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    IWF World Conference: What Did You Do In 2017?

    May 23rd, 2017

    What did you do in 2017? People may ask you this question 10 years from now. What will you tell them?

    This was the question Jan Eliasson, the former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, posed to the crowd to close his keynote address at the IWF World Cornerstone Conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

    Eliasson spoke about the refugee crisis, but his speech was ultimately a global message to humanity, and to me, as a woman, as a leader, and as an immigrant, it was very inspiring.

    Currently, there are 244 million migrants and 65 million refugees in the world. And the narrative about this movement of people is largely negative. But it shouldn’t be. Because without migration we would have much less economic growth, negative demographic growth, and less transfer of wealth to the underdeveloped world — who wants to live in a less successful, less diverse world?

    Unfortunately, the world is suffering from an empathy gap — we seem to have forgotten the beauty of diversity and tolerance. The same diversity — the melting pot — that fueled the United States and helped it become the superpower that it is today. We’re viewing refugees and migrants as a problem, which leads us down the path of division and polarization. The scariest thing? Terrorist movements exploit this to reach their main objective: to make us afraid.

    Access to information and social media are actually making these problems and conflicts more difficult because arguments are becoming less rational and credible. The dissemination of fake information is so easy — it’s delivered to people directly via social media. This misinformation leads to distrust and fear.

    So what can we do? We must work to rebuild trust and close the empathy gap by communicating and connecting with people. We must mobilize all good forces of international understanding and solidarity, and stand up for the beauty of diversity and tolerance. We need to be more determined and stronger as we stand up against those who want to divide and polarize us and undermine democracy as we know it.

    As Eliasson pointed out, our job as leaders is to reduce the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be. Every person needs to do their part to make a difference in 2017.

    So, when people ask you 10 years from now what you did in 2017, what will you tell them?


    Photo credit: IWF Twitter

    A Strategy for Women Business Leaders for Overcoming Stress and Getting Things Done

    May 15th, 2013

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of work on your desk, use this simple strategy to gather the momentum you need.

    Sometimes it’s hardest to focus just when you need your powers of concentration the most. As women business leaders, we have multiple tasks to complete and a seemingly endless supply of competing needs to balance.

    The problem can be choosing where to begin.

    Studies show that when faced with many choices, people tend to become paralyzed by indecision and make no choice at all.

    Columbia University Business School researcher Sheena Iyengar demonstrated this principle by studying the decision-making capacity of 2 groups of people.

    One group was given the opportunity to purchase one jar of jam from among 6 varieties. Another group was offered a choice of 24 jams. The study participants who chose from among 6 types of jam were 10 times more likely to make a purchase than those who chose from 24 varieties.

    The more manageable choice led directly to significantly higher sales.

    Harvard Business Review guest writer, Peter Bregman, offers the following strategy for breaking up long lists of tasks into more manageable categories:

    • Take a few moments to write down the tasks you need to accomplish.
    • Spend 15 minutes completing the easiest items – quick phone calls, short email responses, etc. Make sure you stop after 15 minutes, and cross out the completed tasks.
    • When the initial 15 minutes are up, turn off your phone, close down all windows on your desktop and spend 35 minutes concentrating solely on tackling the most daunting item on your to-do list.
    • After you’ve allotted 35 minutes to the hardest task, take a 10 minute break and start the cycle over again by spending 15 minutes taking care of quick-action items.

    According to Bregman, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment by getting the smaller items completed. That will provide the momentum you need to tackle the larger items on your agenda.

    Next time you feel overwhelmed by a mountain of work in your in-box, try breaking the tasks down into quick-action items and work that requires more focus, and then tackle the items in a systematic way.

    You can read more about Bregman’s practical, stress-busting strategy, “A Practical Plan for When You Feel Overwhelmed.”

    Study Finds Few Differences Between Men and Women Business Leaders

    May 3rd, 2013

    Despite a long held myth to the contrary, Women business leaders are as successful as men in starting new high tech companies.

    Here’s why:

    The stereotypical entrepreneur – particularly the Silicon Valley version – is a 20-something, single white male who dropped out of college to work 24/7 and take enormous risks for a shot at becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg.

    Women entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are thought to be overrepresented in “lifestyle” industries and more focused on raising families than founding the next Facebook.

    A study of more than 600 start-up founders and 500+ fast-growth companies published in TechCrunch deflates these myths. Entrepreneur-turned-academic Vivek Wadhwa and his team studied both men and women business leaders and their companies and found the following:

    • Men and women start-up founders are motivated by the same goals: Both men and women business leaders are driven by a desire to build wealth, chart their own destinies and capitalize on their business ideas.
    • Men and women business leaders largely share life circumstances: Wadhwa found that most entrepreneurs are closer to 40 than 20 when founding their companies and that most are married with children. Men were slightly more likely than women to be married.

    However, Wadhwa’s team did discover some interesting differences about the business climate in which male and female entrepreneurs operate:

    • Women business leaders receive more encouragement from co-founders: According to the research, women entrepreneurs were significantly more likely than men to report that their co-founders urged them to enter into a partnership to launch a new business.
    • Women start-up founders are more likely to cite a role model: Women entrepreneurs more often reported being inspired by an entrepreneurial friend or family member than their male counterparts.

    Much of Wadhwa’s research focused on high-tech fields, and he found that the academic representation of women in the computer sciences is low and falling:

    It decreased from 37% in 1985 to 19% today, largely because girls do not receive the same levels of encouragement in math and science, and this carries over into higher education and career choices. Wadhwa believes this imbalance should be remedied.

    However, a key takeaway from the study is that men and women business leaders have much more in common than is generally believed – both sexes are motivated by the same factors and largely share life circumstances.

    Women business leaders and those who aspire to launch an enterprise can therefore take encouragement from the fact that men don’t have an inherent advantage.

    Women Business Leaders: Avoid These 3 Start-Up Mistakes

    April 30th, 2013

    Half of all start-up firms fail before reaching the 5 year mark but being aware of and avoiding some common mistakes can increase your chance of success.

    As a woman business leader, you know launching an enterprise takes commitment and hard work. It also takes a sound strategy and the awareness needed to avoid common pitfalls.

    In a recent Forbes.com article, Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, a strategic market intelligence firm, shares 3 common mistakes entrepreneurs make and techniques to avoid them:

    1. Build your brand: When you launch a new business, it’s easy to become so focused on delivering your product or service that you neglect to cultivate your company’s brand. But defining your company’s identity is critical to your success. Nurturing your company’s brand can take many forms. For example, you might choose clients with an eye toward establishing credibility in key sectors. Make sure you consciously consider brand-building in your overall business strategy.
    2. Conserve resources: It may seem like an obvious point, but too many start-ups spend cash reserves that could otherwise see them through hard times on items they don’t truly need. Rein advises entrepreneurs to triple-check expenditures and shares ways his firm saves cash – by negotiating leases to take advantage of previous tenants’ renovation and office furniture, using Skype to handle telecommunications and offering electronic versions of marketing collateral rather than costly printed material. Look for ways to trim costs to keep as much cash in reserve as possible.
    3. Stay healthy: As a woman business leader, you know running an enterprise requires long hours. You’re willing to push yourself to succeed. But it’s important to not become so overwhelmed and stressed out that your health suffers. Make time to unwind and get regular exercise to avoid burnout or developing serious health problems.

    Launching a new enterprise takes courage, determination, creativity – and common sense. To beat the odds and find success, make sure you focus on establishing a solid brand, maximize your reserves to get through tough times and stay healthy.

    You can read more about Rein’s recommendations here.

    Top 6 Ways Women Business Leaders can Work with Friends

    April 25th, 2013

    Experts agree that if you can avoid working with friends it is usually for the best. But if you must, here are some ground rules and tips that will help prevent a work relationship from destroying a personal one.

    Susan Adams, recently shared this Forbes.com article, “When A Close Friend Becomes A Workmate.”  Insights from her article along with my own experience, here are 6 tips on how to hire or be hired by a friend and the company and relationships still flourish:

    1. Ditch the drama and shoot straight. Ambiguity is the root cause of all conflict. Anything left unclear will cause conflict. Before entering into a business relationship, friends should discuss their expectations, clarify their roles and set boundaries.
    2. Separate feelings from professional needs and goals. You have to learn to say, “I love you, and no.” One rule both friends must agree upon: Business comes first. Feelings and personal issues must be put to the side in order for your business relationship to function correctly.
    3. Listen to how they talk about others. A good gauge of whether a friend will work out as a colleague or employee is to look at how accountable for her actions that person has been in the past. When something goes wrong, do they spend time talking about the role they played, or do they try to get you to agree with them about how the world or other people were conspiring against them?
    4. Money heals all wounds. For an underperforming friend-employee, provide an extremely generous severance package. Or you can offer a reduced work schedule for the same pay, to then lead to a phase-out.
    5. Understand the pros and cons. Hiring friend is a double-edged sword. The things that make you good friends (trust, loyalty, compatibility) can also strengthen the business. Just remember, it’s easy to allow emotions, previous experiences together and jealously to tear your friendship apart—and in the process, destroy the business too.
    6. Use your strengths. Women are usually more relationally oriented than men. Use your ability to communicate and sense the needs of others to address issues before they have time to blow out of proportion.

    Read Susan’s complete article, When a Close Friend Becomes a Workmate

    Women Business Leaders: How to Avoid Missing Big Opportunities

    April 23rd, 2013

    As women business leaders, we understand how important it is to focus on delivering services and products to clients. But at the same time, it’s crucial to keep an open mind and recognize when a strategy adjustment is needed.

    In a recent BNET article, Steve Tobak, a Silicon Valley strategy consultant and executive coach, recommended a balanced approach to make sure you don’t miss out on major opportunities:

    1. Make sure your product or service meets customer needs: It may seem like an obvious point, but Tobak cites “technology snobbery” that gets companies into trouble when they invent an amazing product that customers simply don’t want or need.
    2. Focus on evolution rather than revolution: The market is naturally risk-averse, so a product that is an improvement on an existing solution is more likely to succeed than a revolutionary item that requires a big investment.
    3. Keep it simple: Related to point #2, if your new product or service is more complex than an existing solution or a competitor’s offering, it can be less appealing due to higher perceived risk.
    4. Avoid the “chicken and egg dilemma:” Potential customers often put off buying new products until the price comes down, but product makers can’t lower the price until sales volumes are high. Tobak notes that this is a tough impasse to resolve.
    5. Be realistic about your target customers, price and marketing strategy: It’s tempting to price your product or service higher than competitors’ because you know your offering is superior. But Tobak warns that customers may never find out if you price yourself out of the market.
    6. Make sure you’re addressing the real problem: It’s absolutely critical to make sure your solution solves a real problem. Stay in touch with customers to make sure you’re addressing their actual pain points.
    7. Always remember you’re aiming at a moving target: In a fast-paced market, it’s important to remember that customer needs are always changing. Make sure your products and services keep up with prospects’ evolving requirements.

    The bottom line? While it’s important to focus on your strategy, successful women business leaders keep their companies agile by asking tough questions and making course corrections when warranted.

    If you keep simplicity and customer requirements in mind and never forget that the only constant is change, you can avoid pitfalls that cause many businesses to miss big opportunities.

    Read Steve’s entire article, 7 Ways Companies Miss Out on Huge Opportunities

    5 Ways Women Business Leaders Can Control Technology Overload

    April 15th, 2013

    Women Business Leaders have two choices when it comes to technology: Control or be controlled.

    I had the luxury of meeting some women business leaders for lunch today to celebrate a birthday.

    A supposedly relaxing two-hour lunch on a patio overlooking the Gulf Coast became a harried flurry of confused energy. Cell phones rang with “urgent” calls, a conference call usurped one of the party attendees during the appetizer and mimosa course.

    Nearly everyone lamented how difficult it was to “get away “ on a Friday afternoon. Now lets face it, we were all disconnected from our desks, but none of us had escaped technology. We have entered the magnificent age of working remotely with the freedom of access, the joy of being any place and working any time. Did I say magnificent?

    As I watched this dysfunctional Coastal luncheon I wondered how to harness technology that has afforded us efficiency but perhaps taken away a sense of freedom.

    We all want to “super serve” our clients and customers but as one diner complained “my client wanted to know why, when he emailed me at 10pm on a Saturday evening, I didn’t call him back” I offer some basic rules on how to remain efficient but take control of technology:

    Be selective

    Don’t get sucked into small tasks; stay on track. Make sure that you are consistently aware of your big picture goals. This will ensure that you are spending your time wisely.

    Schedule time to check email

    Limit the times you check email. Try early, middle and end of day. Use this scheduled time to work without distraction, as the cost of context-switching is huge. While email is an essential and an efficient means of communication, evaluate and prioritize your responses.

    Schedule uninterrupted time to focus on important projects

    Besides getting out of email, it’s important to schedule time on our calendar where we focus on the projects that will bring us the most value. Sometimes that means being very clear to others about what you are and are not going to be paying attention to.

    Integrate mindfulness in the flow of your day

    Take a breather and recharge. The information will be there when you return and you will have built up mechanisms to efficiently shift through the clutter. Learn how to focus on one thing at a time. We can then learn to deal with many demands on our attention. For example, Twitter is a constant stream of information that can be diverting but we pop in and find moments that create meaning that couldn’t exist before.

    Deliberately deal with Social Media Platforms

    As business women leaders, we use compassion in our work. We apply this trait to our team as well as our customers. That same compassion is crucial for our own effectiveness in making a difference. Learn to set limits, develop boundaries and create a healthy balance in the use of technology to create meaning for yourself.

    In summary use technology but don’t let technology abuse you.

    Woman Business Leaders: What Message is Your Office Sending?

    April 11th, 2013

    If you want to successfully manage your career, start with your desk, the state of your workspace says something about you. You can also learn about others from how they treat their space.

    As women business leaders, we’d like to think we are judged primarily by our actions rather than our appearance – or the degree of organization (or lack thereof) in our offices. But study after study proves otherwise.

    Impressions do matter, and that’s why many women business leaders give a lot of thought to their wardrobe and what messages their body language conveys. However, as workplace commentator Penelope Trunk noted in a recent BNET article, people make assumptions about us based on how our office looks too, even though that topic gets less attention.

    And according to an expert Trunk cites, the conclusions we draw about people from the state of their workspace are fairly accurate. The news isn’t good for those who maintain a messy space; they are perceived more negatively than those who keep their workplace tidy.

    But awareness about the messages we send via the stuff in our office provides an opportunity to control the image we’re conveying – and a way to pick up valuable clues about others:

    • Clean up your act: If you have a messy desk, you may be firmly convinced that the disorder doesn’t impede your productivity. But fair or not, it still sends the wrong message.
    • Learn about others by assessing their workspaces: Trunk notes that it’s easier to create a positive first impression with stylish clothing than to “fake” orderliness – even in the short term. Since research shows impressions gathered from office space tidiness tend to be accurate, use it as a tool.
    • Discover more about yourself by evaluating your office clutter: Self-knowledge is a key element of success. Think about what the state of your office may reveal about you, then accentuate the positive traits or work on improving the negative.
    • Use clues you pick up from office items as a communication tool: An ability to read people is a valuable business skill. Use your impressions to learn more about the person with whom you’re communicating, especially if you’ve just met.

    The bottom line? Whether unintentional or by design, the way we handle our workspace sends a message. By being aware of this, you can make sure your space sends the right message and use the knowledge gained by assessing others’ offices to your advantage.

    Read Penelope’s entire article, Managing Your Career By Managing the Stuff on Your Desk | BNET.

    5 Creative Ways for Women Business Leaders to Engage Employees

    April 8th, 2013

    If you’re looking for an edge for your enterprise, look no further than your team: Motivated employees can give your business a major advantage.

    There are many ways for women business leaders to inspire your team, but every method has a single goal – to build an engaged workforce that delivers the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Leadership guru Holly Landau outlines 5 creative ways to effectively engage employees in a recent American Express OPEN Forum article:

    1. Give employees a voice: Front-line employees are in touch with customer needs, so they’re a great source of suggestions on how to increase customer satisfaction. And when you ask for their input, employees feel a greater sense of ownership and tend to display more commitment.
    2. Bring out your employees’ inner entrepreneur: Do your customers have unmet needs? Again, your staff may be aware of opportunities that you’ve missed. Engage employees by asking them to identify products or services customers need that you aren’t currently providing.
    3. Engage employees in efficiency and sustainability initiatives: Ask your team for their ideas about how to improve operational efficiency and reduce your company’s carbon footprint. Going green can benefit the planet and your business. And by soliciting staff input, you make them part of the solution.
    4. Ask open-ended questions: Women business leaders are accustomed to solving problems – finding answers is an important part of what you do. But true leadership also entails bringing out the best in your people by asking questions. When you ask open-ended questions, the resulting discussions help your team discover new ways to help your business thrive. It also elevates employee engagement.
    5. Coach and mentor all team members: Whether full- or part-time, traditional employee or contract resource, all team members need clear direction. It’s crucial that you make sure all team members understand their role, know your expectations and receive frequent feedback.


    By asking your employees for their input, encouraging them to serve as customer advocates and making sure they understand what is expected of them, you can build and sustain a highly engaged workforce that will give your business a competitive advantage.

    Reader Holly’s full article, “Management Tips from Holly Landau.

    Managing in Uncertain Times: Top 10 Tips for Women Business Leaders

    March 15th, 2013

    Leading a business in a tumultuous economic climate poses many challenges, but you can succeed if you stay agile and use common sense.

    By any measure, these are challenging times for women business leaders. The dislocating effects of globalization were compounded and amplified immeasurably by the near-collapse of the global financial system, creating a troubled economy that shows little signs of returning to robust growth.

    Leading economists note that we may be in a new era that demands a fresh set of skills from business leaders. In a recent Wall Street Journal Online article, executive editor Alan Murray shares tips that may help you meet the challenges ahead:

    1. Stay flexible: In a climate in which the only constant is change, it pays to be agile. Reexamine your mission and strategies frequently to make sure you’re responding to changing times.
    2. Devour data: Knowledge is more important than ever when changes come at lightning speed, so stay in touch with customers and industry trends.
    3. Be (somewhat) humble: It’s important to realize you don’t have all the answers. In that spirit, seek new solutions from multiple sources, including employees and customers.
    4. Communicate: As a woman business leader, you play an important role as your firm’s “evangelist.” Enlist the support of all stakeholders – including staff, customers and suppliers – to ensure success.
    5. Plan for contingencies and be proactive: Many businesses were unprepared for the last crisis, and few will be prepared for the next. Plan for emergencies. Address problems before they become crises.
    6. Insist on candor and stay involved: Create an atmosphere in which problem-solving is more important than finger-pointing, and insist on honesty. Don’t forget that in troubled times, employees are anxious too. They may also have valuable information. Be visible and accessible.
    7. Keep your organization flat: Multilevel companies are less agile. Improve your reaction time with a flat organizational structure.
    8. Cross-train your talent: Multitalented employees give your business an edge because they help you react quickly to changing demands. Make sure each staff member can perform multiple roles.
    9. Assess your team: Complacency is the enemy of success. Continuously evaluate your team, rewarding top performers and improving (or terminating) those who aren’t contributing.
    10. Use your judgment: Follow your instincts, and remember that prospects that sound too good to be true probably are.

    These tips sound like common sense because many of them are. But as the business activities that led to the current economic crisis demonstrated, common sense isn’t always common. Read more about how good judgment and agility can help you lead in troubled economic times.