Thank you for listening to the Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! What challenges do you think that women face in leadership? Have you ever worked for a female boss? In this week’s episode, Jeff interviews Aisling on her experience as a woman in leadership in corporate America and what advice she has for men in leadership.
Aisling MacRunnels came to America from Ireland on an athletic scholarship at Duke University. Though she did not have many examples of career women, Aisling had many women teach her how to be authentic and operate with integrity and conviction. These experiences helped her as she moved up the corporate ladder. Currently, she is the Chief Business & Growth Officer at Synack, a cybersecurity company located in Silicon Valley.
Did you have an idea of where you wanted to go when you started your career?
I knew I wanted to be great at whatever I did. I knew I wanted a family, and I wasn’t going to compromise my values. I think it’s more important to have a general idea of what you want to do and take everything one step at a time.
Q: Do you have a concrete plan for your career? Or are you taking it one opportunity at a time? Why do you think one approach might have more benefits than the other?
Have you faced discrimination, and if so, what did it look like?
While I know there is discrimination, I have recently realized that my first reaction, and the reaction of my successful female friends, is that it does not exist. The more senior people are, the less they feel like they see discrimination, but if you ask more specific questions, they will talk about situations where there definitely is discrimination. There is absolutely gender discrimination, but there is also age discrimination and discrimination between people’s intelligence and emotional intelligence.
Most people who are discriminating are not doing it on purpose. They are just doing what is comfortable. People naturally are drawn to people who are similar to them; it’s comfortable. However, it creates homogenous groups. Groups that are more diverse are more creative and resilient to change. So my advice to other leaders would be to get out of your comfort zone by bringing in people who look like you.
If you feel like you are being discriminated against, give people a chance to learn that they are wrong to do that, but also start networking so that you can move to a more welcoming organization and continue in your career.
Q: Describe a time when you saw discrimination at work. What kind of discrimination was it? How could you have stepped in? What are you doing to actively create a diverse team and a team culture that values unique ideas and perspectives?
Why do you think there are not more women in the c-suite?
They are coming. I think it is uncomfortable to work with people that are different than you. Sometimes people are afraid of hiring great talent, male or female, because they feel like it will cause them to be overshadowed. If more people realized that it is best to hire people who are better than you, I think you will see more diversity in the c-suite.
How can men and women operate better in employee-boss relationships?
Do not enter your work relationship as a female and a male. Enter your work relationships as humans. Do not try to overcompensate. If you got the role, you earned it. If they got the role, they earned it. Accept them for what they are doing.
Q: Have you ever had a supervisor who was a different gender, age, or race than you? Did that affect your relationship? If so, how? If not, what do you think helped the relationship succeed?
How can you achieve work-life balance?
This was always a huge issue for me. I knew I was not going to compromise my home life to a great extent. So, I said no to a lot of jobs and promotions to maintain my home balance. Being more junior, however, does not usually allow you more work-life balance. Senior leaders can often create more balance because they can delegate and create a team that helps balance their weaknesses. Whatever position you are in, learn when and how to say no. Don’t assume that you cannot have work-life balance in corporate positions.
Q: What would your ideal work-life balance look like? Why do you think it is important to balance your work and personal life? What factors do you think cause people’s work and personal life to be out of balance?
A word of advice for men in leadership:
I work with great men, but I am often the only woman in the room. Sometimes the dialog can be in one direction, and it can be isolating to a woman. Don’t just not be sexist. Actively work to make time and space for women to be a part of what you are talking about, both in business and in social conversations.
Aisling encouraged men in leadership to actively make space for women in their work environment. Think about what your culture is like. What do you talk about in meetings? What do you talk about before and after meetings? How do you make sure everyone is heard in a meeting? Consider the culture that you want to create. Ask your team members about the culture they want to create. In that culture, what do you talk about in meetings? How do you incorporate everyone into your discussions? What do you think it will take to bridge the gap between where your culture is and where you want it to be?
What kind of training do you give your hiring managers? How do you ensure that they are hiring the best team member for the job? Consider how you can coach your hiring managers so that they better understand that they are building a team, not just a group of individual contributors. Take some time to talk to them about the groups they lead. What personalities are currently in the group? What gaps are there in technical knowledge? What perspective could be missing? Then help your manager develop questions that will ensure that their next hire fills those areas.
Talk to some females that you know about their experience in the workplace. Allow them to talk about any discrimination that they have experienced without passing judgment. Seek to better understand their perspective, and then use their feedback to determine whether you need to change anything in the way that you hire or treat female employees.