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How We Can Increase Women’s Engagement in Leadership and Management

Originally published in Authority Magazine on May 7, 2024.

Despite strides towards equality, women remain underrepresented in leadership and management roles across various sectors. In this series, we would like to discuss the barriers to female advancement in these areas and explore actionable strategies for change. We are talking with accomplished women leaders, executives, and pioneers who have navigated these challenges successfully, to hear their experiences, tactics, and advice to inspire and guide the next generation of women toward achieving their full potential in leadership and management roles. As part of this series, Vanessa Ogle of Authority Magazine interviewed Tara Burgess, 360 Live Media's Chief Operating Officer.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you better. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Growing up, I watched my dad climb his way up through his career. He started in a warehouse and put himself through college, attending school at night after work. After 28 years, he became the Executive Vice President of Logistics at Walmart. My dad inspired me to get into business and build things; he had tenacity, passion, and grit that I really admired as a child and wanted to emulate as I started my own career.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two influential women who have helped me throughout my career. Stephanie Copeland Weber, my first mentor, spent valuable time teaching me the importance of processes and organization, the tediousness of Excel, and how to lead a team with empathy and efficiency. Secondly, Heather Hock was my manager for over 10 years. She trusted me to try new things, gave me encouragement and tough love when I needed it, and was always there for me. Without these two women, along with other female friendships throughout my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Good to Great by Jim Collins was shown to me by my long-time boss and colleague, Jack Macleod. At our previous organization, we read this book while our company was heading into the next phase and focused on growth. Times of change and restructuring can be intimidating, but Collin’s book reminded us about the importance of strategic thinking, making tough decisions, and creating resilient teams. I strongly believe that all these are necessary when it comes to continuous improvement and building a culture of excellence.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

In the song “I Feel Lucky”, Mary Chapin Carpenter sings, “The stars might lie but the numbers never do”. Numbers are objective, reliable, and fuel a data-driven approach. This is at the heart of what I do every day as a COO, focusing on analyzing data and measurable results. More than that though, it grounds me when things seem chaotic. Also, it’s just a fantastic song!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My role as COO of 360 Live Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of Smithbucklin, allows me to empower our clients, who are professional societies and trade associations. Our vision statement is, “Together we unlock the power of human networks that move every industry, field, and profession forward.” My team and I build up communities, connect them through events, elevate their visions through brands, and ensure members feel heard and well-represented.

On a more granular level, I also like to focus on making an impact on our team members’ lives. We are more than our current roles. I’ve learned from my past that great managers and mentors make an incredible impact on who our team becomes not only in this role but in their next one and in their personal lives.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this report, only about 31.7% of top executive positions across industries are held by women. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still must be done to empower women. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from leadership and management?

To move forward, I think it is crucial to acknowledge the progress we have made. I consider myself lucky to work in an industry and a company in which females are equally in leadership roles — however, it shouldn’t just be luck. We must continue pushing forward to make this the standard.

Out-dated cultural gender norms are holding back women from leadership and management. We are still fighting this notion that women are not as strong of leaders as men, which is simply incorrect. Our differing strengths each bring something valuable to the table. Since there are fewer women in leadership roles, it also means that we lack other women in mentorship positions.

Internal confidence is also an issue. Women tend to ensure others are taken care of before themselves and may lack the confidence and tools to go after and ask for what they deserve. If we can rebuild these narratives that are meant to keep us out of leadership positions, we can continue progressing toward a more equal future.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become leaders and managers?

Women in manager and leadership positions provide more diverse perspectives and enhanced employee engagement. Women bring more empathy to any workplace and tend to be more inclusive and supportive towards their team members.

Can you please share “5 Things We Need to Increase Women’s Engagement in Leadership and Management?”

Overall, I think it is crucial to invest in women’s education and resources as early as possible when it comes to increasing our roles in leadership and management.

  • Host events like Take Your Daughter to Work Day in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Inspire young women like I was inspired by my dad and show them what opportunities are available to them.
  • Invest in more scholarship programs for women who want to pursue higher education in management and leadership. Whether it’s right out of high school or to further their education in the workforce, it’s never too late to learn the skills needed to succeed.
  • Create more female mentorship programs that pair early-career female talent with a female leader in the company. Allow them to connect and learn from one another.
  • Provide women with specific leadership development opportunities within their cohort. Creating a safe space for women who are at similar points in their careers empowers them to practice speaking up.
  • Ensure your leaders are giving women opportunities early and often to lead projects, try new things, and think outside of the box. Encourage them to push themselves. They may need that extra nudge to get out of the safe zone.

In your opinion, what systemic changes are needed to facilitate more equitable access for women to leadership roles?

The pay gap between men and women remains a prevalent issue, so it is crucial to ensure pay equality across the entire organization. Review salaries annually and adjust as necessary. More companies should also partner with childcare facilities and providers to make enrollment easier and create a healthy and reasonable work-life balance for mothers.

What strategies have you found most effective in mentoring and supporting other women to pursue leadership positions?

“I” is not a bad word. Men tend to use the word “I”, while women tend to use the word “we”. Don’t sell yourself short; take credit for your work and don’t be afraid to ask for what you think you deserve. Connect with others outside of your immediate department and job responsibilities. Learn as much as you can about the company and industry you are in. If you find that someone has a job that you want to step into, talk to them and ask them how they got there. Ask questions that will best contribute to your own professional and personal growth.

How would you advise a woman leader about navigating the challenges of being a woman in a leadership role within a male-dominated industry?

Overall, confidence is key. Be confident in your performance reviews, your abilities, your decisions, and your leadership skills. Understand the key stakeholders in your organization and the power dynamics, too. This will allow you to build relationships with the right people. And, of course, set your goals with clarity and focus. Be ambitious, achieve your goals, and remind people of your accomplishments and skills.

How do you balance the demand for authoritative leadership with the stereotypical expectations of female behavior in professional settings?

It’s a tough balance. Women tend to be labeled difficult to work with, even if they are acting the same way a man would. Women are often led to believe they are being too emotional, but emotions are not a bad thing. After you have taken in all the data and done your research, it’s okay to trust your gut. That’s your intuition telling you when something is right or wrong. Men do it all the time without being labeled — which means women should be able to, too.

Want to spitball a few ideas and see how we may be able to help?

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