Encouraging more diverse executive leadership

Our CGO, Danielle Brommer, was recently selected as a 2021 Technology Association of Iowa Catalyst for her commitment to creating change within the technology industry. Below is Danielle’s speech from the Catalysts Live event where she shared her thoughts on how the Iowa tech community can encourage more diverse executive leadership.

I have 5 minutes to share my recommendations on a topic that is important to me – how can we as a community encourage more diverse executive leadership.

Now my purview is narrow, I am a white college educated woman who has worked in tech for over 10 years, a wife and a mother. I can only speak on behalf of my experience.

HOW TO TAKE THE LEAP

My first recommendation is really a direct call to action to the women here in this room. If you’re interested in leadership, take the leap, go for the promotion and ask for what you need to get there. You can build your own business, go independent or find great companies and teams to recognize your abilities and support your success, in a way that fits your lifestyle.

When you’re ready, consider applying these tips that I have learned along the way, and helped me become a C-suite exec and partner at a 100-person software consultancy founded here in Iowa.

  1. Create your own job title. Chief Growth Officer – I immediately became a C-suite exec overnight.
  2. Challenge yourself. Be vulnerable, get out of your comfort zone, speak up, ask questions, learn something new, unlearn something that doesn’t work for you. It’s easier said than done, I know, but I am here today – and I hate public speaking.
  3. Build your own community. Or as I’d like to define it, connect with people. It can be that simple. Out of those connections you will find your business partners, mentors, mentees, peers, team members, your clients, and your biggest supporters. The real beauty of your community is that it will support you at various points throughout your career. You can and should ask for help. Remember, you are helping these people grow and learn, too. Mentorship, friendships, partnerships, in any form, are two-way relationships so you should be giving just as much as you are receiving. My partners challenge me and have enabled me to achieve more than I ever thought possible. I work with people I learn from daily. I have sought out mentors in every aspect of the work I do. I’ve even paid a couple sales and strategic advisors along the way (they have to help, I pay them!). I do regular virtual wine nights with my girlfriends across the country to complain about this idea of balancing it all and ‘leaning in.’ These meetings are good for both personal and professional development and really just good for the soul. Don’t forget your family, they can be your biggest supporters, and I couldn’t do what I do without them. Plus the babysitting backup is priceless.
  4. Believe in yourself. I think the fear of failure is actually a blessing. You work harder to overcome it, learn more, work to perfection…but at some point you need to accept that you’re capable. I read a quote from Adam Grant the other day that really resonated with me – ‘Imposter syndrome is a paradox: Others believe in you, you don’t believe in yourself, yet you believe yourself instead of them. If you doubt yourself, shouldn’t you also doubt your judgement of yourself? When multiple people believe in you, it might be time to believe them.’
  5. Take breaks and recharge. You need them.

WHAT WE CAN DO

So, these are my lessons learned and what I think are good tips for individual advancement. Which is just a part of the solution — we do need more women taking the initiative because we’re capable of great things. But, there are also some actions I think our broader community can take to support more women to move into leadership roles. I have three for you to consider.

  1. Space – let’s make some. We need to carve out more seats at the table. We need more opportunities for women at every level, but especially at the leadership table so they can help shape the future of the workplace. And maybe we quit calling it a table, because I spend more time working from my kitchen island than any desk or table.
    • Now, the actual space may be the easiest to solve for. I don’t know this for certain, but this space may already exist, especially with so many positions going unfilled and the labor shortage that is upon us. The harder, is filling it with more women and this is where we’re going to need to be a little more intentional. A few things that can help make the space more desirable and accessible is continuing to support more flexible work schedules and work from anywhere concepts post pandemic. We need more support for childcare and early education programs, we all know this. And we need to continue closing the wage gap, equitable pay, period. I want to know that if I am running around crazy to accommodate traditional 8-5 work hours and handle kiddo duty – which typically leads to working nights to catch up or, on the other end of the spectrum, sacrificing family time – to compete for a promotion, I will get paid the same as my peers. The workplace needs to look different, and different is good.
  2. Engage. Once we have created this space, we need to engage more women and encourage them to apply for positions, step out of their comfort zone, assure them they are qualified and can take on the new role with a more flexible schedule. Ask them to go to the golf event, happy hour, represent your company at awards events, conferences. We need them to be engaged in all aspects of the business. There will undoubtedly be times that they cannot attend, or may choose to focus energy on core hours and deliverables and that’s ok too. Ask for their opinion, feedback, encourage them to speak up, and to believe in themselves. We need more of this. And we need to make sure more women are a part of the equation, and not just another statistic in a DEI effort.
  3. Elevate. Ladies – we can really be terrible to one another. My last question to you, can we commit to lifting one another up, not tearing each other down? If the first 2 actions are put into motion, there will be more opportunities for us to contribute to, and not compete for. We have an opportunity upon us to help change the path forward for what a more diverse workforce and flexible workplace can look like. Let’s do it together.

I am sure I missed a lot in these lists, and I know the few things I shared here are all easier said than done, but I know it’s possible because I work for a company that has embraced and implemented these ideas. Let this be a starting point for further discussion to see what each of us can do to build a more diverse executive leadership community here in Iowa. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and continue the conversation.

To read more about Danielle’s story, visit TAI’s website.

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