There is a women’s leadership movement afoot that needs to transition from underground grassroots to mainstream establishment. This isn’t about goodwill, preferences or representation. Mobilizing women into leadership positions is mandatory for sustainable economic growth, global competitiveness and innovation across all industries.
It’s time for women to dive-in, head-first and heart-strong. They must actively deploy their unique ability to see with wide-angle vision and sow opportunities with a passionate pursuit – as do all great pioneers that change the status quo and build new bridges. International Women’s Day, recently celebrated on March 8, reminded us of “the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.”
Women are ready to live with an entrepreneurial spirit and activate their ability to connect the dots of resources and relationships to create and sustain momentum. Women wired to naturally promote the spirit of giving and lead to leave a legacy will cultivate continuous impact and influence in the industries they serve.
In order to consistently deliver on the natural leadership skills that they possess, women must confidently convert today’s shallow waters into deep reservoirs of endless possibilities in business, government and the media. This is not just about having a voice; it’s about changing the conversation about what is required to enable growth, innovation and opportunity.
Since the publication of my article titled, The Most Undervalued Leadership Traits Of Women, I’ve received hundreds of emails from women all over the world who were inspired, yet surprised that a man understood that women in leadership represented today’s new normal. While I was equally inspired by their voices and touched by their stories, I was more impressed by just how ready women are to lead.
Not just because they believe they deserve a seat at the table, but more so because they see that their natural abilities to lead are in alignment with what the marketplace warrants during this time of survival, renewal and reinvention. Their instincts tell them that their time has come to dive-in and get things back on track.
One of those emails introduced me to two senior female executives at Deloitte LLP who exemplify leadership at its highest level: Maritza Montiel, Deputy CEO & Vice Chairman, and Jennifer Steinmann, Deputy CEO and Chief Talent Officer. This led to the opportunity to conduct a candid interview about their leadership journey and their advice to other women.
Following is Part 1 of my conversation with them. Part 2 will run tomorrow.
Glenn Llopis: Maritza, why are you so passionate about women in leadership?
Maritza Montiel: My passion for the topic of leadership came from observing women and men in different leadership roles and from sitting on the executive committee and multiple boards. When you get to see women in action from many different dimensions, as well as men, it can be quite insightful if you pay attention.
I started my career back in a different era, the early 1970s, a pioneer stage of the women’s revolution when we were told – and many believed – that you could have it all. Not exactly true; my philosophy always was: “You can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.”
Llopis: What has made women successful in business since then?
Montiel: Women through the years have had to face multiple challenges, making them the world’s greatest multi-taskers. I think this is one reason why women succeed in business.
For example, many mothers work day and night as caretakers, CEOs of the household – and yet they also come into the workplace and compete in very challenging environments, where they have to put in long hours to get ahead. This challenge is a real balancing act. As Jen’s mentor, I encouraged her when she was 8 ½ months pregnant to take the job and we would figure out the work/life balance.
Women today are in a much different place than we were when I started out. But we still have a lot of barriers to overcome and ground to cover. When you look statistically at women in corporate America – and organizations throughout the world – it is still highly disproportionate. Only 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women – a number that has not changed in the past decade.
When we begin to see more role models and more women defining the rules, we will see what that success looks like and can begin to emulate it. Not that you should be like everyone else, but it does cause you to begin to think about what is possible.
Llopis: How did it affect you, not having role models?
Montiel: When I was young, and thinking about getting to the next level, becoming a partner – we had two different evaluation processes: current performance and long-term potential. Even though I got good performance reports every six months, I always got “undecided” for long-term potential.
When I asked a lead partner at the office why, he said, “We just don’t know about you because there are no other women partners.”
They may have thought my potential was limited, but I never did. That is why you have to dive in, not just lean in. You can’t whisper, you have to roar – and be assertive about your desire to lead and to succeed.
Llopis: Jennifer, what are the top barriers that women can overcome faster than people might think?
Jennifer Steinmann: People make assumptions about your willingness to take on a challenge, especially if you’re in a unique situation (in my case, being 8 ½ months pregnant). I broke down those assumptions, that barrier, by making an impact running our talent organization.
There aren’t that many women in senior leadership roles, so as Maritza pointed out, that can be a barrier when you don’t have enough role models. What women have done this before you so that you can see how things work and orient yourself around their example in order to better position yourself and adjust to the environment most effectively?
When I walked into my first executive meeting, I was aware of being new in this role and making a jump into a leadership role where someone was perhaps taking a chance on me. I hadn’t necessarily cleared all the leadership hurdles normally required for someone taking a leadership job at this level.
This led to another barrier of sorts, what I would call the: “lots of people want to help me” syndrome.
Llopis: How was that a barrier?
Steinmann: In the beginning, I was surrounded by other people and this made it hard to filter out the noise. Several people felt entitled to tell me what to do even though I was the one that had the job.
But the final, most important barrier was myself. I got the job, and I had to derive confidence from that. Support from women’s groups helped me to see that it didn’t matter how I got the job – I had the job because someone saw something in me and believed I could get the job done.
I needed to take in the input I was getting from others but ultimately follow the vision I had as a leader. I needed to “leader up” and make a mental shift from being a mentee to being a leader, get others to follow my lead, seize the opportunity and run with it.
As a constant reminder, I have a poem on my desk (Invictus by William Ernest Henley) that was hung on the wall of our kitchen by my father. The last line reads:
“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
That’s how I look at my role and it helps me overcome the challenges and the barriers, even when they are self-inflicted.
Llopis: As you think about how you grew into the role, how can you use that to inspire other women leaders to elevate their own confidence?
teinmann: The critical glue that holds everything together is finding those 1 or 2 people who can give you a pep talk when you need it and champion you when you need it. The right mentors and sponsors will give you straight talk and have no agenda other than helping make you successful. Day or night I knew I could ping Maritza and ask her to take a look at something and let me know her thoughts. I could ask: “Am I off on this, or on the right track?”
If you do all of your homework in assessing the situation and determining what direction to go, you will build confidence in yourself that you have set the right vision and that you’re going to execute the job well.
Llopis: Was there a defining moment for you, when you felt your confidence grow as a leader?
Steinmann: The mental shift happened for me in one meeting when we were very close to launching a new operating model for our talent organization. Two senior partners sat me down and started to lecture me. I didn’t know what their objective was, but I came out of it saying I’m going to do this my way and stop worrying about what other people think.
Every now and then, take a step back, look at what you’ve been asked to do, and then have the courage to see it through, because you’re the one that’s done the work and nobody’s in a better position than you – because you’ve got the knowledge, the ownership, and the responsibility to get it done.
Llopis: You know you’ve found yourself in a defining moment when preparedness meets opportunity.
Steinmann: Our gut tells us when we are ready, even when others may not think we are. That’s when you take it upon yourself and just go for it.
Llopis: When you were mentoring Jennifer, when did you start to see things clicking for her?
Montiel: I remember that same meeting and saying, “You don’t work for those two individuals. You work for the CEO. Thank them for their input and let them know you will discuss it with your boss at the appropriate time.”
This is the way to establish your own authority. Show interest in what they have to say, but you’re not there to do what they think you should do. You’re there to execute your job as a leader, based on the vision and expectations your boss defines for you.
This is something I see with a lot of women: they think they have to ask for permission to lead.
Llopis: Why do you believe women need to ask permission?
Montiel: Men don’t suffer from that (in general), but women are brought up more not to offend anyone. They worry how it will come across if they push too hard. This leads them to worrying about things that have nothing to do with their job.
At the end of the day, it’s about having conviction, focus, and self-confidence. Knowing you’ve been asked to take this job, so you take the risk, and even if you fail, even if you are taken out of the job, you’ll learn a lot more from failing than if you hadn’t tried at all.
There is a moment when you have to take that leap of faith, and have the courage to stand up and speak for yourself. When Jen gave herself permission to do that, it was very liberating. Her confidence during and after that meeting dramatically changed.
Her new-found confidence said: “I deserve to have a seat at the table.”
“I am equal in terms of knowledge and I can contribute equally to any other person in this room.”
“My opinion matters and my opinion counts, so I will speak up and talk about the things I think are important.”
This is what great leadership is all about. But first you have to take that initial step, and eliminate the fear you have inside you.
Llopis: It sounds like you played a pivotal role in helping her get over that fear.
Montiel: Well, Jen came in at a pivotal time for us. We really needed to transform the talent organization for 21st century leadership and the new rules to compete. Jen is working on this paradigm shift and understands the different generations, their desires, their needs, their demands – and that we needed to work in a different way to achieve our goals and objectives.
It all came from that one defining moment; she did it, all I did was cheer her on and tell her: “I’ve got your back.”
This is the end of Part 1 of my interview with Deloitte’s Maritza Montiel, Deputy CEO & Vice Chairman, and Jennifer Steinmann, Deputy CEO and Chief Talent Officer.