Women in Talent: 6 Outspoken Experts on What Winning Looks Like

7 min read

It's 2019 and with an avalanche of headlines hitting the HR circuit, you might think today's working women are finally getting the respect they deserve.

It seems that almost overnight, even the most untouchable companies were called to answer concerns over #MeToo (most recently, via shareholder votes). 😲

Suddenly, the whisper network wasn't just an invisible "gossip" circuit—but a real thing women had come to rely on to carve out a safe path forward in the working world. Even Silicon Valley's Alpha Girls are being picked up for TV (we're told it's combo of a Hidden Figures meets The Social Network...nice!).

For all intents and purposes, it seems like things are finally looking up for the ladies. But we wanted to know, just how far have we come, what does the future really look like—and more specifically…

What's the role of women in talent moving forward?

We reached out to leading experts in the HR, recruitment and people ops community for answers. Here's what they had to say.

More women means more balance

"I don’t want to come across as a male basher but I want to be a part of the balance that is needed."
— Minnie Lenox, Human Resources Director, City of Hot Springs, Arkansas

Minnie Lenox is an HR pro with a jaw-dropping track record:

  • 1,773 applications processed in 2016
  • Led a successful campaign to recruit and hire a new Police Chief (with 75 applicants from all over the US)
  • Hosted a record-setting Annual Employee Health Fair with the largest attendance to date

The 2017 Outstanding Professional in HR also happens to be a card-carrying advocate for women's rights. But for Minnie, the fight for equality isn't about friction. It's about balance.

"Today, more than ever before, the role that Women in Leadership have is so important to success of any organization. For so long the lead in HR has been portrayed from that of a male perspective. History has taught us that women need to come to the forefront and take a seat at the table to be in on the decision making regarding the path that the organizations is going to take. I don’t want to come across as a male basher but I want to be a part of the balance that is needed."

According to Minnie, the key going forward is accountability. "[It's] an asset that is missing in a lot of our organizations and it stems from that fact that no one wants to take a stand when we are all of the same sex! This sometimes creates a culture from one point of view and the others feel left out or like they have to go along with the flow. Look at our society today!"

"Why are we just now talking about this?"

In Minnie's view, "It took one brave woman to come forth and take a stand. Then we heard of others who had been victimized; sometimes believing that this was their rite of passage to get ahead. My heart bled when Children came forth and said “Me Too!” We, as Women in HR have to take a stand, be there for those that feel they have no choice and hold others in leadership accountable for their actions!"

What does winning look like for her?

"Winning for me is not the same as getting the big prize or finishing first!" says Minnie.

She takes her inspiration from a scripture her father gave her when she was little: “The race is not given to the swift nor to the strong, but to the one that endures till the end!”

"Winning is making a difference in the lives of individuals that I can touch," she explains. "It means taking the mantle that has been passed on to me and holding it high (with integrity and self-esteem) and allowing it to shed a bright light in dark areas. Then being able to pass it on to the next generation to do the same."

In the future, she'd like to see women carry this message forward like an Olympic torch. "One torch carries the flame that never goes out. The flame is passed from one torch to the next and each runner holds it high with pride. Eventually that flame lights the Olympic torch for the world to see. Each person that carries that torch exemplifies the true meaning of winning. This is what we as Women in talent must do!"

Authentic leadership

"We're only now starting to act like ourselves instead of try to emulate the masculine way of doing business."
—Maren Hogan, Chief Marketing Brain, Red Branch Media

If you've been in the talent world for any amount of time, you probably know Maren Hogan.

The fearless leader at Red Branch Media is the go-to authority for HR marketing. And as a recruitment marketer extraordinaire, she knows all about the importance of authenticity.

"I think women bring lots of skills and intelligence to the table. We're only now starting to act like ourselves instead of try to emulate the masculine way of doing business," explains Maren.

"By the time our daughters are in the workforce, I hope we'll see more pervasive influence of the feminine, whether that's women standing up for one another when they're interrupted or nurturing an employee through a difficult time or underscoring the importance of emotional intelligence and creating male allies in the workplace."

In her eyes, "We all benefit when the workplace is balanced with all kinds of people and each one is celebrated for their unique contribution."

What does winning look like for her?

"Winning is when my people feel valued and engaged. Being happy is fantastic but I value engagement more because I know that means they're growing in their careers, not just in the capacity of Red Branch Media. Winning for clients means nailing the candidate persona so well that each recruitment marketing piece lands and is successful in finding the right talent for the company."

Diversity as the rule (not the exception)

"It's up to us to ask for and expect even more diversity."
— Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder & Chief Innovation Officer, Workology

If you know great content, you know Workology.

Jessica and her team of hard-hitting talent experts are known for their candid advice on all things HR. According to Jessica:

"I think it is important to have diversity in the stories, perspectives, and people represented, and we've made small but visible changes. There is still so much more to do. As a parent to a daughter who is now 10, I've taught my daughter she can do anything. Her gender shouldn't matter, and I think many people are like me in that they've struggled themselves experiencing bias and want to make the world a better place for their children. That includes the talent and HR industries."

And certainly, being a mother of a daughter adds a whole new layer to the conversation. But in Jessica's eyes, it's about looking at both the personal and the greater impact.

"The talent industry has always been female dominated. It's only now more women and male allies are helping each other and bringing forth those stories and experiences. Personally, I'd like to see more female thought leaders and CHROs. It's up to us to ask for and expect from future HR leaders even more diversity in their mentors and leaders not just for women but promoting all types of diversity including race, people with disabilities, and educational and experiences," she says.

What does winning look like for her?

"Winning looks like when my daughter doesn't have to be told she can't do something because she is a woman. Winning looks like when everyone feels comfortable being themselves and companies are flexible with whatever career or personal aspirations, goals or dreams they may have," says Jessica.

But wait...there's more.

"Winning looks like when bosses like mine in 2008 don't tell their HR Directors that a new mother's place is at home with their newborn daughter and not at leading a team. That's what winning for women in the workplace as leaders looks like for me," she adds.

Unfortunately, too many women have had a similar experience. 🙄

A woke workforce

"Woke women understand the coded excuses for choosing men over women and are able to raise questions about talent decisions."
— Susan L. Colantuono, CEO, Leading Women

If you haven't already seen Susan Colantuono's TED Talk on The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get, you definitely do not want to miss it.

When she's not busy increasing the number of women supervisors and managers (by some 250% in 3 years!), you can find Susan conducting in-depth research on how to get the benefits of female leadership in the workforce.

"Woke women in talent development and acquisition roles have been crucial to women's advancement since the 1970s. Woke women understand the coded excuses for choosing men over women and are able to raise questions about talent decisions, create more equitable talent systems and advocate for initiatives that have an impact."

For experts like Susan who have been in the industry for decades, 'woke' isn't just a buzzword or hashtag.

"I say 'woke' because not all women pay attention to gender dynamics or are willing to name them when they see them at play. Some get seduced by being 'in the room' and allow business as usual to proceed. Others are blind to the way that gender dynamics play out in talent decisions. It's not a question of the 'role of women' it's a question of how educated and aware the women are," she explains.

What does winning look like for her?

"Winning will be when gender dynamics that disadvantage women are taken out of the equation. When lame excuses for choosing a man (e.g. she wouldn't want the job, she has children or she just doesn't have 'it' or she has 'sharp elbows') are no longer uttered—or, if uttered, are challenged by others in the room (both men and women)."

Amen to that. 🙌🏾

Truly effective recruiters

"I think we need to stop looking at things through the lens of gender and ask are recruiters more effective than they were 5 or 10 years ago, regardless of gender."
— Suzanne Lucas, Owner, Evil HR Lady

For some powerful women in talent, gender doesn't have much to do with it.

Talent veteran Suzanne Lucas (perhaps better known as the Evil HR Lady) has been writing about HR fails and wins for years. Here's what she has to say on the matter:

"I think we need to stop looking at things through the lens of gender and ask are recruiters more effective than they were 5 or 10 years ago, regardless of gender. The answer is that after years of ghosting candidates the tables have turned and candidates ghost them. It’s the direct and predictable consequence of years of bad behavior."

It's a great point. With candidate experience mattering more now than ever before, the real difference might have more to do with our actions and accountability than anything else.

What does winning look like for her?

"Winning for me is making a meaningful contribution to the world. Hopefully, I influence people for good."

A whole new image for HR

"I don't want to be what people think of when they think of 'HR'."
— Sarah Corboliou, Employee Success, Unito

Like most startup frontliners, Sarah Corboliou wears many hats.

The Employee Success lead at project management sync-up platform, Unito, oversees everything from hiring to on-boarding and ops.

But for Sarah, the one constant is the team's commitment to diversity.

"We have a really strong culture. Diversity is one of the big things that makes people want to come work for us and makes people want to stay at Unito. For a long time we were talking about 'culture fit' but now we want culture add-on. Someone who has the same basic principles but a different point of view and can bring those new insights to the company. Usually the way companies think about that is in terms of skills and experience, but I think it goes even deeper than that to personality."

In the past few months alone, Sarah has led several internal conversations with her founders and C-suite on everything from what diversity and inclusion really means to whether or not it's OK to hire an introvert for the sales team.

"I never meant to be in a people ops role but when I ended up here, the one thing I wanted to do was not be what people think of when they think of 'HR'. That's why we don't even call it 'HR' here," she explains.

And that might also explain her rather rogue approach to recruitment and hiring.

"It's important to recruit someone for your 'HR' roles who doesn't have any preconceived ideas about people. And I'm not saying I'm perfect at that, but I think that women probably care a bit more about diversity than guys in general. Though, at Unito, the guys definitely care, too," says Sarah.

And it's a responsibility she seems to have fun with.

"The thing I like about diversity is when you get a guy in a typical 'woman's job'. Right now in our marketing team we have three guys and two women. I'd love to get a dev team that has more women than guys. That's kind of my one disappointment is that I'm a woman and I'm in 'HR'," she laughs.

Can't say we don't agree with her on that one.

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