After trying to balance a family life and a career in the
corporate world for several years, stress forced Jennifer McKelvey
to take a break from her job.

But when Alcoa Mills Products offered her a promotion she could
not resist, McKelvey and her husband found a unique solution that
allowed her to take the position.

“We decided to go for it, and the critical component was my
husband’s decision to become a stay-at-home dad. He put that out on
the table,” said McKelvey, now a director of customer services,
sales planning and e-commerce for Alcoa Mills.

Speaking during a panel session Friday at the Business School’s
11th Annual Women in Leadership Conference, McKelvey said she has
been able to pursue her career only because her husband
successfully adapted to his new role taking care of their children
and doing household chores

“It fits our shared values, our definition of success … (and)
what our goals are as a family unit,” she said.

Other speakers discussed gender stereotypes and work ethics.

Anne Stevens, vice president of Ford Motor Co.’s North America
Vehicle Operations, said she can only balance work and family by
not trying to control everything her stay-at-home husband does
around the house.

“There are things you can let other people do and things he does
better,” she said. “I have this list of stuff I don’t do and
haven’t done for 30 years.”

McKelvey said after her husband began doing more household
chores she realized that “there’s more than one way to load the
dishwasher.”

Traditional gender roles and responsibilities were among the
stereotypes addressed by speakers at the Women in Leadership
Conference.

A common myth is that women can only succeed in leadership
positions if they learn to play golf or participate in other
traditionally male social activities, said Executive Women’s
Alliance President Carol Gallagher, whose firm specializes in
coaching, consulting and developing female leaders.

“It’s not a good way to make relationships when you’re
miserable,” Gallagher said. “If we don’t act authentically and show
up who we really are at work, people don’t learn to trust us.”

Women also must learn that while they have to be effective at
their jobs, they should avoid a perfectionist attitude by
delegating responsibilities instead of trying to do everything by
themselves, Gallagher said.

She added that one way for women to network successfully is to
develop “substantive relationships inside and outside the company.”
She pointed out that 90 percent of executive women’s relationships
were developed with workers outside their department, and 18
percent were relationships with professionals outside of their
industry.

Stacy Stewart, chief executive officer of the Fannie Mae
Foundation, said in addition to taking risks and expecting
adversity, female leaders must discover what their passions are and
work hard to achieve their goals.

“As women, we cannot be defined by our gender, and we cannot be
defined by our expectations of our gender,” Stewart said. “If we’re
going to be defined by anything, it shouldn’t be titles or awards,
but values.”

Stewart said as an MBA student at the University, she turned
down a prestigious job offer several weeks before graduating
because she wanted to work in the public finance sector, helping
expand home-ownership access to minorities.

While a receptive audience of several hundred female
professionals, business students and prospective students listened
to the speakers’ advice and inspirational stories during the
conference, few raised their hands when Gallagher asked how many
wanted to one day work in executive positions.

Many more indicated that they wanted to work as individual
contributors for a large corporation.

“There’s some barrier out there – some of it is self-imposed and
some of it is the culture of the organization,” Gallagher said,
adding that only 1.5 percent of the Fortune 500 top chief executive
officers and 12.4 percent of all board directors are women.

Gallagher said a key for women to achieve success in the
business world is to realize that “whatever we focus on is what we
achieve.”

 

 

 

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