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Top Takeaways from Women in Leadership Panel with Bacardi

To be a woman and a leader today is to reconstruct the way future generations will see the world. On February 15th, 2018 Bridges Unite, in partnership with Bacardi, held its Women in Leadership panel at the Bacardi Offices in Coral Gables. On our stage this time were Managing Director at Endeavor Miami, Laura Maydon, VP and General Counsel for Bacardi North America, Marlene Mitchell Gordon, and VP of Business Development at New World Symphony, Michelle Kucharczyk.

Leadership is more than a title

You might be the VP of a company, the CEO of an organization, even the head of a state, but if one thing is clear today, is that the title does not determine the quality of the leader that bears it. To our panelists, being a good leader means several different things.

“I know a lot of people that have the title, but are not leaders,” said Marlene Mitchell Gordon. According to her, our focus should not be only on working to attain a position of leadership, but also on what the responsibilities are. “Your responsibility [as a leader] is that everyone on that team feels like they can contribute at their best, and that you are there to support them,” she said.

Michelle Kucharczyk, described leadership as an exchange of stimulation. “I happen to score high on the empathy scale, which means I feel what people need in their learning styles and mentoring from me,” she said. “You can become excellent and efficient at that [mentoring], if you think about understanding the broad array of people and how they learn and communicate,” says Michelle.

The more open you are to listening, and paying attention to what others need from you, the more likely you are to build the trust you need to generate the results you’re seeking as a leader. And the more likely you are to do what Laura Maydon considers an imperative part of the job- inspiring others. “Inspiration can come from different places. Sometimes it’s [leadership] very natural, sometimes it must be purposeful and conscious,” she said.

Diversity in our community

Miami is home to a large concentration of immigrants; it is a cultural melting-pot whose diversity is reflected in everything from its architecture, to its businesses. In terms of leadership, per Laura Maydon, a place like this has the potential to break many barriers. “We have the opportunity, in Miami, to show that a diverse community can work together, and be very innovative, and be very different. I think we are very much the future of what we want the world to be,” she said.

“With diversity of thought, and diversity of leadership we all do better,” Marlene Mitchell Gordon said. It’s especially true for women leaders. Like Bridges Unite’s Co-Founder Shanna Parra mentioned, with women at the top power extends to those who are also underrepresented.

But even in places like Miami, awareness plays a key role in the way we structure opportunity. “It’s easy to get comfortable and say ‘this is fine, it’s been going on for so long’ and then suddenly it’s like ‘oh no, what’s going on’,” says Michelle Kucharczyk. When it comes to diversity, she says that when there are gains made there tends to be a “pendulum swing effect”- it’s easy for things to get back to how they were. “Be aware that that’s a potential, and be premeditated in your vigilance,” she says is one way to overcome this.

Be a Catalyst for Yourself

Everyone must overcome obstacles to get to where they want, but women have been taught to be their greatest obstacle. “We need to focus on leading ourselves,” said Marlene Mitchell Gordon. Who we are, what we want, why we want it, are essential discovery points in building ourselves up against barriers that rise on our way to becoming leaders. Marlene calls this “controlling the uncontrollables.”

In general, women learn to be more apologetic about success. One way of overcoming what Laura Maydon calls “self-excluding yourself” is by surrounding yourself with people that believe in you, people that are like-minded and want to see you succeed. “It takes a will,” she says, “but it takes also, sometimes, a little bit of help.” She says it takes patience, and determination, but more importantly knowing that, if things don’t go as planned, “you always have the opportunity to change.”

Another way of controlling the uncontrollables is knowing that you can tackle unwanted, external situations quickly. When talking about the roadblocks she had faced in her career, Michelle Kucharczyk said that although she hadn’t felt she had had many, when she did encounter the ‘typicals’- things like “mansplaining” and being underestimated when she was speaking- she addressed them immediately. “I made a very personal, internal decision to not allow that to happen to me, and I had to do that with a certain amount of risk, I guess, because I hadn’t seen anyone do that before me.” In this way, a woman leader’s role also becomes to help others understand unconscious biases, so that things can change.

We still have a long way to go

Although we continue to see changes in the paradigms of leadership in different industries, and even though every day we hear more and more from women and organizations encouraging women to seek those positions, the numbers still show that there is a long way to go.

The New World Symphony’s board of trustees, is generally composed of 40-45 people, says Michelle Kucharczyk.. Today, 11 of those positions are held by women. “For one of our board chairs,” she says, “one of his own pillars that he’s set for the organization is to bring in a more diverse grouping of representation.”

According to Laura Maydon, for example, overall women entrepreneurs at Endeavor are still a minority percentage. She says that one of the reasons in her experience, is that “women don’t sell the dream as big as men do.” It is also harder for women to get investment. But, when they do, she said, they outperform those that are run by men.

Maydon thinks that is changing for Endeavor, as they begin to become more conscious about the fact that Miami is unique, and more than half of their portfolio is made up of minorities.

“In terms of our board, we have two women on it,” said Marlene Mitchell Gordon about Bacardi, whose board is made up of 16 directors. It might seem very little, but considering that their industry is highly male dominated, she says it’s a lot. When it comes to leadership roles in the company, Bacardi is between 35-37%, according to Gordon.

We know no experience is the same, certainly for women it has never been as simple as following a set of guidelines to reach the top. Many girls and women have been taught to apologize for reaching for what they want, or to avoid addressing or speaking up about unfair situations, unequal opportunities, and, at times, exploitative circumstances in the workplace. That is why it’s important we continue to have these conversations. These women’s stories say a lot about the way we are brought up to think and act as women. This way, we can begin to restructure how our minds see and think of roles. Having the courage to be a catalyst for yourself- to trust in your abilities and fight against the current- is not easy, but it is necessary. Like Marlene Mitchel Gordon said, “Only dead fish go with the flow.”

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