For years women have been fighting hard to improve male dominated standards and expectations in the workplace. 2020 has brought a new set of challenges to this fight. Not only are women balancing a plethora of responsibilities as the lines between career and parenthood are indefinitely blurred, but we are also learning that remote workplaces may increase organizational risk factors for sexual harassment. The more relaxed but isolated environments can lead some to feel empowered to behave inappropriately. But working from home, and the distance from the office it creates, is also emboldening more women to come forward.
I spoke to our #LeadHership Spotlight, Emma Fryer at the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona this month to get her thoughts. As someone who has felt unsafe at work or in a work-related setting on more than one occasion, she thinks that #MeToo (thanks, Tarana Burke!) was incredibly important for women in the workforce. We are seeing more women empowered to speak up, more wrongdoers being held accountable, and more people in general willing to call out bad behavior.
Emma Fryer is an accomplished international communications leader currently serving as Vice President of External Affairs at the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona. She previously led media and corporate marketing teams in Chicago, the UK and Europe before starting her own cause-based consultancy focused on women entrepreneurs, small businesses, non-profits and politics.
“We still have a really, really long way to go, but I think more women are stepping into their power, and more men are getting used to being led by women. Women have always been smart and capable; it’s just taken some people longer than others to realize that.”
Emma says we are making progress. The rules about gender roles and the boxes we are supposed to squeeze ourselves into get chipped away more by every generation. As we see more women in all kinds of leadership roles, and being authentically themselves, it normalizes it for all of us. She hopes every young woman will learn to see what makes her unique and amazing and find the confidence to say it and go after what she wants.
While women often possess the qualities of transformational leaders—vision, inspiration, direction-setting and out-of-the-box thinking, they also miss out on offers for leadership positions stating that they were not confident in their qualifications, not sure that others would support them, and were worried that they were being set up for failure.
Emma thinks women should be brave! “Go after what you want, even if it seems ridiculous or out of reach or you worry that you may not be “ready.” I have gotten promotions that seemed out of reach because I raised my hand and made the case for myself. Those promotions often happened during times of chaos and uncertainty, so at a time like this when old rules don’t really apply and much of what we’ve taken for granted has gone out the window, challenge yourself to create the position and opportunities that you want.
Just be prepared to accept that sometimes, it will be uncomfortable. At 22, I took on a direct report who was in her fifties. I’ve had to put friends on performance improvement plans. I have been called names (you know, the ones we assertive women are called…) and I’ve eaten lunch alone, but I will always be glad that I have stayed true to myself and stayed focused on walking my own path.”
I asked Emma what we as a community can do to help empower women and other underrepresented groups to be leaders.
”It is important to remember that it’s not just white men who are experts in all kinds of things. BIPOC folx are experts on more than diversity and inclusion. Women are experts on more than “women’s issues.” Members of underrepresented groups are experts in science and economics and politics and everything in between – and the sooner more people realize that and make space at the table for a variety of perspectives and experiences, the better off we’ll all be. Research shows that when women are meaningfully included in leadership positions, companies perform better. If there are still organizations who can’t figure that out…well, I don’t see a bright future for them. The rest of us will continue to lead the way.”
Thank you, Emma, for your work with the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona and your #LeadHership!