By Kiki McShane, Evolve Rutland
“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost in our society just because that talent wears a skirt.” – Shirley Chisholm
US Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is the first woman politician that I remember seeing in person. She spoke to a large group of college students and faculty about her life and career as a leader. It was 1969 and I was a college freshman. I remember how she impressed me with her strength, openness and accomplishments. She stated that the most difficult barriers she faced were not because she was black, but because she was a woman. I was shocked! I had never thought that being female created barriers. I had a lot to learn.
My mother and grandmother had careers, were well educated and outspoken. Growing up, I saw only equality among the key adults in my life. So Ms. Chisholm’s perspective made a deep and lasting impression on me.
Forty seven years from that event I can say that some of the toughest barriers I have faced are because I am a woman. Not all of course, but the most consistent.
I first entered the management consulting field in 1983, when it was primarily a male-dominated industry. It was rare to work with women in the C Suite. A desire to have more women colleagues and to combat being targeted as less qualified based on my gender drove me forward. My own experiences and a few key qualities play an influential role :
* Perceptive – Staying open minded while being fair, clear and credible is crucial for effective problem solving. As a leader and facilitator I am frequently able to identify problems before others. Weighing evidence, observations, facts, experiences and points of view, and making sense of it all, aids in stretching limitations and getting teams “unstuck.”
* Problem Solver – I especially like creating and working with diverse teams, and I don’t mind when things get messy. Creative conflict is an integral part of problem solving. It ensures that different perspectives are voiced, mutual trust and respect are cultivated and solutions are implemented with multi-level support.
* Compassionate – Working as a marriage, family and child counselor taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. I learned that HOW we talk to each other, give feedback, ask questions and punch holes in ideas is as important as WHAT we are trying to accomplish. Working with leadership teams in companies was a natural transition from working with families and couples.
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Kiki McShane, Evolve Rutland