The ways women win at work: 5 minutes with Dr Lois Frankel

Lois Frankel - blog image

Dr Lois Frankel has become practically synonymous in the US with helping women succeed in work and life. Her book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, was a New York Times mega-bestseller that has been translated into twenty-five languages and sold a million copies worldwide. As president of Corporate Coaching International, Dr Frankel helps tens of thousands of women each year achieve their personal and professional goals. She has been featured on the Today show, Larry King Live, Tavis Smiley, and in People magazine, Time magazine, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, and more.  Dr Frankel has also founded two nonprofit organisations, MOSTE: Motivating Our Students through Experience and the Bloom Again Foundation. Dr Frankel will  give a keynote presentation at the Not-for-Profit People Conference in Melbourne on August 27-28.

How did you end up doing what you do now?

It’s a long story, but to make it short, each step of my path built on my education, experiences, and interests. I went from working in human resources to having a private practice of psychotherapy and then to being an executive coach, author, and keynote speaker. I realized that coaching tied each segment of life together into work that I find meaningful to those I serve and myself. It has been such a wonderful journey. As I think about my future, I know it will be devoted to growing Bloom Again into what I hope is an international non-profit.

What inspired you to start your own non-profit organisation?

In 2005 I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. One day I was sitting at home feeling sorry for myself when I began thinking about all of the working women who didn’t have the luxury of taking time off to heal. I had my own business, good insurance, savings and people I could count on. For women who live at or near the poverty level, even one missed day of work means the rent can’t be paid or utilities might be turned off. At that moment I promised myself that when I was well I would do something to help these women get back on their feet and bloom again.

Tell us about the work that the Bloom Again Foundation does.

We provide rapid response financial assistance to economically vulnerable working women when a medical challenge causes them to miss work.  We’ve developed a very simple system that partners with other non-profits to identify women who are legitimately in need and who meet our criteria. Those partners then apply online for a grant for living essentials (food, rent, utilities, gasoline, etc.) on behalf of the woman and our Board of Directors votes via e-mail. Within 24 hours the cheque is often on the way to the landlord or a grocery gift card is in the mail.

Who have been your mentors, and what role have they played in your life?

I never really benefitted from a formal mentoring system, but so many people inspired and guided me – whether they knew it or not! Of course public figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, and Gloria Steinem were influential in helping me to develop my own model for feminism and philanthropy. A few bosses I had when I worked at [oil company] ARCO (all men) were supportive of my ideas and continuing education. They were great advocates for me. And professors in both my undergraduate and graduate programs opened my eyes to social issues I might not otherwise have considered. I almost forgot my mother! By example she taught me the critical importance of compassion, competence, and courage.  It took a village to get me to where I am today!

Australia has just had it’s first female Prime Minister, who faced significant challenges and occasionally outrageous behaviour from the media and political opponents, in part because of her gender. What are some of the main challenges women face as leaders?

Yes, I’ve been keeping an eye on Ms. Gillard. Outrageous is the perfect word to describe how she has been treated. She has actually faced more blatant sexism than many women. The problem is that most people these days know they have to be “politically correct” (except of course for politicians the world over who seem to believe they have carte blanche to behave badly). As a result, women feel as if they’re boxing at shadows. It’s hard to identify where the real impediments to leadership are because they’ve gone underground. So lack of transparency around bias is one huge challenge. Some others are social issues such as child care, flex time, and telecommuting that would not only be a boon to women assuming more leadership roles, but also for men who seek work/life balance. Until we address these social issues, the leadership playing field will continue to be uneven as women bear the burden of childcare, eldercare, and the increasing prevalence of single motherhood who may be supported with those Grants Types For Single Mothers.

About 80 percent of Australia’s community sector workforce are women, yet most organisations’ leaders are still men. What can women in the community sector do about this?

It’s a difficult situation. So many women in the community are doing their best to just keep the family together and provide food and shelter for their children and themselves. To ask them to do one more thing is unrealistic.  That’s why I believe that wealthy, high profile women leaders like Cheryl Sandberg in the U.S. and Gina Rinehart in Australia need to advocate more for social change. When Sandberg took so much heat for not being a “true” feminist, people missed the point. She has a platform and the clout to create change for women who most likely can’t do it themselves. Those who are in the fortunate position to do so have an obligation to focus on best nursery in glossop, equitable pay, measuring executive effectiveness in terms of the diversity they bring to their organisations, and support for entrepreneurial endeavors.  At mid-levels of organisations I’d like to see more women start affinity groups where issues are discussed and the group becomes a voice for change within the organisation.

What advice do you have for aspiring non-profit leaders, men and women alike?

There are three primary things I would like to see non-profit leaders do more of, most of which I will discuss at the upcoming NFP People Conference:

  1. Learn everything you can from the world of for-profit business and apply it to your organisation.  This includes taking business classes, perhaps getting an MBA, and finding mentors who work in major corporations.
  2. Have a vision for your own leadership as well as your organisation.  Without a vision, you are simply marching in place.  Vision distinguishes managers from leaders.
  3. Build strong, interdependent teams that can support your efforts.  Don’t allow silos in your nonprofit.  They’re always counterproductive.  Define, expect, and measure team performance.  What you measure is what you get.

See Dr Frankel speak at the Not-for-Profit People Conference in Melbourne on August 27-28 – Register here.

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