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Q&A: Maria Howard, #LinkageWIL Keynote Speaker, On How Women Can Scale the Hurdles to Advancement in the Workplace

October 27, 2020 Deana LaFauci

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, just one in five senior leaders was a woman. Now, an unprecedented public health and economic crisis has disrupted corporate America in ways we have never seen before. Women leaders, especially women of color, are being disproportionately impacted at a time when organizations need their contributions more than ever.

New research from LeanIn finds that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19.

Now is the time for organizations to support women leaders in meaningful ways. It’s also a time for individual women leaders to recommit to their professional leadership journeys in ways that can enhance their lives and introduce clarity at a time when the pathway forward seems murkier than ever.

Maria Howard, Chief Revenue Officer and Principal Consultant at Linkage, and keynote speaker at the upcoming Virtual Women in Leadership Institute™ on November 9–12, is an expert on all things women’s leadership; she is passionate about equipping organizations with strategies to support women and empowering women to scale the hurdles to advancement.

We sat down with Maria for an interview about why organizations need women leaders in 2020 and beyond, and how the hurdles to advancement need special attention during this global pandemic.

Maria, thanks for chatting with us! Did the recent findings from LeanIn that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19 surprise you?

Unfortunately, it is not surprising. And it is already happening. In August alone, 860,000 women left the workforce compared to 216,000 men. Add to that another 2 million women who are considering leaving, and we are at risk of losing decades of progress in gender equity.

And it makes sense why women are having to make these gut-wrenching decisions. They were already doing a “double shift”—working a full day and then taking on the vast majority of childcare, housework and eldercare. When we add homeschooling, being the primary caretaker of ill family members, and remote working—further blurring the line between home and work, we have a crisis with a disproportionate impact on women.

Tell us a little about the hurdles to advancement women experience in the workplace.

The path to leadership is different for women. We face unique barriers—we call them hurdles—that can impede our advancement. These hurdles are the translation of external barriers and bias into internal beliefs that do not serve our leadership journey but reflect the context that women in leadership face.

Have these hurdles been heightened by this global pandemic?

Expectations and pressures have grown, and the hurdles have become higher, and harder, to glide over. As many organizations are struggling to perform and have had to implement layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts, it becomes incredibly difficult for women leaders to “make the ask”—to advocate for themselves to take on less or find balance, especially considering the increased home responsibilities.

How do you see this shift negatively impacting women?

Networking, which is critical to the advancement of women, becomes a burden of time that we struggle to carve out. The noise in our internal and external environments does not allow us to gain clarity and intentionally focus on our advancement. And we continue to attempt to prove our value—we essentially do too much—because of the risks to our employment and families. The hurdles have been amplified and the space to create our own career vision and execution has further shrunk.

What is the number-one hurdle you are most challenged by as a woman leader, and how do you personally strive to scale it?

The ultimate hurdle I strive to overcome is the Inner Critic, that voice in our heads that expresses judgment of ourselves and others. It is incredibly hard to stay centered in chaos.

I asked this question to a global audience a couple of months back. We had women leaders from Indonesia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mexico, India and the UK with us. It was startling to see how similar our activators are. No matter the country, company or circumstances we come from, we found common themes around stress, isolation, being overworked, balancing home and work, and self-doubt—all Inner Critic amplifiers that can create noise in our lives.

To overcome it, I work on transitioning from the Inner Critic to the Inner Coach. Harnessing the awareness of when I’m critical of myself or others, pausing, and finding compassion. When I reset and reflect from a place of compassion, I can lead in a way that serves people and strategy, that serves vision and execution, that serves myself and my aspirations. I connect back to my authentic leadership.

Next month, you will take to the virtual mainstage at the Virtual Women in Leadership Institute. Why are you excited to speak with the hundreds of women leaders who will be in attendance?

Our Virtual Women in Leadership Institute is the good news for women leaders. It represents the opportunity to take some much-deserved career self-care, to be inspired, to build your network across hundreds of women in just a few days, and to jump-start your own development that can sustain long after the event closes. I can’t wait to be surrounded by more than 900 women who exemplify the collective brilliance that will transform the world, especially in this time of crisis. And I can’t wait to learn from all these incredible women—their stories of strength and success and struggle inspire me and create a community that I can rely on and serve long after the Institute closes.

The Institute is 100% virtual for the first time in its 21-year history. Are you excited by this shift?

Virtual has opened a new path to engage women from all levels of leadership. The various pass offerings, from Keynotes Only to the All-Access pass, allow us to meet women leaders where they are at. In this unique time, that flexibility is critical. It also allows us a better ability to access one another and the content. Networking in a room of 900 women can be intimidating, and you can easily opt out. In the virtual setting, the approachability of the platform drives a higher level of networking opportunity. And the content is highly interactive, allowing for more voices to be heard and stories to be shared!

Maria Howard will take to the virtual mainstage during the Virtual Women in Leadership Institute on November 912, 2020. Register now to join heras well as Soledad O’Brien, Carla Harris, and Glennon Doyleduring a transformative leadership development experience for women leaders.

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