Don’t Stand on the Sidelines

Originally published in Utah Business.

About a decade ago, as a member of the governor’s senior staff, I learned a valuable lesson about female leadership in the workplace. The governor’s senior team was discussing the right course of action on a welfare issue affecting thousands of Utah families. It won’t surprise those of you who know her well that Olene Walker, who was lieutenant governor at the time, made her point of view known in an articulate, well-reasoned and forceful fashion. She was not going to stand on the sidelines while an issue affecting the neediest Utah families was debated. It was an extraordinary example of the feminine value of compassion having its day, and I took note. Society benefits from women in the workforce.

Similar examples play out in small businesses, corporations, nonprofit entities and government every day. Women bring perspective, experience and a native skill set that is unique. Society benefits when feminine values like civility, stewardship, collaboration, aesthetics and so many more are well represented.
But working women beware—it isn’t easy. I’ve learned a few things along the way. With the hope that it benefits both men and women, here is my advice for working women.

Don’t let the bozos get you down. The men and women I’ve worked with have almost without exception been amazing and inspiring people. But let’s be honest—there are a few bozos out there.
Early in my career I had a male co-worker tell me the unemployment rate wouldn’t be so high if women like me stayed home. Really? Never mind the immense contributions of women in the workforce. Never mind the huge diversity of circumstances in our home lives. Some people just don’t get it. Move on.

Don’t expect it to be easy, particularly if you have children. I tell people that I had everything going for me—a great husband, sisters who lived in town, grandparents who lived in town, flexible employers and wonderful kids. Being a working mom is still by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. If you want to have both a meaningful career and a fulfilling family life, you are going to have to work extremely hard. Get used to it and seek the support you need.

Let the right things slide. I heard great advice from a woman participating on a panel about work-life balance. She said, “If you’re going to let something slide, let it be the homemade jam and yard work.” Her point: you can’t do everything so do the things that matter most. Give the other things a skip.

Keep leaning forward, despite the obstacles. Working women have a wind in their face you really can’t understand if you are a man. I don’t know how to describe it, but I will try. It’s constantly being in meetings where you are the only woman. It’s misplaced comments about appearances. It’s a nagging feeling that you are contributing in big ways and receiving less compensation and perks. It’s witnessing a pattern of protection for men when there is a restructuring. It’s the lonely feeling of being left out of major decisions impacting your life despite your talents and abilities.

None of these feelings are convenient to talk about. All of these feelings exist in varying degrees among the 62 percent of adult Utah women who participate in the workforce. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. My advice: keep on, keepin’ on. Let your contributions shine. Celebrate the breakthroughs. Be a productive force for progress.

Remember the power of time deployed well. Despite the challenges, there is power in doing your very best every day. It adds up. We have great examples of successful women in our community who have produced day after day their whole career: Pat Richards, the CEO of SelectHealth, who runs a huge and complex business; mothers like mine, Marcia Egan, who raised 11 children with grace and flair; and Gov. Olene Walker, who walked the talk every day of her public service. Every day matters. Use them well.

Benefits in the workplace are a two-way street. Let’s be honest—there are advantages for women in the workforce as well. Major companies, prominent community boards, universities and other entities want talented women in major roles. The businesses I interact with actively seek diversity in the workplace. Sometimes it’s well-qualified men who are turned away. We need to be sensitive to the work pressures facing both genders.

I have an enormously talented daughter just finishing her final year of college at Arizona State University. Her approach to life and the talents she’s developed inspire me. As they like to say in the business world, she has a long runway ahead of her. Let’s all do our part to give her and so many other talented people every opportunity to make this world a better place.