift very specifically to realize the value of the unique contributions that all of us bring to the organization. Every situation is more complicated than any one person can see. We need to remain curious for longer than is comfortable. Intellectual humility and knowing how to return to our best selves before we react might be the two skills that are most important in the future.

I’m very proud of the body of work coming from The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership. Many organizations today are equipping their leaders and their employees to understand bias and to realize that their environment might not be equitable for all. We’re asking the same leaders to be champions for change and, ultimately, sponsor underrepresented populations so that they not only advance and stay in their place of work but truly thrive.

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Arrive and Thrive

The seven impactful practices for women navigating leadership is now available in all leading bookstores.

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Author Speak

Susan MacKenty Brady

Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women and Leadership at Simmons University and the Chief Executive Officer of The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

As a relationship expert, leadership well-being coach, author and speaker, Susan educates leaders and executives globally on fostering self-awareness for optimal leadership. Susan advises executive teams on how to work together effectively and create inclusion and gender parity in organizations. A highly sought authority on emotionally intelligent leadership, Susan has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America and has keynoted or consulted at over 500 organizations worldwide.

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