Street Ball to Hard Ball

After my last blog, many have asked me to share more about my own personal experience climbing the corporate ladder in the male-dominated world of publishing. Keep in mind, it was 1997 when I first became a CEO and Publisher, and only five percent of us were at the helm of newspapers with a circulation of more than 85,000.

My experiences of sexism are too numerous to mention here, but suffice it to say all were memorable. Growing up in a suburb of St. Louis and playing street ball with the boys, I was the best batter on the team, but I had to play by the boys’ rules; “girls” batted last. I was the only girl. I was determined to change the rules down the road. Besides my own #MeToo moments as an executive, many powerful men tested me thinking I’d be a pushover, including two governors, the wealthy owner of an NFL franchise, a Teamster chief, Wall Street media analysts, the CEO of my largest advertiser, and a group of litigious auto dealers.

My capacity to play hard ball during negotiations of multi-million-dollar contracts actually became a sport. I am often reminded that privately humor can be a powerful tonic at such times. Being thrown out of a men’s-only bar and being hit on in a Chicago hotel by the chairman of a company that had just acquired our paper just made me more resolute to pave the way for those coming behind me.

Sponsoring talented women to the top executive roles requires a commitment from the top to develop and nurture the kind of culture that values women’s special strengths and assets. A piece of advice I shared and routinely use in coaching sessions with women clients is “do not let men dominate a meeting.” Statistically, men talk about 75 percent of the time in a meeting - to one another. Also, “do not let them put forward your ideas.” There are great strategies for calling men out on this publicly, but respectfully.

Also, you must be willing to hold out for the right person when hiring as you seek diversity. At one point later in my career, I held open simultaneously both my CFO and my CIO positions for six months, determined to find a woman for both spots who would bring valuable emotional intelligence to roles typically lacking in these key leadership positions.

Those of us who have succeeded in establishing cultures where women and men can do their best work, must find ways to pay it forward, sponsor and nurture the talent who will be the next leaders.

We know how to do this. Let’s partner.