The proverbial glass ceiling is largely an archaic professional obstacle, but in many industries—automotive and transportation included—speed bumps remain for women. In business, particularly in leadership roles, women are learning to take risks in order to create their own opportunities and pursuing them more vigorously. But how?
In this networking session, moderated by KPMG Chief Economist, Constance Hunter, a panel of female executives shared their perspectives on this vital topic and how their individual careers and experiences have evolved.
Specifically, these women explored the characteristics they’ve exhibited over the years that have been instrumental in advancing their careers. Hunter referred to it as their “edge.”
“I think it’s a question that everybody should ask themselves, ‘what is your edge?’” said Hunter. “In my case, I think it's the willingness to try new things and find answers.”
Hunter cited pattern recognition as her critical quality in economics. As an economist, being able to determine inflection points and shifts in causal relationships are critical. Clearly, if you can get that right, you can really make a difference.
Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, considers herself a lifelong student of how to manage people. “Understanding how to have difficult conversations, but have people walk away feeling as though they were treated with respect, integrity and empathy is something that has always been a differentiator for me,” she said.
Lyft’s Lilly Shoup talked about authenticity and networking as her edge. She said it’s important to acknowledge the perspective and the experience of the people with whom you interact. “I’ve always sought out deep, one-on-one relationships with mentors and then nurtured those relationships over time,” she said. “For me, building my own network and then ensuring that I have a strong support system has been a really effective tool throughout my career.”
Melinda Yee Franklin of United Airlines cites being able to connect with people and show compassion. “I just went through a situation where a colleague and I had to let someone go,” said Franklin. “It was hard, and there was some debate. But it worked out because it was something we connected on and were able to build a good plan forward for this person. I was able to manage the situation in a way that led from both the head and the heart.”
Vicki Poponi of Honda gets her edge from three interconnected qualities, starting with connecting everything back to the numbers. “I like to keep score,” she said. “I like business, I want to see the revenue grow, I want to see the profit grow.” Poponi couples her passion for results with prudent risk taking because “with no risk, you have no rewards.”
In addition, she believes, is her ability to help people “see how to eat the elephant. To do something significant in business is often a huge undertaking, and it can be frightening,” she said. “But guiding a group and saying, ‘Okay, if we're going to do this where are we going to start? How are we going to get there?’ can help them break down and accomplish a large task one step at a time. These are the things that I bring to the party that I think are my edge.”
At Caltech, Mary Beth Campbell believes she gets an advantage from her ability to listen. “You really need to hear not only what somebody is saying with their words, but what they're projecting about what they're hoping to accomplish, said Campbell. “We serve 300 different faculty members at Caltech, and we have to meet with each of them individually to understand what they want out of a relationship with a corporate partner. Sometimes they're not even able to verbalize what it is. So listening, picking up on cues is really critical.”
To access the 2019 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study: Risk, resilience, and reward, please click here.