Happy Persistence Day!

  Originally called International Working Women’s Day, the history of this celebration goes all the way back to 1908, and rose out of the movement for women’s equal rights in the workplace. While the official theme of the event this year is Be Bold for Change, this year’s rallying cry could well have been “she was warned, she was given an explanation, nevertheless, she persisted”. The rebuking and silencing of US senator Elizabeth Warren, by her colleagues, is a reminder to us all of the many ways that women feel invisible and silenced in their workplaces and in their lives. And yet, so many are looking for ways to be bold, to be heard, and to elevate and empower others. In the face of both systemic and individual bias, conscious and unconscious, women are persisting, refusing to give up, seeking new ways to be seen and heard, and to be influential. As individuals, women are taking control of their own career paths, through training and development, through seeking meaningful mentors and sponsors. We are mentoring and amplifying the voices of other women. We are building, sustaining and promoting meaningful employee resource groups. We are speaking up and leaning in. We are asking for raises and promotions. We are persisting. What does persistence mean to you this year? I’d love to hear from you how you’ve been celebrating in your workplaces, and often supported by your organizations. Be bold. Be seen. Be heard....

Do great minds think alike?

    Let’s face it. While we may see the value of difference, and hold fast the principles of inclusion in our societies and workplaces, we are drawn to sameness. We want to come together with the like-minded. It bolsters us. It makes us feel stronger. Last week I participated in a salon at Toronto’s Koffler Gallery. The event, called Pushing Back, gathered together a panel of women who attended the Women’s March on Washington in January to discuss how this experience was influencing our work. The panel guests included academics, actors, a playwright, a visual artist, a comedy writer and myself. While I have a background in the theatre, my work now is focused on workplace communication and women’s leadership. We had many different reasons why we attended the march, and our lingering responses ranged from dismay to elation. But what struck me most was how many women talked about the strength they drew from coming together – the solidarity – with other like-minded men and women, and how this shared experience provided fuel to their desire to make change; in their workplaces, in their communities and in the world. Oxford dictionary defines solidarity as: “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group”. I’ve been reflecting how this need for solidarity is something that I see often in the employee resources groups (ERGs) that I speak to; groups of people are coming together in the workplace with common interests and goals to share ideas, wrestle with problems, gain new skills and draw strength from each other. It’s...

What an overnight bus has to do with women and power

                      It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but not because I haven’t thought of writing.  I could say it’s been a busy fall, and it has. But the truth is over the last few months, I just haven’t been able to muster words that feel meaningful. As someone who helps organizations to be more inclusive, and individuals to make more powerful connections through meaningful communication, I believe in the power of dialogue. I work to help women communicate with power, authority and authenticity so that they can be fully seen and heard at work. I work with organizations who want to bridge differences of culture, gender and generation.  Inclusion is at the heart of my work. So the outcome of the American election and the deep divisions that it has exposed have been disheartening, to say the least. It seems simplistic to talk about inclusive communication when the gaps between so many seem suddenly so impossibly wide. With so much to say, but unsure where to begin, I’ve felt silenced. This weekend, I’m hopping on a charter bus to join the Women’s March on Washington. Why would I give a much-needed weekend at home to spend two (likely sleepless) nights on a bus? For days, I’ve been asking myself. This question was put to me by the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week. And in the op ed I wrote for them, I found my answer, and my voice. Read it here. Have a look, and  let me know your thoughts here… Have a great weekend, all. Sarah...

Trump’s Terrifying Communication Effectiveness

                          As professional communicators who advise others on how to improve their ability to connect with audiences, peers and clients, my colleague Shari Graydon and I have watched the astonishing ascension of political neophyte and insult-machine Donald Trump with dropped jaws. Here’s our conversation about the lessons to be learned from his fearless communication style, originally published on Huffington Post. SARAH: When — and yes, this is a fervent wish — Donald Trump loses the US federal election, I’d consider hiring him as a communication coach. Don’t get me wrong. I find his ignorance, racism and sexism repugnant. But he is a salesman to the core and boy, can he sell. Yes, I wish he’d use his powers for good rather than evil. But it’s hard not to be in awe of a real estate promoter with no political experience who’s made it this close to the Oval Office. And it’s his communication skills that have gotten him there. SHARI: I agree that he is compellingly watchable, in a train wreck kind of a way. Despite – or perhaps because of! – his breathtaking lack of knowledge, integrity and basic human decency, he’s a master at crafting and delivering messages that resonate – at least with some people. The trouble is most clients in the market for communications advice aren’t uneducated white men who feel disenfranchised by what’s happening in the world today! And I suspect his ability to adapt his tools to a broader audience are profoundly limited. SARAH: That’s true. But you have to give him credit...

Sex at Work. What’s the problem?

What’s the place for sex at work? I guess the answer depends a lot on where you’re employed, no? In most places though, the answer is, emphatically: nowhere. Accompanied by a quizzical, suspicious look.   But at work, sex is often, ahem, a fact of life. Sexual tensions can and do arise, and employees are more aware than ever of the importance of respectful, professional conduct– especially in cross-sex work relationships. But sexual harassment has been much in the news of late. It’s a problem for women, clearly. But it’s no picnic for anyone and creates some tricky issues for men.   Last week, I had a piece in the Globe and Mail outlining how power structures at work can create ideal conditions for workplace harassment to thrive – witness the recent chapter of the Jian Ghomeshi saga. Perpetrators are often protected by their status – and by perceptions that they add so much value, that they’re above the rules.   But high profile scandals like this one, help to perpetuate another problem, more subtle, but equally insidious. Fear of perceived harassment can prevent men from sponsoring women.   A sponsor is someone in a position of power relative to yours. They’re situated to advocate for you, by recommending you for a big project or putting your name on the table for a promotion. A sponsor is your champion and your ally, your voice at the table, and their influence can go a long way. And the more senior they are, the more influence your sponsor can have in your career.   The trouble is that with only 33%...

“Growing” Women Leaders

I have what you might call a black thumb.  While I love the idea of a house full of green, shiny, oxygen-giving foliage, my houseplants usually end as sad, wilting, brownish wisps. This year I tried succulents, after learning that they require very little care. They also require lots of sunlight, a detail that I overlooked.  In a dark corner on my brand new shelving unit, alas, they turned to brownish wisps, as usual.  I had to admit that if I wanted them to grow, I’d have to give them the right conditions. I was reminded of my gardening failures recently, while doing some research into the conditions that allow women to grow into leadership positions. The statistics on the imbalance of women in senior management teams are as troubling as ever.  While many industries now see gender parity in the labour pool (S&P 500 companies report 45% women), the percentage shrinks with each rung up the corporate ladder, with women making up only 4.6% of CEO’s. Why is this percentage so low, when study after study shows that companies with gender balance at the top are more profitable?  And even more importantly, what can women in HR and management do about it? What’s keeping women from “thriving”? It’s worth a closer look at the workplace conditions that might be getting in the way. “Environmental bias” Given the historical dominance of men in the workplace, many organizations still have structures and work behaviours that have evolved to match men’s styles and preferences.  These biases – often referred to as “second-generation bias” – play out in policies and informal expectations that favour men and...

What I’m just really a little bit sorry about…

Sorry is the hardest word…   I’m really sorry I haven’t been in touch in a while.  I know you’re super-busy, and I’m sorry if this isn’t a good time – so I’ll keep this brief.  And sorry too for cluttering your inbox, I know you get a lot of mail… Sound familiar?  Take a look through your own sent box and note how many emails begin with some kind of apology.  In the media there’s been a veritable frenzy of commentary about women’s tendency to apologize excessively.  Do we do it?  Why?  What are we so sorry about, anyway?  Over the last month, I’ve worked with groups of women in a range of contexts: I spoke at the recent HRPA conference to a group of close to 200 women, ran an event for women in HR and Diversity, and last week led a session on difficult conversations.  I was also invited to a brainstorming meeting for the Best Person Project, a program designed to help young women launch their careers with confidence. Amazingly, the subject of apologies came up at each of these events. Sorry or not? In most of these contexts, we were exploring the personal leadership presence that can allow women to be truly seen and heard at work.  I heard so many women identify a tendency to apologize when there’s actually nothing to be sorry about.  I heard some women apologize, then apologize for apologizing.  Many felt baffled and slightly sheepish about these conversation ‘minimizers.’  They wondered ‘why am I apologizing when I’m not even sorry?” This question was often followed by, “ok then, should...

What to wear, what to wear…

                        I confess that I sometimes struggle to get dressed for work.  Once in a while, as I root through my closet, things can really go south.  Here’s what happened recently. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of running my Power Up: Leadership Presence for Women workshop for a group of women leaders in Ottawa, hosted by the incomparable Shari Graydon and Informed Opinions.  The women present were leaders in government, non-profits and academia.  While their work is diverse, they shared a desire to be truly seen and heard at work.  They all wanted to step up and take the room with confidence – expressing themselves with authenticity and passion.  I was inspired by their energy and intelligence.  It was a terrific day. At one point, a participant, a dynamic and engaging woman, asked me if I could speak about appropriate attire for public speaking.  It’s a question I’m asked often, and for some reason, on this day, I dodged the question.  I gave a vague, half-hearted answer, and even mumbled about not being an expert on this topic.  Not because I don’t have an opinion, but because the question itself often makes me uncomfortable. Last week, getting ready for an important speaking engagement, I found myself ripping through my closet, pulling out and trying on one thing after another, unable to decide.   With a background as an artist, I sometimes wonder if my natural, quirky style fits in to a business context.  Is what I’m wearing too corporate to feel like me?  Not corporate enough?  Is it comfortable?  Does it look good? ...
How a blow to the head made me get real about diversity

How a blow to the head made me get real about diversity

Tom and Jerry always cracked me up. Classic slapstick, like a knock on the head of Tom the cat, was a sure-fire comedy kickoff. An anvil falls, a huge bump rises, then amnesia, personality change and hilarity. And with just one more bonk on the noggin, character returns to normal – presto. As I found out first-hand, this trick isn’t quite so easy. Not that funny, either. Last May, while cruising on my brand new bike, en route to a client meeting, my tire was suddenly and firmly jammed in a streetcar track. Bike halted, I was pitched to the pavement and landed on my head. Sure, I wore a helmet, but was still knocked out for several minutes and remember nothing of the following few hours. Amnesia. Just like on TV! I awoke in the hospital, where, due to severe vertigo, I was stuck for 5 days, until I could sit up without vomiting. Once I could walk (with the help of a walker) I was released. I spent many weeks at home, in a dark, quiet room, unable to tolerate noise, read a book, or look at screens (I know. This last was insult to injury.) Unlike Tom, it took many months for me to feel at all like my old self. But, like in the cartoons, that knock to the head changed me. I wasn’t who I was before. I might not ever be. I think it’s a good thing. Here’s the deal. My work is focused on diversity and inclusion. D&I training – when done right – helps us recognize and understand what’s often called the ‘dimensions of diversity’,...