Maddy Dychtwald

Posts Tagged ‘Influence Book’

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!

Gender Fluidity: Are Men Still From Mars?

In Huffington Post Series on June 8, 2010 at 8:09 am

When I was knee-deep in research for my new book, INFLUENCE: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power will Transform Our World for the Better, I was struck by the fact that of all the shifts created by women’s economic emancipation, the most monumental may prove to be its impact on men — their values, their expectations, and their very definition of manhood.

“Men are where women were 20 years ago,” Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men told me when I interviewed him for INFLUENCE. Back then, 20 years ago, women were adding career to their repertoire; today, men are adding care — for children, for aging parents, for communities. And while some (okay, many) might call men’s engagement on the home front belated, this overdue participation may, in fact, be setting the stage for the move toward a partnership society.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about some revolutionary “feminization” of men, where they simply swap roles with women, putting on aprons while women wear suits. What’s happening isn’t role reversal: It’s role reinvention. It’s a full-blown paradigm shift, one that gives both men and women more options when it comes to pursuing their careers, providing for their families and expressing their own talents and strengths. In this new social order, both genders are less shackled by a narrow, gender-oriented vision of success. Men in this new world have more social and workplace support for becoming involved fathers, equal partners in their homes and communities, and more complete people.

Case in point: When Myra Strober, a labor economist who teaches at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, started teaching her course on “Work and Family” in the early 2000s, only a handful of men signed up. Today, men represent 40 percent of her class. Why? “More and more men are interested in being good dads,” she says of her students. “They also want to be good husbands and be supportive of their wives.”

This redefinition of fatherhood is happening in millions of families around the country, where fathers are spending far more hours with their children every week than their dads spent with them. It’s happening in small ways, as even the most high-flying, type-A dads drop their kids off at day care and duck out for soccer games. It’s happening in bigger ways, as growing numbers of dads take paternity leaves, telecommute or use flex-time to have a more balanced life. These changes are sweeping through families at every income level through the thousands of daily arrangements men make because they love their wives and their kids and want happy families.

While men in general and fathers in particular are going through a time of change with its attendant ambiguity, the shift in roles is already bringing tremendous benefits to both men and women. The more our communities and employers can acknowledge, recognize, and support these changes, the more concerns like closing the gender wage gap, making sure families can afford great day care, making good education affordable, enacting child-friendly laws and policies, and advancing work-life balance will become family issues, not just women’s issues. As the genders work together to redefine womanhood, manhood and the family, our children will thrive and our economy will grow stronger.

Read the entire article as it originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

How J. Lo’s Screaming Orgasm Redefines ‘Family’

In Huffington Post Series on April 30, 2010 at 9:32 am

In J. Lo’s latest movie, The Back-up Plan, our intrepid, artificially inseminated heroine enjoys an onscreen orgasm sparked by a heady combo of some wet kissing and pregnancy hormones. As women with 27 combined months of pregnancy between us, we’re both a little skeptical (as is Mary Pols, the hilarious film reviewer).

But J. Lo’s spontaneous squealfest seems only slightly less plausible…and vastly less offensive…than her portrayal of the professional single mom by choice. J. Lo’s character quickly meets a man — phew! — but her single mom gal-pals are a parade of militant or earth-mother stereotypes. “Who wants to end up like that?” the movie seems to say.

Turns out, a growing number of moms in the U.S. do. The number of single moms by choice is expanding faster than a pair of maternity jeans. The number of babies born to single mothers by choice, like the one J. Lo plays, has grown a phenomenal 145 percent since 1980, according to journalist Emily Bazelon, writing in the New York Times Magazine. Today, a whopping 40 percent of U.S. babies are born to unmarried mothers. Plus, some 13,000 single women every year adopt children domestically, and that’s not counting international adoptions.

As we discuss in our new book, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power will Change Our World for the Better, the rise of the single mom is just one swell in the societal tsunami transforming families around the world. The shape of families is changing right before our eyes. In the US and elsewhere, the most basic unit of society — the traditional two parents plus 2.5 kids — has been replaced by a wide and colorful palette of choices: same sex couples, single parents, blended families, traditional families, four or even five generations living together — and every imaginable permutation of these options. And, like it or not, since 2007, American women are likely to spend more years of their lives single than married. Noah’s Ark, with its inhabitants paired up two-by-two, is sinking. And unless our workplaces, communities and governing bodies realize that, our ability to compete in a global economy will sink along with it.

Support for families — making sure that every family can afford high quality childcare, that every worker gets paid sick leave, that schools are safe and effective — is crucial if women and men are going to tap into our full economic potential. But we don’t have that kind of security in the U.S. Although family patterns have changed radically, most companies and legislatures act like every family is traditional — and that they all have a stay-at-home wife taking care of the kids, caring for ailing elders and doing the housework. This, in a country where 70 percent of children grow up live in a two-income household.

Other countries face the same challenges. But instead of ignoring these new challenges, they’re pioneering policies that support families even as they change. Compared to other industrialized nations, America falls flat on its face in terms of supporting families as they really exist. The United States ranks last in maternity leave, ranks 27th of 37 countries in public expenditures on childcare, and provides astonishingly little assistance for families caring for aging parents. Our nation has failed to recognize glaring truths: that hardly any kids today have a parent at home full-time, that affordable day care is as necessary and important as affordable health care, and that men and women in the workforce both have far more responsibilities outside work than ever before.

By failing to change our workplaces and policies in ways that help families, our country is threatening the well-being of kids in America. At the low end of the economic spectrum, hourly workers can lose their job if they take sick time with their kids. At the higher end, a corporate 24-7 work ethic forces parents — typically women — into more reasonable, but less prestigious, jobs. Saddest of all, without affordable, reliable childcare, single moms and their kids are far more likely to end up in poverty than any other group in America.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In other industrialized nations, it’s not. In Sweden, about 55 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers, but these kids don’t end up poor. They’re just as likely as kids of married parents to live a decent life. That’s because Sweden supports ample, affordable, high quality childcare and provides strong social support for families of all kinds. So mothers and children who don’t fit the traditional mold can thrive just as well as those who do.

At home, we’re starting to see some bold communities and work-places adapt to the changing American families–making it easier for parents to be loving, caring parents and work to their full capacity. California is now the only state in the nation to offer paid parental leave when babies are born. Several states are offering universal preschool. More and more companies are offering at least a little paternity leave to dads…and gradually, brave and loving fathers are daring to take it, despite fears about derailing their careers.

We need more families, lawmakers and communities to stand up and fight for more family-friendly workplaces and policies. If more companies and communities catch on to the real economic payoff of supporting families–happier, more productive, more focused workers who can tap into their full potential–we’ll be more competitive in the global economy.

When more companies and communities finally come to their senses, we’ll all have something to get excited about.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Must One Gender Rule the Other?

In Huffington Post Series on April 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Throughout the economic downturn, we’ve heard a lot about the “man-cession,” where men have lost more jobs than women. But there’s something bothersome about that term. It makes men sound like losers and women sound like winners in the worst economic slide in recent history. But that’s not really true: we’re all struggling. Men aren’t losing jobs because women are “winning”–but because they held more jobs in old economy fields like manufacturing that are going away. It’s not that women are winning; it’s that the economy is changing, to a world where education, relationship-building and collaboration matter more than physical strength.

Still, the media loves to portray things as black and white, win or lose. It’s simpler to think there’s a battle of the sexes than to think up an entirely new image for what’s going on. But does it have to be a war? Must one gender rule the other? Or can we imagine a better metaphor for what’s happening between the sexes right now? Can it be a scale, a teeter totter, a seesaw, where the goal for each sex is to balance, not defeat, the other? Idealistic? Maybe. Possible? Definitely.

It’s important to ask that question right now, because something entirely new is going on. For the first time ever, women represent half the workers in the United States. We don’t yet earn half the income–on average, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. But we’re reaching an economic tipping point, where women’s influence will start to change the way society does things.

As women become half the workforce and, eventually, earn half the income, how will we use our power? The evidence so far suggests we’ll change the metaphor–no more battle of the sexes, but a team effort, to create a partnership society. We don’t say this because we want it to be true (which we do), but because examples are all around us. As women have gained financial power, they’ve used that influence to reshape families, businesses and the marketplace. And, as we discuss in our new book, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power will Change Our World for the Better, those changes are helping men as much as women.

Take parenting. Back in 1973, Nixon vetoed a bill that would have funded high quality childcare for low and middle income families, saying it would “weaken the family” if more women went to work. Women went anyway–and our families are stronger. Divorce rates have dropped. Best of all, dads are taking on far more childcare duties than ever before, spending three times as many hours per week with their kids as dads did in 1960. And their kids are thriving. Study after study shows that kids with involved dads do better in school, are better behaved and have better social skills than kids with less involved dads.

What’s amazing here is that moms going to work didn’t hurt families, it helped them. It created a vacuum that sucked men back inside the home, where they became more involved fathers. Parenting is becoming a more equal partnership, and it’s helping everyone. This change is far from complete–women still do far more at home than men, on average. But all you have to do is visit your local Starbucks or grocery store any weekday afternoon, and you’ll almost always find a few dads carting around the kids while mom’s at work.

The partnership society helps our businesses, too. Studies tell us that among Fortune 500 companies, those with a greater number of women on their board showed a better return on equity than those with fewer women. That’s because groups with more diversity of all kinds tend to solve problems more creatively than more homogenous groups. Meanwhile, companies are finding that by reinventing work norms to fit the partnership society, where men and women contribute equally at work and at home, has measurable returns. When consulting firm Deloitte redesigned its career planning model and began to acknowledge that most careers for women and men are more like waves than ladders–with peaks of productivity and troughs when family takes precedence–career satisfaction of its employees rose 25 percent. That’s key in an industry that depends on attracting and keeping top talent.

Our information economy no longer depends on physical strength: It’s no longer the biggest Neanderthal with the rock who brings home the wooly mammoth. A knowledge-based economy doesn’t reward strength, it rewards smarts. And women who now equal or exceed the education levels of men in many countries, are poised to reap a massive benefit. The sooner we stop thinking about these changes as the triumph of one gender over the other, and start thinking about the partnership society, the happier our kids and our families will be.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.