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3 Takeaways from Our Women in Leadership Panel

Kristina Bull
  • Jul 06, 2021
  • 4 minutes

VDU notes

The women in leadership panel is always a fan favorite session at our annual user conference. And 2021 did not disappoint. 

At our recent Virtual Dude University, attendees had the opportunity to hear from five influential women discuss topics like the difference between mentorship and sponsorship to overcoming imposter syndrome and the balancing act of “doing it all.” 

It was an inspiring discussion filled with advice for women in any industry and at any stage of their career.

Before we dive in to the highlights, meet our panelists:

  • Jodi McDermott, Chief Product Officer, Dude Solutions 
  • Natalia Shuman, CEO, Bureau Veritas North America
  • Cherie Grisso, President and Chief Executive Officer, Richfield Living
  • Elizabeth Gibbs, Community Services Director, City of Beaumont CA
  • Felicia Venable, Operations Director, Southfield Public Schools

Also, special thanks to our moderator, Ashley Berenson, our VP Product Management at Dude Solutions. 

Sponsorship vs. mentorship

A 2019 Harvard Business Review article suggests “women tend to be over mentored and under sponsored,” preventing them from advancing into leadership. The panel kicked things off with a discussion exploring if this rings true for women in tech today. 

Let’s start with the difference between a mentor and sponsor:

  • Mentors are often relationship-based and often provide support, guidance and advice at any stage of your career. They help you understand exactly who you are and how to flourish and grow. 
  • Sponsors are advocates who can “open a door” or give you a “seat at the table.” This often opens up the opportunity to grow within your organization. 

So how do you become “sponsor ready”? 

  • Be curious. Learn and understand your company’s priorities and align your career goals accordingly. It’s a win-win!
  • Reach out to the right people and ask! It’s rare that you will find someone who says “no.”

For the panelists, male sponsors lifted them up and positively changed the trajectory of their career. They’re paying it forward by creating opportunities and challenging the next generation of women – and challenging other women to do the same. 

Combatting imposter syndrome

We've all felt it. Especially in situations where diversity, equity and inclusion are lacking. Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience and accomplishments. The panelists offered advice for how to push past that pesky feeling of self-doubt:

  • Talk yourself through it: “My voice should be heard. I deserve to be here just like everyone else.”
  • Express your opinions – you earned that seat at the table.
  • Do the job and do it well! Think of the other women counting on you to do this for them.
  • Own it. Being the only woman in a room full of men can be empowering if you frame it that way.
  • Be proud. Sometimes you create diversity and other times you are the diversity. 

The balancing act

There is no shortage of advice out there offering tips to help women "do it all.” And according to our panelists: It's not possible.

It boils down to prioritization, having good mentors and knowing yourself.

How about the stigma that when men are direct it’s acceptable, but women are labeled as “aggressive”? The panelists shared their point of view: 

  • Be direct, but candid. There’s a difference and it matters.
  • Practice discernment. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. 
  • If you are accused of this – take the opportunity to reflect. 
  • Clear is kind. You can make the same point by asking clear and concise questions. 

Parting thoughts

Be curious. Be candid. Be clear. 

Learn more key takeaways from Virtual Dude University by exploring our blog.

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