To amplify this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, the organization set a challenge for leaders to take responsibility and invite change for inclusive company cultures and rally for gender parity. This campaign is near and dear to my heart at many levels. In my role as COO, part of my responsibility is to drive the firm’s growth strategy while making sure the leadership team can deliver and execute the vision. What good is a vision if you cannot execute it? I’m also compelled to instill the same values and commitments as I plan and navigate through life, whether it’s mentoring women or deciding on how I allocate my time to various community initiatives.
Sharing what we’ve learned is powerful, and it’s a first step to providing visibility, stimulating ideas, and better access and pathways for women in leadership. For me, the greatest influence on my leadership style didn’t take place in a classroom and it wasn’t read in a book — it was developed on a court playing sports, most notably basketball. The skills I learned playing sports could be applied to any industry and for me it was tech. Being in tech and cloud for a few decades, I’ve been one of few women ‘in the room’ more times than I can count and, on many occasions, the only woman. But this article isn’t about what went wrong, it’s about what went right – and how we can create more diverse and high-performing teams, inclusive of women in the future.
Women in Sports
Ernst and Young published and updates a report on the positive influence of sports and women in business and they found that 94% of C-suite women executives played a sport and 74% of exec women say a background in a sport can help accelerate their career. Based on my personal experience, I was curious to know how many women on my leadership team played sports growing up. And if these leaders did play sports, what influence or correlation they found in their success in business and leadership styles?
Over 50% of our leadership team are women and they are responsible for leading our sales and consulting teams, driving revenue growth, and delivering senior advisory on complex B2B sales and marketing programs. Not surprisingly, almost every one of them played competitive sports from soccer to ski racing and rowing to running. Here’s how playing sports influenced these high-performers and contributed to their success:
Confidence and risk-taking
The two go hand-in-hand and are at the core of athletics. Female athletes unanimously agree: taking risks and projecting confidence (even if you don’t always feel it inside) are critical success factors in sports and business. Risk-taking is second nature for athletes. In business, women who have the confidence to accept new challenges and take on risks to reinvent themselves or their business model will stay relevant, grow, and thrive.
Pushing hard, learning to compete, falling hard, and bouncing back. Great athletes improve from failures and instantly come back fighting harder. Truly learning from your inevitable mistakes or losses means that you’ll be better and wiser than before. Resiliency is baked into successful women leaders and entrepreneurs to tackle the next obstacle and turn it into an opportunity.
Agility in fast-paced environments
On the court, in the field, or on the track, winning athletes must have the ability to hustle, pivot strategically, and adjust to dynamic conditions. Rapidly analyzing the people and surrounding conditions, and taking swift action, can make or break the game. This core, innate aptitude is a prerequisite for strong executive leadership where the stakes are high, and “bet-the-company” decisions are riding on your shoulders.
Focused, measured outcomes
Almost all entrepreneurs with athletic training set daily goals. They set broader annual goals — driven by a clear vision of where they need to be — and break them down into smaller measurable goals that accrue to the team’s overall vision. The common thread for sports and business is leading through trust and collaboration, with an eye on measurable objectives and key results.
Winning teams have the core belief that the sum is greater than the parts. You start with the right players in the right positions whereby each person is vital to achieving the team’s goal. Understand that each one brings a unique capability to collectively out-perform the competition. It’s no different in running an efficient, sustainable, and profitable business.
I realize that playing sports isn’t the silver bullet to ensuring success in our women leaders. It’s far more complex. But here are my key takeaways: companies and the executives leading these organizations have the responsibility to foster teams that are diverse and to understand how each person brings unique value and skills to the table. Additionally, if leadership focuses on outcomes built on agility and resiliency as well as trust and confidence, it sets a rock-solid foundation for a high-performing, winning team. It’s also important to create an environment that affords equal access and encourages mentorship paths, with an outcome that’s focused on driving financial success.
When COVID-19 Called a “Time-Out”
The unfortunate reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a time-out and great loss of women in the workforce. These are people that make up the dreadful statistics about loss of earnings now and in the future. This cannot continue for the sake of our global economy. I am committed, along with my team, to creating access not only at Bridge Partners, but also across our entire industry. Tech and cloud companies are a perfect fit to champion women re-entering the workforce or women that need more flexibility— without sacrificing opportunity, financial recognition, and growth paths.
Meanwhile, check out and share these resources that help provide women greater access:
- PowerToFly – Connects Fortune 500 companies and fast-growing startups with women who are looking to work for companies that value gender diversity and inclusion.
- reacHIRE – Changing the trajectory for women returning to work by partnering with forward-thinking companies to create environments where women thrive, advance, lead and stay.
- Women for Hire – A diversity career recruitment specialist offering products and services for top employers in every field to support and enhance business’ commitment to diversity.
- Working for Women – Has a dual mission to enable business to be a force for social good and elevate women in the workforce.
Join Us in Supporting This Critical Challenge
Creating gender parity in the workplace won’t happen overnight, and it can’t happen without you. International Women’s Day is less than a week away so please take action today, and into the months and years ahead.