In honor of March being Women’s History month and March 8 being International Women’s Day, we wanted to ask the women of Circa their advice for other women in the workforce, what their perspectives are on being a woman in a leadership position, and what we can do to empower other women in the workplace.
Cari Dominguez, who serves on the board of Circa, is nationally recognized for her expertise in public policymaking, workforce issues, and corporate governance. A former Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she also served at the U.S. Department of Labor in roles including Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment Standards and Labor Management, and Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. In the latter capacity, she created, launched, and led the Labor Department’s Glass Ceiling Initiative, designed to remove from the workplace invisible barriers affecting the advancement of women and underrepresented groups. She is also a founder of the Industry Liaison Group Initiative and served as its first national coordinator. Currently, Cari serves on the national board of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), and on the faculty of its Board Advisory Services.
Where there is diversity of views, backgrounds, and experiences, the value and performance of an organization goes up. Beyond their functional and technical expertise, women leaders possess skill sets and attributes that are needed in today’s highly dispersed, pandemic-affected, less hierarchical organizations. Strong communication skills, a collaborative, consultative style that drives consensus, and qualities such as empathy and compassion are much in demand in today’s challenging environment.
I have always enjoyed serving as a catalyst for positive change. I enjoy bringing together groups with different viewpoints then finding common grounds to move forward and make progress in whatever issue or opportunity we are dealing with. Throughout my career, I have embraced a style of leadership that combines our “smarts”, meaning our intellect, knowledge, and expertise, with “heart”, the qualities that make us human, our sense of fairness, respect, and integrity. Leaders motivate and inspire. They can look into the future and envision the opportunities to be gained. But to do so, you must have that animating spirit to overcome the immediate barriers along the way. It takes perseverance, passion, and even pain to make progress. I love to give back and pass along those lessons learned to the next generation of leaders.
I would tell them that leadership is about relating, not about processing. It is about rallying support and inspiring belief with authenticity and with the conviction that whatever you are trying to accomplish makes life better for everyone. It is impossible to leave a legacy behind if your mind and spirit aren’t working together. So, find your purpose, develop your credentials, your competence; practice the values and guiding beliefs that live in your character; and grow in confidence, in the belief that you have “all the right stuff” to make a difference. It takes courage to carry on as a leader, but the results are well worth it.
You have to go at it with sensitivity and intentionality. You have to ask, what viewpoints are we missing? Who else should be at the table that is representative of the communities we serve? Getting them to the table is one thing; making sure that they have a voice, that they are engaged, and their views are expressed and considered requires intentionality and leadership.
I have worked hard at being comfortable in uncomfortable situations, whether negotiating a tense settlement agreement, speaking to a less than welcoming audience, or not being selected for a promotion I felt I strongly deserved. These and other experiences questioned my confidence, but I used them to be more determined, to stretch myself, and learn from them. That’s how I built my confidence, stepping out and leaning into uncomfortable situations that drove my resolve. It is so difficult not to take things personally. In my career, adversity fueled my confidence and success in many ways. It strengthened my focus, belief system, and determination all while facing and sidestepping barriers along the way. We have many examples in our Nation’s history of leaders who consistently experienced adversity. I have used those examples as inspiration in my own circumstances, not to get me down but to lift me up.
I see this syndrome as a confidence issue. I have been a trailblazer all of my career– the “only” woman in a role, the “only” working mother, the first Hispanic – lack of role models, lack of networking support, lack of mentors and sponsors all work to question one’s sense of belonging and fitness in a new role. It can certainly raise doubts and affect confidence and wellbeing. I have felt all of that. I navigated those waters the same way I built my confidence, by being prepared, observing and learning from others, leaning in and using the same attributes and qualities that got me in that position in the first place. You have to remind yourself that you belong at the table, that you are needed at the table, and that many others will benefit by your contributions. It is as much a mental exercise as it is a professional one.
This March we encourage other companies to take the time to acknowledge and celebrate women in the workplace and reflect on how best to support them with their future success.
If you need help with ideas for how to properly celebrate and recognize these important holidays, then Circa’s Advancing Belonging and Inclusion (ABI) can provide communication, content, and more that will help you be proactive and develop a DEI strategy.