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Don't think you have to have a title to be a leader

Don't think you have to have a title to be a leader
Don't think you have to have a title to be a leader
Don't think you have to have a title to be a leader

     It was an inspiring afternoon at the Founder’s Inn in Virginia Beach, where the Hampton Roads Chamber event, The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman was held on March 22. In its third year, The Glass brings together a panel of women from the Hampton Roads community that have excelled in their careers to talk about the reality of shattering the glass ceiling. This esteemed panel included Felicia Blow, Associate Vice President of Development and Campaign Director for Hampton University, Judy Boone, President/Broker/Owner of Judy Boone Realty, Calandra Jarrell, Diversity and Inclusion Executive within Global Human Resources for Bank of America, and Cathie Vick, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Port of Virginia.

     Bank of America was The Glass Presenting Sponsor and Gina Sorrells from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management opened the event. Sorrells shared some statistics that pointed towards a changing trend in company policy towards female advancement. Bank of America is now a company whose leadership is 50% female and provides 16 weeks of maternity and paternity leave.

    As the panelists were introduced, they were asked to provide a brief summary of their journey into the positions they hold now.

    Cathie Vick provided her advice, “You have to always be open to the opportunities that come your way. Don’t take anything for granted be kind to everyone. I negotiated hard, but I was respectful and kind.”

    Felicia Blow shared her insight, “I try to do the very best at everything I do. You have that thing on the inside that you can’t put your finger on, but you know that God placed it there for you to do, you have to do your best all the time. Do your best, work hard, all the time and be nice, I believe in the golden rule,” Blow said.

    “I also believe in giving credit where credit is due,” Blow said and spoke about being raised in a rural setting and coming from a large family. She credits her parents for their guidance and became a first generation college graduate.

    Bank of America’s, Calandra Jarrell asked us to examine, “What would you do for free? Your gift will be your calling.” She echoed the theme of kindness. “Treat everybody like your boss, if it’s the security guard saying goodnight, the person cleaning the bathroom, or an executive, you never know who is going to be watching you.” Jarrell said. She also attributed her success and rise through the ranks of Bank of America from Administrative Assistant to Diversity and Inclusion Executive,
“because I said yes when others said no.”

    Judy Boone of Judy Boone Realty, also discussed her upbringing in a large family. “Negotiation is what you learn in a big family, I had an older brother and you learn a lot with an older brother. There’s a plan for every one of us, you do your very best.”

    The panelists discussed the challenges not just of being a women in the workplace, but of being a person of color as well. Jarrell said, “There are more CEO’s named ‘John.’ than there are female CEO’s in the whole nation.  If there is a glass ceiling for all women, then multicultural women have a concrete ceiling, and you can’t be what you can’t see.”

    Blow encouraged women to come together in the way male executives do.  “Women can really rule the world if they get out of their own way, there is an energy in the room with women together, but we need to have some real talk about how to come together and support and lift each other up and encourage each other not compete.”

   Vick shared her story of being the only woman in a room of high power male executives. It wasn’t until a man pointed it out that she was the only woman in the room that she even noticed it. “I didn’t notice that I was the only woman in the room, so what? You have to be you and you just have to demonstrate that you are you, regardless of what they think of you.” When the man asked if she was intimidated, her response was, “Not nearly as intimidated as you should be, that the only woman here is smarter than all of you. Don’t think you have to have a title to be a leader, just do it, knowing that everyone’s watching and no one’s watching,” Vick said.

    The informal panelist discussed their stories, strengths, trials and lessons learned and took questions from the audience. When asked for their best advice, Blow said, “I know I worked hard. There are sometimes that you have to say yes. My life experience is not so much shaped by the work I do, but by my own personal reflection on experiences. Living life without regret. It’s okay to do the thing that you want to do, knowing that it may not turn out the way you expected.”

    An audience member question, came from Stacy Nixon, the Philanthropy Director for Girl Scouts of the Colonia Coast. Nixon shared some early advice she was given by a mentor, “A woman should have three mentors, a woman that looks like you, a woman that looks different from you, and an old white man, does that resonate with you all?”

    “Yes, that absolutely rings true,” Jarrell said. “The one thing women need more than anything else is male allies. If you want to grow your career we need sponsorship and advocacy and the people in the position to set you up for success are men, so male allies are huge. There is a misconception that women are pitted against each other, we are made to think that we are catty, but I have experienced more sisterhood than cattiness, don’t over rely on one set of sponsors.

    Blow seconded that advice, “What has helped me, is going beyond my company, it’s a big, bold world, and asking someone to be a mentor, you want it to be mutually beneficial engagement. Wouldn’t it be great if we try to learn from one another?  Don’t limit yourself to your company, try to do something to reciprocate, how are you giving back?”

    Boone spoke towards listening to her intuition. “A vision came to me of a building and I realized it was my own office I would have to build. Women have an incredible intuitiveness that you need to act on what your soul and heart are saying.”

    Jarrell said, “It is so important to maintain your authenticity and stay true to who you are, and I pray for God to bring good people in front of me, you have to hang on to those good people.”

    Blow agreed, “Sometimes you don’t pick, God picks the people to put in your life, the people that will pour into you. Be led by the spirit, be led by your intuition.”

    The panelists all agreed on the importance of family, fostering relationships and reflecting on quality time in their busy lives. Jarrell said, “Find what is really important, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, we also have to be ‘on show’ at all times, as women we have to stay ready at any moment.”

    These fierce women exuded faith, confidence, strength and kindness and encouraged women to keep the conversation going amongst themselves. A culture can shift slowly, but it does shift.

    The Hampton Roads Chamber will host the second installment of The Glass: Evolving the Business Woman, this fall.



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