Leading Like a Girl: How Far Have We Come?

Let’s celebrate our leadership qualities, not downplay them. By Heather Zynczak (CMO, Domo) A great place for women to advance their careers, learn from the experiences of others, and expand their networks is at the women-focused events that have been popping up on the conference circuit in recent years. There are a number of opportunities to get involved. Women 2.0 hosts biannual conferences, Fortune gathers top female execs for its yearly Most Powerful Women Summit, and I recently attended the Forbes Women’s Summit which was an amazing and inspiring event. Attendees heard from the next generation of female leaders, including Jessica Alba who spoke about founding her $1B+ business, The Honest Company, and the brilliant women behind The Skimm who shared how they reach thousands of millennials each morning by serving up news in a creative, yet straightforward newsletter. (Confession: The Skimm is my new guilty pleasure – I read it daily even though I am not a millennial.) We learned from industry veterans such as Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, on building an empire; Rosalind Brewer, the CEO of Sam’s Club, about using technology to be data driven; and Ann Moore, the former CEO of Time, on starting a second career. The women who speak at these kinds of events are awe-inspiring, but I’ve found that attendees are just as diverse and impressive in their own right. At one point, I found myself sitting between the CEO of one of the country’s largest restaurant chains and the CEO of a major apparel company. I shared a taxi with the dean of a major university, and during dinner, I sat next to the ex-CFO of one of the largest tech companies who now sits on four public boards. The experience reminded me that leadership and success is attainable for those who aren’t afraid to go for it.

Is Being “One of the Boys” Necessarily a Good Thing?

However, in one of the discussions I attended, women shared what makes them good leaders. While there were many great answers (“I get sh*t done,” for example), in about one-third of the responses women discussed having skills that allow them to be ambitious without seeming aggressive, or being able to navigate and succeed in male-dominated environments without being seen as pushy. That got me thinking: Is qualifying how we succeed in a male-dominated workplace the way we should be measuring our success as leaders? I did a little self-examination and found that I too have had multiple bosses compliment me for “being one of the boys” or “fitting in” during male-dominated discussions. Am I guilty of downplaying some of my better, more natural qualities to fit in and be successful? And if so, am I still being a good leader? The statistics don’t lie. Having women on the founding team ensures more success. Women are more engaging bosses. Companies that are led by corporate boards with a higher percentage of women perform better financially. The lists and studies go on… women in leadership is a good thing. So why is it that many women (including myself at times) have felt the need to downplay the traditionally feminine traits that make us such good leaders? What can we do to create an environment where female attributes of leadership are celebrated, rather than downplayed? I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to help the generation that comes after me have an experience that celebrates those who lead like a girl. Bringing women together to learn from and support each other is an important part of bringing a feminine approach to leadership moving forward.

Time to Take Action

This is why I co-founded Women At Domo – a networking group at my company dedicated to bringing women together on a regular basis. We plan the agendas with the younger generation in mind. What lecture or activity would benefit them most? It is also why Domo started an executive series for women that brings together female executives around the country to share, collaborate and celebrate empowerment. It’s one of my favorite events my company hosts. I am hopeful that the amazing female leaders and pioneers we are surrounded by will help create an environment where women don’t have to measure themselves against how well they lead like a boy. Through the efforts of organizations like Lean In and #BanBossy, hopefully we will change these underlying attitudes for women of the next generation.


About the guest blogger: As chief marketing officer at Domo, Heather Zynczak brings a data-driven focus to Domo's marketing machine. Her 20+ year career has focused on bringing value to business through technology. Heather has held executive positions at some of the world's largest enterprise technology companies, including SAP and Oracle. She has also led teams at several Silicon Valley startups and served for a number of years as a business consultant for top firms, including Accenture, The Boston Consulting Group, and Booz Allen Hamilton.