Why being visible matters to women in leadership

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I would rather break a leg than do self-promotion.  So when I was invited by ANZ CEO Mike Smith to take part in a new program called Notable Women, I felt a bit uncomfortable. Even the title made me cringe.

"Why is it so teeth-gritting hard for [women] to be visible, when male colleagues do it so effortlessly?"
Suzette Corr, Group GM Talent & Culture and GM Human Resources Australia at ANZ

The Notable Women program aims to take senior women at ANZ and teach them visibility skills across new, social and traditional media.

I am on the Social Media Steering Committee that is leading the social transformation at ANZ. We are focussed on the future of work and looking at the digital and social capabilities the leaders of the future will need - which includes deeper engagement with staff and customers through social. And you can’t be social without great content and leaders willing to engage!

So, I reasoned that understanding the rapidly changing landscape is really part of my job and I will just have to live with the perceived self-promotion bit.

I joined our first session with a thought tugging in the back of my mind: even if I can get over the feeling that this is boasting, who wants to hear from me anyway and what will I say?  

I spent the first few hours with 18 incredibly impressive women from across the bank and then - I got it! Where were their voices?

Why, when I looked at who was speaking up in leadership meetings, speaking to the press, on social media, opining broadly – why wasn’t I hearing them, reading their names? Why had I not met some of them before?  

That was the beginning of the light bulbs going off.

Amanda Gome, with 30 years media experience and having spent a fair bit of that trying to get business women to be visible, challenged us and trained us over three sessions.

And guess what? As I’ve noticed women on the program speaking up, the sharks didn’t come circling and, actually, these Notable Women seem to be rather enjoying themselves.

I began to see the Notable Women around everywhere – on social media, a few stories in BlueNotes, speaking at events. What is more, people are listening.

Their views are being talked about and endorsed on Twitter, Linked In and through online media and, of course, in this new world of thought leadership and expertise, it is great for ANZ to be showcasing its leaders, in particular its female leaders.

Six things stood out in my conversion!

Notable women are global experts

First exercise: share with the group what you are an expert at. Ahhhh! I noticed we all shifted uneasily in our chairs. We’re great at our jobs, but ‘experts’?

Well, if you take Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of 10,000 hours of experience and education, Amanda explained, then all these women smashed it. But just as we accepted we were experts, Amanda pushed it further pointing out that we are senior leaders at one of the world’s top 20 companies, we were actually global experts. Did we agree?

There was push back at this, but whenever one woman tried to make the case she wasn’t, the group rounded on her to point out she was. And it was true!

We looked at each other around the table and we had experts in fraud, small business, business banking, digital innovation, culture change – you name it, we had it – many with 20 to 30 years’ experience. We looked at each other with new found respect.

Sharing expertise is giving

Ok, so we are experts. That doesn’t mean we have anything to say. Besides, as one woman pointed out, it looks like we are boasting, seeking attention, getting above ourselves.

Well, apparently we need to think about it like this: sharing our expertise and educating others is a form of giving. Hmmm. Never thought of it like that.

I began to understand that being visible is a different notion to self-promotion.  In fact, it made me start to challenge a number of other assumptions I had always held. I mean, why is it so teeth-gritting hard for us to be visible when male colleagues do it so effortlessly?

Why being visible matters to leadership

We all want to see more female leaders in business and we know men get promoted a lot more than women for a host of reasons. But I hadn’t thought about this: being more visible means you get noticed internally and externally.

In fact, you often hear this when names are being discussed for promotions: I don’t know him – or her.

Now of course, leader selection is far more rigorous than that. But yes, visibility matters. I get that now.

Giving stuff up

Next bombshell: 20 per cent of our time as a leader should be spent on leadership activities including being visible to staff, customers and other stakeholders.

Okay… but as many of the women pointed out, their days are chockers with long hours at work, looking after kids, ageing parents, friends, community commitments… visibility comes last on the list. But once you accept it is part of a leader’s role, you have to make the time.

I am still working on that: what do I stop doing and what should I delegate (at home as well as at work)? What spurs me on? Well, if men can find the time - so can women!

Making the commitment

Next exercise: with our new found commitment to visibility and our determination to find the time, we all have to fill out a visibility plan that makes us consider what content we will create and how we will disseminate it.

I know it will be tracked – so I try to be realistic and suggest I speak at one external event, four internal events, write four BlueNote stories and so on in the next twelve months. And I will also fix up my social media profile, start tweeting, linking and building my circle of influencers.  

Understanding the business value of being an expert

You can tell from my response at the start that I thought being visible was all about self-promotion and me. But then I heard how a story on BlueNotes got sent by one of the relationship managers to a customer who sent back a grateful thank you note. Another light bulb!

Sharing our expertise helps our customers and staff and helps us build our reputation as the smart, connected bank across Asia Pacific. It’s about making a contribution to the conversation around the issues that affect our business, economy and society. And it is about engaging in more open and transparent dialogue which opens our minds to fresh thinking.

So now I am committed. And it’s working! I’ve been tweeting and had my first story on BlueNotes - Who’s driving your leadership  – and it’s been fun (sort of).

I am writing about leadership, one of the bank’s key priorities this year and it’s getting the discussion going in a powerfully connected way.

So, there’s been no broken leg, although there was a sense of unease the first day I was published. But I keep getting told ‘fake it until you make it’ – that everyone feels uncomfortable at the start and eventually it just feels normal (and fun!). 

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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