Women Leaders Offer Next Steps for Achieving Higher Goals

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Like many industries that date back awhile, business valuation has a lot of older white men. Towards the end of an honest, funny, hopeful and proud women's leadership panel at SIPA Annual 2018 in June, Lucretia Lyons, president of Business Valuation Resources, related a story.

"I was sitting at a cocktail party we sponsored at a conference, and one of these men was standing there talking to me and said, 'I just met your boss.' Well, [BVR CEO] David Foster was in France, so I thought, 'Oh my gosh, David flew to this conference and didn't tell me.' And I turn around and it was one of our editors. He assumed the guy was my boss.

"I wanted to punch him in the face but where's that going to get me," Lyons said. "Instead I added about five layers to the organization and said, 'Oh that's Andy—his boss's boss's boss's boss reports to me.' As I said, I added a few millions to the organization."

One point of that story—one of many that Lyons and her fellow panelists told—was energy allocation. You can't fight every battle. But it also summed up the tone of the session. As a woman, you do need to push back, sometimes comfortably and sometimes not so, and step forward—or as Heather Farley, COO, Access Intelligence, said later, be pushed forward by a progressive boss.

"In some ways [our industry] looks a lot like other industries; a lot of females particularly in lower ranks, a  decent amount in the management ranks, and then we get pretty thin when you get to the CEO title," said Farley.

That began a conversation that women might not be the natural risk-takers that men are and may not be learning the necessary financial skills.

"My biggest complaint—and I don't know whose fault it is—is that we don't tend to be the owners," said Denise Elliott, senior VP and COO, Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. "You're looking at three women who run businesses for men or are number twos. I don't know if women are more risk averse; that we're not [as apt] to put our house or retirement savings on the line. Or taking time out of your career for family tends to stunt career paths. But it's very apparent that women are number twos."

Lyons noted that as number twos they do have a lot of power to establish progressive policies and that's important. "Change takes time," she said. "By planting some of that we can start the wheels moving." But she also pointed to another reason that progress may be a bit stalled near the top.

"I always get on a soapbox about [the importance of] financial literacy for women. I feel it has been an egregious omission for women's education. Whether overtly or not, it's just not something that women gravitate towards. For my own experience, that's where I felt the most deficient. So I went back to get an MBA and stared at the Bond Curve until I understood it which probably took a week and a half. That is the single-most empowering piece of education that women can get for themselves." (She also has been working to make Financial 101 a required course at her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College.)

"I'm not sure if it's that banks won't loan money to women or what," said Elliott. "I've watched men who are friends of mine who are phenomenally good at selling, networking, b.s.-ing, getting in touch with rich people, getting people to buy in and working a deal. And I've heard them pitching some far-out ideas that very well could bomb and you're okay with that? I'm not okay with that. There may be some moral compass to hold me back to getting the investors I need. I do wonder if there is a gender difference at how at risk I'm putting my network and friends and their network."

Farley agreed. "I do see as a woman leader in my organization that men are much more willing to take a risk—they believe in themselves. And the woman will only raise her hand and stick her neck out if she's 100% certain she can do it. The man's like, 'I'm as good as anyone here; I'm going to give it a shot.'"

This led to a fascinating discussion about the imposter syndrome—where you feel like you're an imposter in your own organization or life. "How long have you felt that?" Farley asked herself. "You mean in the last 24 hours?" She recalled several management presentations where she was the only woman in the room "except for the person who brings the coffee."

"I've also seen [more women] not speaking until they're 100% being certain," said moderator Elizabeth Petersen, project director, Simplify Compliance. "There's a social example that makes me concerned about the future. I volunteered to coach a girls soccer team because I think every girl should be exposed to a  female coach in her athletic career. I was watching tryouts one Sunday when I had to stop them 15 minutes in. 'The next person who says sorry we're going to stop what we're doing. The pass was too hard—'sorry.' Her partner missed it—'sorry.' I had to stop them three more times. You just don't hear a lot of women who are comfortable praising themselves. It's not natural.

"I played rugby for 12 years. I was a good rugby player, a captain on every team. I proposed starting a youth rugby team and clinic in the northern Massachusetts area I live. A young man working at the front desk, 22, said that it was a great idea, but 'I don't want you proposing this without me. I have sports management experience.' I just stepped down from running a $40 million business line." Petersen said. "I think I know how these things work. I walked away scratching my head. You see these behaviors starting so young—8 year-old girls. It's complicated."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…