Women of LeadHERship – Interview SeriesMHS Talent Development
A Conversation with CEO of LaMarsh Global, LLC., Sheila Fain
How many of your organization’s leaders are women? Have you ever worked for a female CEO? Have you ever stopped to think about female representation in leadership positions? According to a study we conducted with HR.com, the Women in Leadership Survey 2020, women are not only under-represented in the leadership ranks but gender diversity in leadership positions is not a priority for most organizations.
At MHS, we take pride in the progress we have made in providing equitable opportunities and gender diversity amongst leadership ranks. In 2020, we are proud to say females comprise of 48% of our leadership team, 60% of our executive team, and we are led by an incredible female CEO, Hazel Wheldon.
We connected with Hazel and our Chief Product Officer (CPO) Jenni Pitkanen, as well as several other inspiring women across various industries who have made the climb up the corporate ladder. Each of these women has taken risks in environments that didn’t always feel safe to do so. They looked at barriers as new challenges to overcome while building their resilience and gumption along the way. They shared their stories, their advice, and took this chance to empower each reader – no matter their age, gender, or career path – to take the risk, harness their internal power, and aim for the top.
The following is a snippet of the 2020 “Women of LeadHERship” interview, featuring the responses Sheila Fain, CEO of LaMarsh Global, LLC.
IS THERE STILL A GLASS CEILING?
WHAT WAS YOUR “GLASS CEILING MOMENT”?
HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED A BARRIER AS A RESULT OF STEREOTYPES OR LINGERING STIGMAS, MAKING YOU WORK HARDER OR DIFFERENTLY THAN A MAN WOULD FOR THOSE POSITIONS?
The “glass ceiling” still exists to varying degrees. My experience has been different on this topic than it likely has for others. I started my career as a nurse and grew up in a not-for-profit healthcare system. It was common throughout my career for women to advance to leadership positions in that environment. There was possibly a bit of a “glass ceiling” outside of the nursing divisions but that was not a barrier for me even when I moved into roles outside of traditional nursing practice.
I left healthcare about 6 years ago and joined LaMarsh Global. We are an organization and leadership development firm centered on coaching and supporting executives and leaders at all levels. We specialize in the design and implementation of strategy and tactics to improve, grow or survive in a constantly changing world. I started as Director of Consulting Services and in late 2017 assumed ownership and the role of CEO. I am happy to say that I have not experienced a “glass ceiling” here nor do the people on my team.
I do however experience and actively advise upon those barriers through the lens of the clients we work with and the leaders that we coach. In fact, within our coaching and consulting practice we are actively involved in supporting our clients and their leaders as they advance their diversity and inclusion and talent management practices and change behaviors to combat this challenge.
THERE IS A LOT OF WORK BEING DONE TO ENCOURAGE AND HELP WOMEN SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER. HAVE YOU BEEN MENTORED BY A FELLOW FEMALE IN YOUR PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
HOW WERE THESE MENTORSHIPS ESTABLISHED AND FOSTERED?
WHAT ARE THE 3 MOST INSPIRING QUALITIES OR COMPETENCIES YOU SEE IN OTHER FEMALE LEADERS?
The formal coach/mentorship experience I had was not with a female and while it was valuable, it is not what I would highlight here. Rather, I found much more value from the many women I have worked alongside throughout my career. In addition to men, I have had female bosses, peers and employees. While some of those experiences were better than others, I learned valuable (sometimes hard) lessons, was inspired and gained competency from all of them. The sum of those and other life experiences has made me who I am today. And I value every one of them.
When I think of what inspires me and makes me want to work with other female leaders, I think of someone that:
- Is an observer of people and their behaviors, seeks to understand their motivations and is a lifelong learner.
- Does not believe that most people set out to make things difficult for others. Someone that knows others operate out of a different set of assumptions and experiences or that they have different information that has formed their beliefs and behaviors.
- Seeks ways to be more effective with someone different than themselves, instead of trying to force them to change or tearing them down. They work to understand their frame of reference, what motivates their decisions and finds ways to support and learn from one another.
I look for someone that quietly straightens someone else’s crown and fosters a positive environment where everyone can succeed.
HOW CAN WOMEN LEVERAGE ASSERTIVENESS WHEN BATTLING CLICHÉS AROUND BEING BOSSY?
HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO JUSTIFY YOUR DIRECTNESS?
DO PEOPLE ASSUME YOU WILL BE MORE LENIENT, KIND, AND PASSIVE RATHER THAN A FIERCE, ASSERTIVE LEADER? DO YOU BELIEVE WE HAVE OVERCOME THIS STEREOTYPE ALREADY?
Now this is an interesting question. Many people would consider the terms used to be inflammatory – bossy, direct, fierce, assertive, particularly when used to describe a woman.
Let’s break this down a bit.
Bossy is generally a derogatory term and I don’t believe a “bossy” approach is warranted outside of an emergency where lives could be at stake or where time simply doesn’t allow for anything but a directive approach, where someone is told exactly what to do, when and how. All you are going for is compliance and this should be used judiciously. When we can justify a “bossy” approach it’s perfectly fine. My advice to women is the same as men, use it when you must but don’t overuse it. It will not serve you well outside of very specific circumstances. The cliché then takes care of itself.
I am by my nature an introvert, I am analytical and value facts, data and logic over emotion as a driver of decisions. All of this has evolved throughout my career to be even more prominent today. So yes, I am assertive and direct but because I am a woman people are often surprised by that, and usually pleasantly.
I don’t justify it as much as I prepare people for it. And it doesn’t give me a license to treat anyone in a demeaning or unpleasant manner. I owe the people I interact with careful consideration of what they know and believe against my own beliefs, experiences and any other data we can pull together that culminates in an honest assessment and recommendations. If I hold back and soft-peddle or tell them what they want to hear, I am not doing my very best to help that other person be successful. That’s how I define direct and assertive and I choose to keep doing it.
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY BE?
She Brought Her Best and Helped Me Do the Same.
I would be so proud if this were what people thought of me. I love to help people fulfill their potential whatever that is. There is so much talent around me every day just looking for the right environment to land in. With this comes providing the right opportunities, allowing people to take risks and giving feedback that must be honest and direct and is not always what the other person needs to hear. That’s a two-way street, as leaders we need feedback as well so we can continue to try to bring our best every day.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, OR EVEN JUST 5 YEARS AGO, WHAT CAREER OR EVEN PERSONAL ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?
I wouldn’t change anything about the beginning of my career. Healthcare is in my bones and I will always have a deep respect and love for the field and the dedication of the people that work in it. It will forever hold a special place in my heart.
If anything, I would be even more open to new opportunities. The opportunity to change careers and move outside of healthcare presented itself to me first in late 2012. I listened, considered and was too comfortable to explore further.
Luckily that door was still open a year later and I walked through it in early 2014. It was the best decision and has exposed me to a whole world of new experiences, unfamiliar industries and great challenges. I value the opportunities and look forward to working with many more talented women and men to do what I can to use my skills to demonstrate that we can operate on a level playing field.
WHAT’S ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
Another great question that put in mind an exercise we do with the teams we work with. We pose a series of questions and challenge the participants not to respond as what they strive to be, what they wish they were, etc. rather take stock and respond as who you are in your day to day life in the work environment.
The word would be Responsive. This might not be the first thing most leaders would choose, and it could be seen as wishy-washy or wavering. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I describe responsive leadership in the following ways:
- Actively prioritize and re-prioritize
- Reserve time in my schedule to make myself available
- Set clear expectations and achievable goals
- Meet obligations
- Accept that change and adapt is what leaders must do and help their teams do. Change is constant today
- Seek out new information, analyze and adjust direction as needed
- Listen and learn
THE WAY FORWARD
Each of the women we interviewed has been supported by colleagues, friends, and family, but most importantly, they have supported themselves. It is vital that we celebrate the triumphs of female leaders but also to work towards a future where:
“There will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
-Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
Read the full report on The State of Women in Leadership 2020 here. Help prioritize the development of women leaders and shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.