Maddy Dychtwald

Archive for the ‘Influence’ Category

Women and Leadership: How to Find a Mentor

In Influence on January 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

Now that 2011 is well under way, many of us are making and breaking resolutions — trying to figure out how we can be the best version of ourselves for 2011. The word “reinvention” keeps popping up, especially in conversations with women who want to move into leadership positions in their work. The economic meltdown has eliminated many jobs, ramped up the competition among qualified people and, in general, made it more urgent than ever to find that competitive edge. Both business and government would benefit from more women in leadership positions. Studies show us that profitability improves when women take on positions of leadership in companies. So what tools can best help women move ahead?

Enter the mentor

A mentor can show you how to ramp up your skill-sets, network effectively and work around or eliminate your weaknesses. They can even open some very important doors to leadership positions.

But how do you find that all-important mentor? Do you stay in your limited circle, hoping your parents, friends or co-workers might “know someone” and put in a good word for you? Or can you yourself have the audacity to reach out to someone you truly respect and admire and ask him or her (in some compelling way) to help you learn, improve and move forward?

In my experience as an entrepreneur, trend-spotter and author of several books (including “Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power will Transform Our World for the Better“), I have had the good fortune to benefit from a number of incredible mentors, who have had great mentors themselves. The main reason they were willing to give me a boost up the ladder of success was simply this: I asked!

Of course, I also did my homework. I learned about their education, their path to success, their past work experience and even the nonprofits to which they contributed their time and/or money. In better understanding their interests, I could make my remarks and questions both respectful and authentic.

Aim high and don’t be intimidated

When searching for a mentor, the first thing you should keep in mind is that no leader is “too important” to be your mentor. Don’t put limits on your list of potential mentors by assuming someone is too busy, too high up or too inaccessible. Like the gorgeous model that no one asks out on a date because they assume she is not interested, often the leaders who are seemingly “too busy” do not get as many requests as you might expect. And they are often the very ones who want the opportunity to give back through helping someone just like you.

Keep in mind that mentoring comes in all sizes, shapes and durations. It doesn’t have to take the form of mentoring we often conjure up in our minds, in which we meet with someone for an hour each week, face-to-face. Maybe it’s a Skype video conference once a month with someone on the other side of the globe. Or perhaps it’s one potent walk-and-talk in the park, tagged onto a business trip or vacation to another city. Mentoring, really, is just learning what you can from someone more experienced and savvy who you admire and respect.

And remember that asking is a gift. I have learned firsthand that the knowledge and acumen that leaders have gained over the years is almost always something they want to share. It helps complete the circle and populate their profession and industry with new blood; it also leaves them feeling like they are making a purposeful contribution to the future of their profession, their company and even the world. In a nutshell, it helps them leave a legacy.

So while it is important to keep an open mind about who could be an excellent mentor, you should also consider these suggestions and tips as you begin your search:

  • Be bold, be gracious. After you figure out who you’d like to ask to be your mentor and do your due diligence on that individual, you’ve got to ask them. This can be scary, but you will never get your mentor without asking. Find a way to ask that person that appeals to their ego, intelligence and good will. Help them to know that you understand who they are and how they got to where they are. At the same time, provide them with a feel for who youare in a way that might draw them in and want to consider mentoring you.
  • Try different avenues. Emailing someone is relatively easy today, but a handwritten letter may make you stand out more. Once you know a lot about the person, consider the best method of contact — email, a letter or even, if appropriate, a direct message on Twitter or Facebook. Also, if you have something thoughtful you can send as a gift (e.g. a book you believe that person might like, a magazine article, etc.) include it as a gesture of respect.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Like many things in life, you have to reach out to many to find the one. If one attempt doesn’t work out, don’t give up. The most successful professionals in the U.S. have or have had a mentor and many of them did exactly what you are attempting to do — so they may well want to “pay it forward.” Don’t let any negative self-talk discourage you and rob you of what could be a rich opportunity to take your career — and your life — to the next level.

Remember what the great Virgil said: “Fortune favors the bold.” What was true in 29 B.C. is just as relevant today.

Good luck!

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Introducing the World’s Most Influential Woman

In Huffington Post Series, Influence on May 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

Who are the world’s most influential women? With Mother’s Day brunch still being digested, we think it’s a no brainer. For both of us–it’s our mothers. Maddy’s mother, Sally Kent Fusco, has been through it all: a first husband who couldn’t earn a consistent living and died young, and a second who is her soul-mate for life, helping to bring her economic emancipation to boot. When Christine’s mother, Peggi Berge, found herself suddenly, unexpectedly single after years as a stay at home mom, she went back to school, became a nurse and worked nights to support her two children. Today, she’s comfortably retired on her own earnings.

The story of heroic mothers is nothing new. But, as we discuss in our new book, “Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power will Transform Our World for the Better,” what is new is the way that mothers around the world, through their efforts to support their families, are finally, at long last, beginning to achieve economic emancipation. Women in the US and overseas are becoming financially powerful enough to stand on their own two feet and tip the world’s power balance, starting with home life, extending to work life, and finally affecting general society.

The massive entry of women into the paid workforce had not started to translate into real social and political influence for women until recently. It’s become clear that the health of the global economy now demands that women realize their full potential as economic participants. This transformed world, where women hold economic power equal to men’s, is inevitable not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the “bright” thing to do. Human economic success now depends on it. The data shows that countries that harness women’s economic power are winning. Those that fail to embrace this trend will lose.

In the past few years, prominent economists and policy makers have abruptly woken to the fact that women’s equality in the workplace is not just a “women’s issue,” but a serious factor in global economic competitiveness. In Geneva, the World Economic Forum–a global group of influential economists and policy makers–launched a comprehensive annual Global Gender Gap Report, developed by WEF’s Global Competitiveness Network. In these reports, WEF has repeatedly found a direct connection between a country’s ability to tap the skills and talents of women and its economic success. According to the 2007 report, “a nation’s competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its female talent.”

See, Mom? It’s not just your family you were helping … it was the world.

This is how it happens. In our book, Influence, we describe what we call “the three stages of economic power.” First, a woman–like Christine’s mom–sets out to help her family survive. We call this first stage of economic power Survival. Survival is a woman earning enough to put a roof over her family’s heads, to feed and clothe her children. The second stage is Independence — this is when a woman feels free from daily worries about food and shelter, and can rely on herself to provide more than just the basics.

We believe that until now, most women in the world, even where they’ve been in the workforce in large numbers for decades, have been stalled in the Survival or Independence stages. But in the US and many other countries, women are about to reach a tipping point, to cross, en masse, to the third stage of economic power — Influence. That’s when women use their money, their economic status and the confidence it brings to make significant change within their workplaces, homes and governments. Influence is Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of Pepsico, vowing that within a few years, the company would earn half its profits from healthy products. Influence is Northern California entrepreneur Sally Thornton founding Flexperience, an innovative consulting firm matching experienced, talented women with part-time, flexible jobs at big corporations. Influence is college senior Kawtar Chyraa at al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, raising enough money to build a school. Influence is women using their economic power and confidence to reinvent systems originally designed by men, for men; to better fit the way we all live today.

We are part of a turning point in history. For the first time, the smartest nations, corporations and communities know that they must seek ways to better nurture and harness the full talents of their entire population, both women and men. And there is ample hard evidence to show that tapping women’s talents, in every sphere, will make the world more equitable and more prosperous. (There are lots of examples in the book itself.)

When a country educates its girls and women, its gross domestic product grows. When a corporation adds more women to its senior leadership, the company performs better financially than if there were only men at the top. This isn’t feminist ideology: This is research, supported by study after study.

Countries and companies face a unique opportunity, here and now: To create a world where both women and men can bring their wide array of talents to bear on the problems of the world. But this moment, like mother’s day, will soon pass. Companies and countries that heed the call, accepting and facilitating women’s rising power, will emerge as winners in the economy of the future. Those that don’t will be left behind.

For women themselves, this is an unparalleled moment. For the good of families, personal economies and national economics, it’s time for women to take the step to influence. It’s time not to seize power from men, but to shift it, so half the world’s citizens hold half the world’s economic, social and political influence.

Our mothers may not have dreamed that this was the lesson they were teaching. But it’s one we hope our daughters will carry on. And please share your stories on influence!

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

If I Ate My Kids, Could I Deduct It?

In Influence on April 15, 2010 at 10:15 am

It’s tax time again and once again, I’m irked by a question that’s bothered me since my kids were in diapers.  Why isn’t childcare a business expense?

After all, if I take a client out to lunch, I can deduct part of my tuna salad.  But that salad’s not nearly as crucial to my ability to do business as my daycare provider was when my kids were growing up.  Without childcare, I couldn’t have worked at all.  And while my daughter recently graduated from and my son is still in college, it’s still true that millions of mothers  in every income bracket would not be able to work without daycare.

But even though 70 percent of women with kids in first grade or younger work, childcare is not a business expense.  And lunch is (at least, partially).

To be more precise about it (since the IRS likes to be nit-picky) you can deduct a small amount of childcare.  But not because it’s a business expense; just because Congress realized that parents would go stark raving mad without some help. (And imagine what that would do to health care costs).

Do you know what the average American family with a baby and a preschooler spend on childcare? About $19,800.  Know how much you can deduct? $5000.  That’s three months of childcare.

Personally, I have to work all year.  I don’t get to knock off in April and stay home. How about you?

Why hasn’t the tax code caught up to the national reality?  Why don’t we as a country do everything we can to support the working moms who have emerged as heroines of the American family in this last recession, keeping families solvent while men lost jobs at higher rates than women?
The last time our country seriously thought about childcare as a national issue was 1973. The Federal Comprehensive Child Care Act sailed through both the House and Senate. But Nixon vetoed the bill saying it would “weaken the family.” I find it fascinating that despite the veto and despite the enormous cost of childcare, despite overt pressure from the President of the  United States to stay home…women went to work anyway.  And their wages have been the economic engine driving the phenomenal growth of America’s economy and our standard of living in the past 30 years.

It’s time to pick up where the conversation left off 37 year ago. That’s what the Obama administration did in  January 2010 by addressing childcare tax credits as described in this CNN article. And a local public radio station raised an even more fundamental question in this story: “How has the cost of child care affected your career decisions?”  It’s a question we should all be asking ourselves, perhaps even before we launch our careers. We need business schools and colleges to help young professionals–men and women–address these questions early on.

So, what’s more important to you? A cheaper business lunch? Or high quality childcare for America’s kids? It’s time we take another look at our national priorities. What do you think? I want to know.


The REAL Sandra Bullock Trade

In Influence on April 8, 2010 at 11:47 pm

This week, David Brooks wrote in a New York Times column he titled “The Sandra Bullock Trade

“Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?”

Huh?  Leaving aside the hoary assumption that women have to choose one of the other (which smacks of backlash, and raises the question–and why didn’t Brooks write about the “Tiger Woods Trade”?), here’s my philosophical question for Brooks:  “Would you stay with an adulterous jerk if you had the money and power to leave and support yourself?”

It wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t have that choice. Period.  As recently as 150 years ago, when a woman married in the US, all her property became her husband’s, by law. Even personal items like clothes and trinkets and pictures, belonged to the husband. A woman couldn’t sell her property without her husband’s consent, and if they divorced, all pretty much reverted back to the man, who also kept the kids.  It was nearly impossible for women to support themselves if they left their husbands. They were basically financial dependents for life.

Fast forward to today.  Women, like Bullock, have used their economic power to leave unhappy relationships, to create family situations where they have more power, and to reinvent family patterns in a way that gives women far more say than ever before.   As women have moved from economic survival to independence, they’ve had a massive impact on the family, boosting family income (ONLY families with a working wife saw real income growth between the 1970s and today) and inventing a broad spectrum of new family structures that accommodate all kinds of people.

Sandra Bullock shouldn’t be the specter of what happens when a woman chooses a powerful career:  She should be the poster child for what economic and social influence allow women to do.  To support themselves and their families, to make the real Sandra Bullock trade—trading in a man who abuses your trust.

So my question for you is:  How will you use your economic influence?  Will you use it to build a stronger family?  To advance your career?  To change the way your company is managed?  I want to know how you plan to use your influence.   Please tell me.

The Pink Elephant in the Room

In Influence on April 2, 2010 at 5:10 am

It’s a curious thing, how a change so massive can still take us by surprise.

100 years ago, telephones were scarce, TVs not invented, and apples just a tasty fruit.  Women couldn’t vote, and in many countries, couldn’t even own property, especially if they were married.

But for all the technological and political change the world has seen in the past century, the single most powerful economic change has not been caused by technology or the rise of developing nations.  It’s been created by women.

Over the past two decades, “women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or…China or India,” wrote the Economist in 2006.   Today, the average American family has two cars, many TVs and countless technological toys.  We couldn’t afford half those luxuries without the power of the working women.

And yet, it still astonishes me how invisible this massive change seems.  In the U.S, we take for granted that women work—but we don’t consider child care a tax-deductible business expense.  We know that women work harder and longer than men, when you count  all that cooking, cleaning and laundry—but most poor people in the U.S. (and globally) are women.  We see a few women at the top of corporations and many in the middle, but most women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man does in a similar job, even when controlling for education and experience.

In short, although women’s economic power has grown enormously, we often don’t take notice. Why? Because, to date, little of that economic power has translated into social or political influence.  We’re earning money, but it still feels like a man’s world.  This is especially true in the United States, which lags far behind other nations on global indices of gender equality.  Women are 20% of elected officials, 11% of business leaders, just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and only minor figures in the media that covers them — “female bylines at major magazines are still outnumbered by seven to one”, write Newsweek’s Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball.

But all that’s finally starting to change.  After decades of building up our earning power, hoarding our economic force, we’re about to spend our capital.  Slowly at first, but with increasing speed, women are unleashing their influence on the world.  Maybe it’s by having dad pick up the kids, maybe it’s by making a microloan to a woman half a world away, but gradually, small changes are accumulating, like a thousand water drops seeping, creeping, eroding a mighty mountain.  Together, we’re reshaping our world from a man’s world to, eventually, a partnership society that, one day, will work as well for women as men.

My co-author, Christine Larson, and I started following those changes in our book INFLUENCE: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better, which Hyperion publishes this May.  But things are changing far faster than any book can follow, especially given the long lead time of the publishing industry.

So, we’re going to track those changes here, minute by minute, showing how women are starting to use their influence to change the world.

Please help me.  I want to know how you’re using your economic influence—to educate your daughter, to reinvent the division of labor in your house or at your company, to help other people around the world.