Smith + Howard Panel Focuses on Leadership Challenges Facing Women in the Workplace

by: Smith and Howard

November 27, 2019

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Three high-profile businesswomen took the stage at Smith and Howard’s Vision 2019 at the Cobb Energy Center November 7, 2019 to discuss leadership and obstacles to success in corporate America.

Moderated by Julie Barnes, Smith and Howard’s Director of Marketing, the Leading with Power and Influence panel featured Becky Blalock, the Managing Partner of Advisory Capital and former Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Southern Company; Dr. Eloisa Klementich, the President and CEO of Invest Atlanta; and Virginia Hepner, Corporate Director with Cadence Bank and former Woodruff Arts Center CEO.

Each faced critical decisions and challenges early in their careers. For Hepner, it was accepting a promotion in banking in a division she knew little about and was outside her comfort zone. Dr. Klementich applied for job after job heading up economic development, only to lose out to men who were less credentialed. A CEO told Blalock if she applied for a job two tiers above her position, she would damage her career.

These decisions and circumstances were critical in shaping their respective leadership styles. It was a willingness to take a step down in order to step up for Blalock. For Dr. Klementich, it was not to change who she was. And for Hepner, it was keeping an open mind.

One challenge facing women, in particular, is the idea they need to have all of the skills before applying for a position, something that has happened at Fortune 500 companies, Blalock said. In those cases, women employees didn’t apply for leadership positions because they didn’t think they were qualified. Their male counterparts, on the other hand, more readily apply to these positions despite lacking the qualifications.

“Women feel they need to have all the experience,” Hepner said.

“So much of what you learn is on the job,” Blalock agreed.

Hepner, Dr. Klementich and Blalock all said inclusion remains one of the biggest issues facing women moving up the corporate ladder. Many professional relationships are still developed on golf courses or after late night dinners, situations that are not always as optimum for women as for men. Corporate leaders need to be aware of the disparity and focus on creating equitable relationship-building opportunities.

“The number one reason women don’t participate in the workforce is they don’t feel included,” said Dr. Klementich. “Scientists who study the human brain say a desire to be accepted is universal. All anyone really wants is to be accepted.”

Hepner added it is not necessarily being done on purpose. “Men do not realize women do not have access to the same social networks,” she said. “They need to be cautious about how and with whom they spend their face time.”

All three recommended putting time and energy into public speaking, and being open and deliberate when it comes to leading an organization. Dr. Klementich noted one of the adjustments she had to make. “You are not a gold coin,” she said. “Not everyone is going to like you. You have to stand by your decisions.”

The panel also discussed the importance of helping the people under them by removing obstacles and promoting their work. Asking smart questions and managing ‘from the floor’ were among the keys to their success.

More than 250 business owners, CEOs, CFOs, finance professionals and human resource professionals attended Vision 2019. The event helps companies and teams understand what it takes to be influential leaders who develop future leaders and how to leverage skilled leadership into building a great organization.

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