Speaking Up at Work “Key to Advancement for Female Professionals”

March 10, 2016

Women who speak up at work can rise to executive positions in companies where men make the major career-advancement decisions, an audience at a special CKGSB Knowledge Series panel discussion to commemorate International Women’s Day, Women Ascending, from Base Camp to Summit: Tools for the Climb, was told.

Women who speak up at work can rise to executive positions in companies where men make the major career-advancement decisions, a CKGSB Knowledge Series panel discussion was told.

A panel of accomplished women from media, business and academia discussed obstacles they faced in their careers and how they overcame them in the March 1 session, “Women Ascending, from Base Camp to Summit: Tools for the Climb.” The event, held just ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8) at CKGSB’s New York office, looked at the skills women need to succeed in environments where men determine career advancement. CKGSB Americas’ Senior Director Mary Wadsworth Darby was the moderator.

From left to right: Julie Hembrock Daum, Director of North American Board Practice, Spencer Stuart; KT McFarland, National Security Analyst, FOX News; Mary Wadsworth Darby, Senior Director, CKGSB Americas; Sharda Cherwoo, Global Client Service Partner, Ernst & Young; Sun Baohong, Dean’s Distinguished Chair Professor of Marketing, CKGSB


“Women do have a tendency to think ‘I shouldn’t speak unless it’s brilliant or unless I have the right answer,’” said panelist Julie Hembrock Daum, who leads the North American Board Practice at executive search firm Spencer Stuart. “And the fact is, in any meeting, you need to have your voice heard and you need to have it heard early, and it doesn’t have to be the most brilliant thing you ever said. They just need to hear you speak.

“Once you do that, you’re in the conversation,” she said.

Board membership

A recent report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that nearly a third of surveyed publicly-traded companies had no women on their boards or in any C-suite jobs. Moreover, 60 percent had no female board members and half had no female top executives, according to the report, which synthesized data from nearly 22,000 firms in 91 countries.

Meanwhile, companies where women accounted for at least 30 percent of executives typically had higher profit than those that had less female representation in top manager roles, according to the report.

Professor Sun Baohong, a panelist and the Dean’s Distinguished Chair Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean at CKGSB, said that although asserting yourself with a smile generally is a good strategy for women in a male-dominated workplace, sometimes more aggressive action is necessary. It took a frank meeting with her dean at Carnegie Mellon University to get the school to institute a maternity leave program when she worked there before joining CKGSB and was expecting her second child, she said.

“By speaking up, you can make rain for other women,” Professor Sun said.

Another panelist, Kathleen Troia “KT” McFarland, Fox News’ National Security Analyst, stressed the importance of balancing career goals and family life.

“For anybody, but particularly for women, don’t think it’s all about your career. It is,” she said. “But it’s also about the rest of your life. Because, amazingly, what will make you better at your career is what you do outside.”

Sharda Cherwoo, the Global Client Service Partner with tax consultant Ernst & Young, said women need to break out of the workaday grind to get to know people. “It’s really the after-hours or some connections you’ve made on a personal level – whether it’s going out for a coffee or a drink or whatever – where you really get to know the person,” she said. “And at the end of the day, everything’s a relationship game.

“You can be Einstein, but if you can’t connect with another person at a personal level, you lose work sometimes, not because you’re not the brightest and smartest, but because you haven’t connected with the client, because you haven’t found out how they feel and how they want to be served,” she said.

Female mentors

Ms. Darby, who worked for Morgan Stanley in firm management before joining CKGSB, urged aspiring female executives to seek female mentors. “Senior female mentors can be extraordinarily helpful because they’ve had the perspective of being at the firm, or knowing certain people and can even help you to seek the sponsors you need to be in touch with that are male, that maybe you are less likely to want to approach,” she said.

Ms. Darby said women eyeing upper-management positions can obtain help from female executives more easily today than they could years ago, when the attitude among the few who had made it was: ‘I didn’t have any help. I’m not talking to you.’ “It’s a very different evolution that’s come about in the community,” she said.

Professor Sun praised a male mentor at CMU who helped her navigate the university system, easing her transition into a male-dominated working environment. “He gave me lots of great advice,” she said, adding that working with a mentor you like can be part of the fun of meeting new people.

About the Knowledge Series

Knowledge Series events aim to disseminate advanced knowledge and perspectives related to China and promote in-depth dialogue in Chinese, Asian and global academic and business circles. Series memberships are available for young professionals, VIPs and corporations.

For more information, please contact Julie Zhu at or +1-646-627-7729.

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