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What I Took Away From Ellevate’s Women’s Leadership Summit and You Should Too



I recently attended the Ellevate Foundation’s Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS) in Las Vegas, which profoundly impacted me. There are two strong stereotypes of how women behave with one another – trying to cut one another out or being supportive, uplifting, and caring. This conference is 100% the latter. It had me inspired, motivated, and feeling a deep appreciation and love for the attendees.

It also got me thinking and reflecting.

Several years ago, I watched a Twitter conversation unfold that really struck an angry chord with me. A young woman, in perfect “social medianess,” got into a fight on a women’s empowerment thread, saying that she got to where she is because of her own hard work and that she doesn’t owe respect to anyone else because it was all her doing, no one else had any impact on it.

That hit me so sharply because it is literally every woman who has worked, fought, sacrificed, hustled, and held her ground in the face of adversity, animosity, and bigotry that allows me and every other woman to hold our positions today. They blazed trails and made it possible. Because women over the decades and centuries fought the fight they did, we’re in a very different position and have less of a fight to fight in our careers today. We now have the privilege of being able to say, “I worked hard and got where I am.”

I believe that any chance we get, we should, instead, thank the women who have come before us and blazed down trails that allow all of us today to do what we do. We owe them a debt of gratitude whether we feel directly related to them in any way or even realize how they are responsible for where we are now.

It could be women in our companies, industry, communities, or families. They could have held positions of power, done an entry-level job, or been somewhere in between. They may have wanted the job they had, did it because they had to, or because it’s all they were allowed to do as a woman. The fact that they did the job is what matters and allows us to have our jobs today.

We owe it to them and ourselves to recognize and pay homage to our female forbearers. And we owe it to the ones coming up to provide all the support, mentorship, and examples to help them continue the pathways we all have created. Let no grass grow.

Invest in the women in your company

Regardless of how many women are on your team today, at just over 50% of the US population, having women on your team is inevitable. Ensuring you step away from stereotypes and maximize the contributions of everyone on your team is good for everyone, regardless of gender.

This has historically been a challenge in insurance. The A team – salespeople, typically male, and the B team – service team, typically female – is alive and well in many agencies. Just scroll through the About pages on websites to see the evidence.

This may be the right structure for your organization. Whether it is or isn’t, I would like to encourage you to consider how you’re challenging, setting expectations, and structuring professional development for everyone on the team. Not just your sales team.

  • As challenging as it is to run a business, run your operation at full scale by having everyone contributing at their highest levels and striving for more.
  • Don’t keep people in positions of deference when they are capable or interested in contributing much more.
  • Encourage the flow of ideas from everyone to help your operation grow and thrive.
  • Empower people to think about your business and find ways to contribute beyond their current roles.
  • Develop diversity in thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and implementation to find the best way to run your organization.

Diversity in people = diversity in ideas.

Women’s emotions are human emotions

I’m reading Charles Duhigg’s book, Supercommunicators, and he references many studies, one about differences between women and men expressing emotion in the workplace.

Men are lauded as admirable leaders when they express strong negative emotions, such as anger or impatience. Yet, when women express these emotions, they are more likely to face negative consequences and incur social and economic penalties.

When men cry at work, they are praised for showing how much they care. Yet women in the same situation are judged as overly emotional or lacking emotional control. These negative judgments undermine our competence and professional legitimacy.

The unfairness of these biases is obvious and precisely why we need conferences such as Ellevate’s WLS for women to gather, tell their stories, work through struggles, gain support and skills to cope with the situations we face, and learn how to bring a better, more holistic leadership environment into our workplaces – for everyone.

Until we, as a society, learn to normalize “male” and “female” emotional behaviors as “human” behaviors, we will continue needing separate environments for women to develop leadership skills in settings that support our communication styles and allow us to thrive rather than be punitive and hold us back.

Admittedly skewed perspective

In retrospect, I’ve realized that I have a skewed perspective about being female in the workplace. I’ve had an amazing support system from day one, with my dad always in my corner, instilling in me and truly believing I could do whatever I set my mind to and expecting me to do it. My parents had a large group of friends who were in education and demonstrated that women were at least “as equal,” if not more powerful, than the men.

Education, which skews largely female, provides women significant opportunities to take on leadership roles. Watching these women run departments, schools, and districts, I never considered limitations.

I’ve also had great relationships with most women I’ve worked with. I was very fortunate that there were women in positions of power throughout my career from the very beginning, running departments and large regional offices. It was role-modeled for me that it didn’t matter if you were male or female; you could lead and be a badass.

Selecting a business partner is a critical decision, and I’ve done a hell of a job at that. My first partner was a woman, and we created everything we set out to build. My second business partner is Kevin, and when he believes in you, he is an all-in supporter regardless of gender. Because of the strong support we provide one another, we are also able to extend that to our team.

We run a team of mostly women. Not by design; that’s how it’s worked out up to this point. We’ve cultivated an environment of support and trust, which is the most important part of our culture, and it’s what we’ll fiercely continue to protect with each new hire.

Part of the support and trust includes honest feedback and expectations of growth. When I interview, I make it very clear that everyone participates in extensive feedback from all directions to create the best product. It’s not personal, and it’s not about the creator – it’s about the end product. So people come prepared to hear, “This is a great start. Let’s take it in this direction to make it even better.”

This isn’t masculine or feminine energy. It’s growth energy.

What is my takeaway?

I want women to feel as empowered and supported as I’ve felt over the years. I want company leaders to find ways to empower women in their workplaces, from rethinking expectations and gender bias in roles to creating professional development plans, building in time to develop skills, providing education, encouraging mentor relationships, and shining a light on leadership successes.

Businesses thrive with a diversity of thinking, experiences, and perspectives. Create an environment where all people thrive, and you will never have a shortage of excellent people who want to work at your company. As Heidi Rasmussen said so clearly at the conference, “If we don’t lead with excellence, we won’t attract excellent people.”


Photos by Q4i from WLS 2024.