Corporate Veteran Counsels HBS Women to Take Charge

Pamela Lenehan, president of Ridge Hill Consulting and author of “What You Don’t Know and Your Boss Won’t Tell You,” kicked off WSA’s speaker events for the year on Monday, September 19.

Speaking to a packed crowd of almost 100 RC and EC women, Pamela Lenehan spent an hour addressing some of the issues female executives face moving up in the corporate world, explaining for instance, the need to actively manage one’s career and how to get noticed and move up on the job. She also touched on more personal issues like how to manage people at work, and concerns over work-life balance.

Frequently drawing on examples from her book and her 30-year business career, Ms. Lenehan gave practical, straightforward advice, even if a lot of it was derived from common stereotypes about women in the workplace. Control was the key word in the speech. According to Lenehan, women do not do enough to manage their own careers yet no one else, neither one’s bosses nor one’s family, will be able to do it for them. Similarly, while acknowledging that the firm one chooses to work for should respect the individual, she quotes Eleanor Roosevelt in saying that, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She also advised women to get line experience early in their career in order to move up the corporate ladder and not be shunted into support roles.

Pamela Lenehan has had a variety of top roles in the corporate arena, including positions as the managing director of investment banking at Credit Suisse First Boston, an officer of a public company, and CFO of a high-tech start-up. She understood the power of image and advised the audience to not only act confident, but also to exude competence by never apologizing for one’s own opinion, a common trait amongst women. More importantly, she strongly encouraged women to not be shy about communicating how good they are in their roles to senior executives.

Her best, and probably most surprising, advice came during her discussion on work-life balance for women. She acknowledged that more firms are drawing attention to the need to accommodate women’s needs but felt that women must also make balancing work and family look easy if they are to get ahead. In other words, never complain at work about your inability to handle your family issues; you may miss out on opportunities for important or exciting work if your supervisors or team members think you are stressed out and cannot handle the additional work. In her opinion, women need to outsource as much as possible and not feel guilty about delegating non-essential tasks to others. Lastly, individuals need a good support network, not only of family and friends, but also of other working mothers who can act as sound boards for problems.

It was refreshing to hear, first-hand, how other successful female executives, including those interviewed for Pamela Lenehan’s book, fared. One can only hope we will remember some of these lessons when we walk out of HBS into the real world.

September 25, 2006
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