After the PINK Event on Halloween, our 15th consecutive Annual Fall Empowerment Event, I sat on the floor and read your greatest fears; a mountain of them. Three hundred and fifty women attending the PINK Event wrote down and crumpled up their fears and threw them to the center of the tables at Atlanta’s Crowne Plaza Ravinia. My heart broke and I laughed and cried as I read your – our – worst fears; fear of dying, being broke, unloved, letting people down, fear of failure, job loss, being alone at night, being poor, losing a loved one, of not becoming all I should be based on my potential, fear of breaking out of my comfort zone, fear of bugs, cockroaches and strange spiders(!), fear of horror movies and sales reviews, of outliving my family, being old and alone, and seeming incompetent. And then I burned all of these fears in my boyfriend’s fireplace because a therapist once told me that would make way for something new – fearlessness!
Our speakers gave us a dose of fearlessness by sharing that their own fears weren’t much different from ours. Even Janet Foutty, Chair of the Board of Deloitte, a $20B firm, has this fear that she’ll be back on the street, going door to door selling vacuum cleaners as she did in the past. “I have nightmares, something will go awry at Deloitte and I’ll be back selling vacuum cleaners.” The highest-ranking woman at Delta, the world’s largest airline, EVP and Chief People Officer, Joanne Smith, said she has a recurring nightmare too. “I show up at work in my pajamas.” Allison Dukes, EVP and Chief Financial Officer at SunTrust said, “What scares me is wondering, will I make the right choices.” Aflac EVP and General Counsel Audrey Tillman’s greatest fear? “Big snakes and serial killers.” She admits, “I get anxious, stomach bubbles. But I know it’s all going to be OK.”
Dukes, talked about her fears around making the tough decision not to join the management team at Truist after the SunTrust and BB&T merger. “That was like jumping off a cliff.” She told the crowd she thought about how she wanted to spend the next 20 years of her life and she opted not to take the job which would move the family to Charlotte. “I’m going to see what’s out there for me [here in Atlanta]. I love what I’m doing and where I work. This path is coming to an end.” She called it, “the hardest day of my professional life – how to tell my boss. It was awful. There were tears. There were hugs. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done.”
But here’s the surprise, as Tillman shared, “when you survive and thrive, it reduces your anxiety.” “Own your ask,” added The Coca-Cola Company’s SVP and Chief Technical Officer Nancy Quan who has worked in senior level roles globally to become the beverage empire’s Chief Technical Officer. She adds that companies need to “create an environment where it is safe to fail.”
Daring to fail, risk taking and “confidence can be a powerful weapon,” added panel moderator, WABE Morning Edition radio host and producer Lisa Rayam. Foutty agreed, “I believe confidence is a limiting factor for women.” Quan warned against, “being your worst enemy. You are chosen for a reason. Don’t think ‘what will hold me back, but what can I bring.’” She reminded the crowd, we need to have more confidence, and trust our abilities. Studies show women think they need 100% of qualifications before applying for a promotion, versus men who only feel they only need about 60% of the job requirements. “Each of us has a responsibility to sponsor other women,” said Quan who talked about the importance of “diversity in thinking.”
“You’ve got to have the coaching,” said Tillman. But you’ve also “got to have the sisterhood, to be honest enough to say what isn’t working,” to say, ‘fix this’ and say, ‘thank you for that,’ rather than being silent.”
The event was sponsored by Your Atlanta Area BMW Centers, SunTrust, The Coca-Cola Company, Southern Company, Aflac, The Home Depot, Southwest Airlines and Atlanta Homes and Lifetsyles. It kicked off with former CNN boss, Pat Mitchell, winning the Legendary Woman Award. At age 76, the first female president of PBS, author of the just released Becoming a Dangerous Woman and winner of 37 Emmy awards, told the crowd how she became dangerous. “I’m done with being polite. You cannot be dangerous from the sidelines!” Copies of her book sold out at the PINK event. Now she’ll begin printing a second edition.
Why do some women get ahead while others don’t?
Dukes: “Women stay in their lane too much. Look for opportunities to lead. There’s no shortage of need. Go dive in.” She told the crowd, those are the women who stand out and are promoted.
Foutty: They ask for help, “when things aren’t going well, own it. Don’t hide it.”
Smith: “I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know.”
Tillman: Learn to manage people. This was “my biggest challenge. As lawyers, we’re not trained to manage people. If you’re a leader and you don’t like people, it’s going to be rough on your people. I had to learn [this] from ground-zero.”
Foutty: Don’t judge each other. She worried PINK’s decked out attendees would “judge me for not wearing heels.”
What do men need to know?
Smith: “Don’t say, ‘now that I have a daughter…’ You should care about women because you care about women.” And, men need to know, “It’s not OK to not clean up after themselves at the house.”
In our post event debrief, just for Southern Company as part of their year-long work through PINK’s Annual Corporate Partnership Initiative — which identifies, supports, inspires, develops and showcases high potential women within the company, we focused on actionable takeaways, and what these particular women planned to do with what they heard. 100% of the participants said they learned something useful that they will “take away” and implement at work!
A few take-aways from the debrief:
Have humble confidence.
Strive for progress not perfection.
Set intentions and then measure outcome.
Remember, you can’t change others, but you can adjust your approach and set boundaries.
Combat negative self-talk by recognizing it, then move on and remember you are deserving.
Face fear and rise, fail forward, reinforce confidence through action.
Don’t get hung up on what other people think.
When you second guess yourself, remember you probably made the right decision. It’s not your job to make everyone happy.
Before you get up, take two minutes to set your intentions for the day.
Connection is the antidote to fear. Fear creates more shame.
“I always felt I was on an island by myself,” shared one of the women. “It was comforting to hear how the women up there [on stage] go through it too.”
Executive coach Karen Hardwick shared that the CEOs she works with deal with these things too and have the same fears, “life is messy.”
Rather than reprimand their direct reports for failure, say, “what did we learn?” and applaud them for taking a risk.
Prior to the lunch and panel discussion, attendees had the chance to network and meet other influencers while getting a free headshot courtesy of Your Atlanta Area BMW Centers. Pat Mitchell signed and sold her new book Becoming a Dangerous Woman. The crowd got to check out Clothing by Worth New York, makeup and skin care by Institut’ DERMed, Wendy Babchin Designer Group’s scarves and other cool items from her apparel mart showroom, Blair’s Belts, International Sanctuary & Purpose Jewelry, Garnish & Gather, Blo Blow Dry Bar, Abigail’s Beverage Bar, Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Christie Cookie Company and more…
What will America’s top women leaders say next? Find out this Spring at the annual PINK event – this one at the gorgeous Cox Campus on April 30, 2020—100 years after we finally won the right to vote. Click for details: PINK’s Spring Empowerment Event.
“Fear is temporary. Regret is forever.” Anon
Photos by Larry Krupa
*For more information on PINK’s Annual Corporate Partnership Package contact [email protected].
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