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Guest Opinion: You’ve climbed the ladder – now what?


Women are, in increasing numbers, leading companies, law firms, boards and governments. Once they attain a leadership position, how can women improve the lives of other women by strategically using their influence and power?

1. Make room for other women to succeed.

Gone are the days when only one woman could have a seat at the board table. Once you earn your seat at the table, or an office in the C-suite, make room for other women to succeed alongside you. If you have the opportunity to serve on a nominating or hiring committee for a board or for your company, make an effort to nominate or interview women and persons of color in higher numbers than exist in Iowa.

Over time, this kind of intentional effort may help to correct the disproportionate number of women and persons of color in positions of leadership. Study after study shows that when more than one woman is in the room, all of the women in the room are more likely to have their voice heard and to be judged on their own merit instead of their sex or gender; the same is true for persons of color.

2. Be intentional with your dollars.

Look at the mission of your organization, consider your personal values, and use your influence and power to help other women achieve success. I know a great caterer who operates her own small catering business, so instead of paying for catering from a larger, more well-established company, I’ve started encouraging the organizations I work with to hire this talented woman who is building her business.

Redirecting a modest amount of business to a new startup can make a huge difference for that small business owner, and it incentivizes innovation in our community. I encourage you to intentionally direct your dollars toward some of the talented entrepreneurs in the area — especially the women who are striking out on their own.

We all have power and influence over something in our lives that has a ripple effect throughout our community and the economy, whether it’s where we shop for groceries, where we attend fitness classes, what restaurants we frequent, or which caterers we hire. If you are on a board or have decision-making authority in your workplace, you have additional influence and power to effect positive change in our community.

3. Talk about your journey.

I am still in the midst of “leaning in” and figuring out how to successfully navigate motherhood, marriage and a demanding career. Hearing other professional moms talk about their experiences has helped me through the tough days and given me confidence to keep moving forward professionally and personally. It can be hard to talk about the challenges we have faced, especially while we are trying to fight off “imposter syndrome.” But we need to tell our stories so the women coming after us will know they too are enough, and that they too can achieve both personal and professional success and fulfillment.

The familiar phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” still rings true today, and I am incredibly grateful for the trailblazing women who came before me who helped me see what I can be. I am
hopeful that with more women reaching the pinnacle of success in their field and taking intentional and thoughtful action once success is achieved, all women will benefit.

Leslie Behaunek is an attorney with Nyemaster Goode in Des Moines and serves as board chair for Emerge Iowa, an organization that recruits, trains and provides a network of support for Democratic women interested in running for public office. Connect with Leslie via email.

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