By Joyl Silva
In the past two decades, we’ve witnessed a significant effort to have more diversity in the workplace and, therefore, more women in leadership.
A fundamental part of this movement has been the groundswell of women who have stepped up, out, and sometimes sideways, to completely shift the narrative of what it means to lead. Especially in the life sciences, companies are transitioning from giving women a ”seat” at the table to giving them a ”portion” of the table or the whole table itself. The challenge can be how to show up and succeed when provided with such opportunity.
Over a decade ago, as diversity initiatives had just begun, I was asked to lead my first team. I couldn’t help but hear the chatter — “You got the job because you are a woman.” My reply was simple, “You’re right, I am a woman, and I got the job. As we work together, you’ll see the skills that got me here, what I want to learn from you, the support I will give to this team, and what we can do together. Soon, my gender won’t be your focus.”
Developing my own leadership style has been a journey that I credit to those who shared their stories with me. People who helped me realize that leadership is audacious — it is not about fitting the mold and being what people expect. Instead, it is a balance of seeking out and listening to your team so you can make bold decisions. I find if you really spend time listening to and seeking to understand your team, you’ll get the very best out of everyone. It is not consensus leadership, but inclusive leadership.
Building a culture focused on inclusion and diversity is critical to achieving results. Why? When you seek to add diverse perspectives to a team, you avoid bias and decrease the odds that you’ll make the same decision over and over again.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from the many leaders who shared their advice with me:
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Taking the next step in your career should feel uncomfortable, and rightly so. This is a sign that you are being challenged and reaching high enough in your goals. Run towards this, not away from it.
- Strive to have people talking about you when you aren’t around. When you deliver results, others notice, and people talk. Have you shared your ambitions with others you work with? The war for talent is real, and many times it isn’t who you know, but it’s whose radar you are on. Deliver excellent results and make people aware of your ambitions.
- Be curious. “What do you do?” is a simple question, yet it can be the gateway to making new connections and learning about different roles in your organization. In my experience, everyone likes to talk about their role. There is no better way to get some insight into different types of career opportunities.
- Dedicate time for self-reflection. How are you doing toward achieving your career goals? Sometimes this doesn’t come up until it is time for your performance review, development plan, or worse, you’re burned out and are looking for a new job. Take a few minutes, spend some time evaluating if you’re living up to your potential. If not, get back to planning your destiny.
I know that leading difficult conversations, speaking up about why diversity matters, and sometimes putting up your hand for that seat at the table can be daunting. However, the time for women in life sciences is now. Let’s bring the audacious leadership to the table!
JOYL SILVA is general manager at Pfizer CentreOne.