Don't Wait for Permission

Article originally posted on LinkedIn.

"Don't wait for permission."

That’s a piece of free career advice for today’s working woman from Arizona Board of Regents President, Eileen Klein. And when it comes to taking charge of your career goals, I couldn’t agree more.

Statistics show just 23 Fortune 500 companies are led by women. According to a CNNMoney analysis, women occupy only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500. 

I had never met Eileen Klein before, and knew nothing about her. But when I sent her a thoughtful email inviting her to be the first guest at Insight's Women in Leadership speaker series, she almost instantaneously replied with a resounding “yes!” (Who says cold emails don’t work?)

As I arrived to attend, I immediately recognized her. Not because I had seen a photo of her, but because of her aura. She was confident, professional and poised; a woman walking with a mission. Her “brand” was evident from the moment I saw her.

Over 160 women across Insight joined us over WebEx and in person for this special event.

To start, Eileen praised Arizona as a place that has led the way with women leaders. She affirmed that you can absolutely make your mark if you have something positive to contribute — no matter your background or gender. And she’s certainly no stranger to making a contribution. 

Eileen currently oversees a $4B (yes, billion with a “b”) budget for the Arizona public university enterprise — Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona. Eileen said her career has more often than not been compelled by problems the government was trying to solve, and she knew she could make a difference. Much like Insight's teammates, who demonstrate Insight’s value of hunger in their everyday work, she’s a problem-solver, and it’s served her career well. So she encouraged the crowd to look for problems to solve as they look to grow and expand their careers, helping them learn to be an active part of the solution.

Eileen shared key insights into how women are more capable and educated than ever before, but the C-suite and boardroom numbers don’t reflect this trend. So what’s holding women back? She encouraged the women of Insight to think about how they manage their personal brand. It’s very important that women continue to articulate not only their brand, but also their worth. CEOs who know how to show shareholder value(and not just stock value) earn more than those who do not. Are you driving shareholder value? And not in the traditional sense. Who are your shareholders? Our clients? Other teammates? Are you adding value each and every day? She talked about personal development and the importance of always focusing on growing your skills … always a way to add shareholder value.

Eileen also encouraged the group to always make sure to choose the moment — don't let the moment choose you. Or, as the Rolling Stones so beautifully sang, “I'm gonna walk before they make me run.” Strategically think about your career path, be it upward or sideways, and when you reach the position you were seeking, be confident that you deserve that position. Make sure to remind yourself whenever you feel doubt that you do in fact deserve to be there. “They” put you in that position for a reason. So believe in yourself. 

Eileen, in a closing yet transparent moment, reminded us of the most important leadership concept: When you are in a position of authority, think about how we use it. Wield power wisely. Think about how you treat people. Always be engaged with people as people. When you are leaving a position or a company, you will be remembered most for how you treated people. 

Finally, I’ll close it out with one of my favorite quotes of her session: "You don't want to be the woman in the room because you're a woman. You want to be there because you're the best."