Empowering the Next Generation of Women in Business

I’ve spent my career working to mentor and prepare the next generation of women leaders. It’s a cause that is very personal because as I started my career, there were few seats at the table for women.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I reflect on the importance that Title IX had on our women leaders today. In fact, I believe it is a key tool that helped shape the leadership skills of today’s young women. At first blush, Title IX might just be viewed as a “gender equity law,” but it is much more. Title IX opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women by creating opportunities for female participation in sports. Through sports, girls built confidence and were taught important skills that last a lifetime, such as leadership and teamwork.

After Title IX was in effect for several years, I began to see a new generation of female employees who understood how to function as a team, work together to achieve an objective and support other team members instead of competing against them. I saw young women entering the workforce who cheered for others’ successes and encouraged each other to achieve – a far different environment than the days when women were all competing for the one and only “women’s seat at the table.” The teamwork learned on the soccer and softball fields, the basketball court or the racetrack carried over to the boardroom and created more collegial colleagues who were supportive of one another. Title IX helped girls learn that “teamwork makes the dreamwork.”

While there are more opportunities today, there are still important disparities to overcome – not the least of which are pay equity and balanced C-Suite and Board of Directors representation. That is why it’s important for women in leadership positions to give back and help others navigate their own path to success.

One of the best pieces of advice that I got at the start of my career as a secretary on Capitol Hill was from a friend’s father who told me, “Whatever job you might have, do it better than anyone has ever done before. Always put your hand up and offer to do more, come in early, stay late and always ask what more you can contribute.” That important advice changed my perspective and led me to understand the importance of hard work, regardless of the job. I always tell other women – there is no shortcut to a successful career. You must put in the hard work if you want to succeed. You should always try to be the best person who has ever done that job.

I reached out to several successful women leaders to share one piece of advice they share with other women on how to navigate the professional field as a woman. Here is their advice:

Christie Hefner, Chairman of Hatchbeauty LLC and President of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation:

“Develop the skill and confidence to negotiate as you don’t necessarily get in life what you deserve. You get what you can negotiate for.”

Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of the American Beverage Association:

“Take big risks and set clear boundaries. Women often play it safe because we’re pulled in so many directions. When I see my smart, capable female colleagues struggling with a big professional decision – whether accepting a new job or taking on an important assignment, I urge them to set the boundaries that will enable them to say yes and be successful across the board. No email or calls during the dinner hours? Need to work remotely more often? No more than three consecutive nights on the road? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to ask for the boundaries that will make you – and the organization – effective and allow you to take on new opportunities. After all, women will always find the way to get the job done!”

Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute:

“The first best advice I ever received came from my mother when I was a teenager. She reminded me, ‘You always have to act nice because you just never know where life will take you.’ As simple as it sounds, it has proven to be even more true in my adult life, especially in a city like Washington, D.C., where today’s antagonists so frequently become tomorrow’s allies.

More recently, when I faced a decision that would determine not just where my professional aspirations would take me, but who I was destined to be, a mentor asked me, ‘Leslie, are you running to something or away from it?’ My mentor pushed me to dig deep inside myself at an age when family obligations and maintaining friendships were all feeling more like barriers to my career aspirations than opportunities that would help direct my trajectory. Now, in my second CEO role in an association, I’m confident in the choices I made that allowed me to prepare for an association leadership role, and I try to always find time to serve as a mentor to those who seek my counsel. I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with them and continue to learn more about myself through my mentor-mentee relationships with young professionals. I hope to encourage them to experience these same revealing moments about themselves.”

Debra Cabral, President, Story Partners:

“Today, the world is far more open to women in leadership roles than at any time in history so women should not be afraid to compete at the highest levels if that is what they want. What has not changed is what it will take to succeed: the commitment to education and training, hard work, patience, perseverance, and the dedication to continued growth to meet the changing demands of the workplace.”