Published on: September 29, 2010CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was the stories that got me, here the Network of Executive Women (NEW) annual Leadership Summit.
Some were told from the stage. Like Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of merchandise execution at Walmart, explaining how her mom had labored for years as a sales representative for Wrigley, serving as a role model and sounding board as she pursued her own career, first on the manufacturing side (with Hershey) and then with the world’s biggest biggest retailer.
Or Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch (retired), who left the Army after a distinguished career and founded, among other things, an organization that helps poor and immigrant youths to find their way...a subject she knows well since she was herself born in a barrio in Laredo, Texas. (Had she been born a half-century later, Kickbusch might have been referred to as an “anchor baby,” but instead she is known as a the highest ranking Hispanic woman ever to serve in the combat support branch ... a fact she made abundantly clear.)
Or Dr. Evelyn C. Paschal, a senior manager at Accenture, who was sharply funny as she described the challenges of managing - and understanding - younger generations of employees, and noting that “the new normal means always having a Plan B, always having a backup plan,” because circumstances can change so quickly and unexpectedly.
Or Rachael Vegas, a divisional sourcing manager for Target Corp., who chided the audience (quite correctly) that with all the attention to the different learning and working styles of various generations, it is critical to remember that “you manage people, not generations,” and that people of all generations have to be treated as unique entities.
These were the public stories, told with passion and anecdotes and reflection - and a shared reality - by accomplished women who have made their way in a world still dominated by men, told without a shred of self-pity and yet with a fair amount of irony and good humor.
But there were other stories, which could be gleaned from a cell phone conversation overheard here and there, illustrating another shared reality.
“How much did you throw up?” I heard one mom say into her phone. She listened intently, and then instructed the child to clean up the mess, throw the towels in the washing machine, and take medicine from the pink bottle that could be found in the bathroom.
At another moment, one mom gently reminded her child that if she brought her cell phone to school, she had to remember to turn it off because otherwise it would be confiscated by the teacher.
There were dozens of these kinds of moments, highlighting the reality that many accomplished professional women face as they deal with parallel universes on a daily, perhaps hourly basis. And while the world has changed to the point where “liberation” and “gender equality” are phrases you don;t even hear a lot anymore, the simple truth is that you would not hear these same conversations at a conference attended mostly by men.
And so these moments made me wonder, not just about the fact that many men don’t seem to live these stories, but if men even understand these parallel universes, these compelling stories with both big and small moments, in any sort of internalized way. Is our understanding of these women’s personal and professional lives more intellectual and academic, and therefore inadequate to the task of serving their interests?
As various women of differing backgrounds and accomplishments made their way to the stage and told their stories, it was hard for a man not to think that however well-meaning our efforts, their remains a chasm that needs to be bridged. It starts with listening, but won’t end until pay equity and management parity is achieved ... which, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO)study noted here on MNB yesterday, remains more aspiration than reality.
Then again, if the day began with stories about past accomplishments and future aspirations, it ended with the news that when Campbell Soup Co. gets a new CEO next July, it will be a woman. (See our story below.)
As Linda Ellerbee, another prominent woman, used to end her broadcasts, “And so it goes.”
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