Bridge Investment Group recently sat down with two members of the Bridge Women’s Network, Isela Rosales and Rachel Mondelli, to discuss leadership advice on supporting the careers of women, the challenges that come with female leadership, and how to succeed. Isela serves as a Managing Director in the Capital Markets Group, ESG and Sustainability at Bridge Investment Group, while Rachel serves as the Senior Vice President of Bridge Property Management.
“Do you think women are expected to do more to prove their ability to lead?”
I’d actually like to answer both yes and no to this question. I fundamentally believe that it depends on two key factors:
The expected traits of a leader, regardless if the person is male or female.
The mentors, advocates, managers, and resources the person is exposed to and/or has access to that sets them onto the right path to lead.
While the expected leadership traits of men and women should theoretically be the same, the range of acceptable behavior for women is fundamentally different in many companies. Our 2020 BWN speaker, Jeffery Tobias Halter, actually addressed this when he referenced a concept he calls the “Double Bind Dilemma.” It can often be the case that women feel they have to “do more” to prove their ability to lead if their acceptable range to work with is tighter than their male counterparts who may have “more flexibility.”
Regarding my second point, the people and resources that a person encounters over the course of their education, career, and overall life path can actually have more influence on his or her opportunity to lead, or at least provide him or her more options to demonstrate and prove their ability to lead. Therefore, an individual could have all the best traits and intentions of a great leader, however, if they face distinct opportunities, it is likely they will have to “do more” to reach those same milestones. Many studies have shown that women, generally speaking, do not face the same quantity nor quality of exposure to resources and opportunities over the long term. Furthermore, if they face tough choices between progressing in their career or attending to family obligations and other commitments, this can create twists and turns along the path that can affect the leadership opportunities they are offered.
I don’t know if I would say that women are expected to do more, but I would say that women face unique challenges in establishing themselves as leaders. For one, it is fairly well known that all of us have unconscious biases, and there’s no denying that this affects the way women are perceived in the workplace. A sadly common reflection of unconscious bias lies in the fact that managers tend to hire people who remind them of themselves. Since most senior leaders in many organizations are men, this often presents a challenge that women have to overcome. Women of color often face even more biases. A woman may be perceived as “too soft” or “too quiet” if she does not assert herself in meetings, thus diminishing others’ perception of her as a leader. On the other hand, she may be perceived as “bossy” or “aggressive” if she asserts herself in ways similar to her male counterparts. This often puts women in a double bind, where it is difficult to find the happy medium. A woman has to be very intentional about finding her voice in a way that is authentic for her in order to be seen as an effective leader.
Secondly, I believe there is truth to the idea that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Many women have not had the benefit of learning from female leaders in positions of power throughout their careers.
Additionally, many women find that the male leaders in their organization do not actively encourage or promote the ideas of the women in their group. Without men in leadership positions taking an active role in the promotion of women, it can be difficult for women to advance. Our BWN speaker Jeffery Tobias Halter’s book, “Why Women” is an excellent resource for further reading on this. It is important for anyone in a position of leadership to actively work at rooting out their own biases and biases within the organization, as well as working to promote the voices and talents of women.
“What advice would you give to young women who aspire to be a part of upper management or executive leadership?”
1) Always make the time to invest in yourself. After college, women make an incredible commitment to building the foundation for their career and can be known to go above and beyond the requirements of their job profile. While this can lead to opportunities for more responsibilities and (hopefully!) promotions, pay increases, etc., it is equally important for women to think of their broader goals and aspirations. Goals that can be assessed in both a one-year as well as three- or four-year time frames are healthy ways to keep a pulse on the present as well as the future. Whether it is pursuing a higher education degree, certification, or even a non-work related goal, one should continue to find ways to stimulate the mind, body, and soul.
2) Build your network and use it! Build strong relationships both within your workplace and beyond, align yourself with thought leaders you respect, and develop and maintain connections with those who can provide helpful information and support as you progress through your career. While we live in a technology-driven world where people can easily “connect” over social media, remember to build quality over quantity in terms of your network and dedicate time to connecting to those individuals. You never know when those relationships will come in handy!
3) Remember that knowledge is power (and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise). Nothing beats being the most prepared person, regardless of age or level of position, and being able to bring knowledge, intellectual thoughts, and solutions to the table. A person who is interested and committed to learning beyond their stated job responsibilities are among the many valuable traits needed to be on a leadership path. The opportunities to build that knowledge may go beyond typical information available at the workplace, hence the importance of number one and two shared above.
My advice would be:
1) Make your intentions known to your supervisor and senior leadership, and do not wait for an opportunity to be offered to you. As women, it is very important to be your own advocate. I have found that every advancement opportunity I’ve had has come as a result of me asking for it. This does not come naturally to me, nor to many women, but I believe it is important for every woman to take the initiative of advocating for her own advancement.
2) Always keep learning. Oftentimes, the skills and knowledge that got you to your current position are not the same set of skills and knowledge that will be necessary for the opportunity you want next. Reading books, listening to podcasts, participating in industry networks, obtaining industry certifications, etc. - all of these are very valuable ways to make sure that you do not remain stagnant, but continue to learn and grow.
3) Look for leaders within your organization (or outside) whom you respect and admire and pay attention to the traits or skills that they possess that inspire you, especially if they possess skills that you feel you could improve. Be intentional about honing your own skills in these areas. Are they proactive? Strategic? Dynamic? Decisive? Be sure to focus on seizing the opportunity to exhibit these qualities in your own life and work. Oftentimes this is uncomfortable in the moment, but after all, growth is almost never comfortable!
“What advice would you give women who are looked over for promotions despite feeling like they’ve earned it and are ready?”
This question is especially tough in that it highlights the harsh reality for many women, and the impact is felt by women at all levels of the corporate ladder. To start, I can safely say that I’ve been in this position countless times over the course of my career. The heart of this question goes back to one of my earlier statements of what are considered acceptable or ideal behavior characteristics for women (speaking broadly here) and what can happen if they push beyond those so-called boundaries and openly indicate their aspirations. As women expand their work experience, aspire to larger goals beyond their current job, and want to move into the next stage in their career, they also need to have managers and advocates whose support aligns.
The disconnect often occurs when those managers and/or advocates have difficulty relating to their employee, setting clear goals that apply evenly to all members of their team, and recognizing important goals and aspirations of each individual. As women progress in their career, whether their desired upward mobility is within their existing company or a new one, my best advice is to focus on identifying clear expectations with their manager, team, and company, and building good alignment of goals, both when a person first begins their job and revisited on a healthy semi-annual or annual cycle.
Remember that life events transpire (whether expected or not, they will happen!) and become critical times for a person to evaluate if the above is synching with their goals and aspirations, and what changes, if any, they may need to pursue. The choice is always up to that individual person, male or female. A personal mantra of mine is: “In life, a ‘no’ today could still become a ‘yes’ tomorrow. One ultimately decides when, where, and why.”
This is a tough question, because the pain is very real, and the wait can be very difficult. I can honestly say that I have been overlooked or told no for a promotion more than once. The hard task is to see this as a learning opportunity rather than a setback. The first piece of advice I would give is to seek open and honest feedback from your supervisor (and others!), and to be receptive to this feedback, even when it’s difficult to hear. Make sure that your supervisor knows where you hope to go, and ask them to give you honest feedback with that goal in mind. Try to get as specific and concrete feedback as possible so that you know what path you need to take to get where you want to go. The second piece of advice that I would give is to seek out ways to exhibit your leadership skills in your current position. Find ways to make your value known by taking on a new project, leading a new initiative, or contributing to your team in a new way. This not only gives you an opportunity to improve your leadership skills, but it helps to firm up your position as an emerging leader within the organization.