Building the Next Generation of Leaders Starts with Expecting—and Respecting—Authenticity

Building the Next Generation of Leaders Starts with Expecting—and Respecting—Authenticity

As a female marketing leader, I often find myself as the only woman in the group out to dinner, present in a meeting, or in a golf foursome. While West Monroe and firms similar to ours are actively investing in building more inclusive and, in turn, diverse work environments, we still have a long way to go. That may sound depressing, but there is a silver lining…we have already come a long way on this journey. As a start, West Monroe Partners (along with other organizations) are seeing start classes evenly split by gender, but as we focus on growing the Next Generation of Leaders we see more and more women opting out.

Last night, West Monroe Partners hosted Ellevate Network and Sallie Krawcheck in our Chicago office—engaging the room of 100 women in discussion about what “owning it” means and how we can help drive change by changing our perspectives.

Sallie Krawcheck speaks at West Monroe Partners

One of the messages from Sallie’s fireside chat that particularly resonated with me was centered on research that shows people tend to hire and trust people who think, look, and act like them. She talked about how women are often told that to overcome this, they have to act different…more like men. Her advice: Don’t.  It’s a message that seems obvious, but when you know that fitting in is important, sometimes acting the part is just easier.  Sallie raised three reasons why this doesn’t work. They are points that I hope will also resonate with my team, West Monroe’s leaders, and women across the consulting industry:

  • Acting the part reduces diversity—and that limits the diversity of thought that has proven to be such an asset to the business community.
  • It is not natural. Trying to embody personality traits that are not true to who you are will come off as inauthentic and impact your character and reputation.
  • It is exhausting. Waking up every day and trying to fake it will burn anyone out!

Having leaders like Sallie Krawcheck in the market willing to share their stories – no matter how glamorous or painful they may have been – allows us to learn from one another’s successes and failures.

I don’t believe I am trying to “fake it” on a day-to-day basis, but I also don’t believe I always “own it” and holding the men (and women) in my life personally and professionally to this standard: to be thoughtful, inclusive, and respectful.  West Monroe’s mission is to build the next generation of leaders – something I am both committed to and passionate about. Last night’s session inspired me to refocus on helping others be true to themselves, thanking the mentors and sponsors (mostly men, by the way) who have helped me achieve success as I have defined it, and reminding other female leaders to do the same.

Helping people define who they want to be and get there on a meaningful path means accepting them for who they are and learning from their unique perspectives, elevating their strengths, and enabling them to achieve success—however they define it!

That’s one meaningful step I will take to build the next generation of leaders. What will you do?

3 Comments

  • Tricia Tan March 23, 2017 12:10 am

    Great article. I truly believe if you are passionate enough to ‘own it and be your authentic self’ it will get you further along.

    • Casey Foss March 23, 2017 9:04 am

      Tricia, I completely agree and sometimes that means you have to be willing to take a stand for the things you believe in, partner with others to drive change, and consistently challenge yourself to be open to diverse perspectives. Thank you for the comment!

  • Maryl Wesolowski March 29, 2017 9:33 am

    Well said, Casey. I agree with you 100%. As a woman who has always worked and been the sole female in the golf foursome countless times, I can say I think things are changing, albeit slowly. As females we need to mentor and support each other and not compete against each other, which unfortunately still happens a lot. Plus, as leaders in our companies, we need to advocate for parent-friendly work policies. The main driver of women leaving the work force during crucial career-building years is the need for balance to manage family and work. Fortunately, those moving into leadership have a more personal understanding of what family balance means and are thus moving towards better policies for men and women in their firms.

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