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9 Ways Women Can Lean In to Economic Development

Julie Curtin Lean In Panel IEDCWhen Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” hit the bookshelves in late 2013, it generated a firestorm of media attention for its views on how women should conduct themselves in business. So it came as no surprise that a “Lean In” panel put together by Development Counsellors International’s Executive Vice President and Partner Julie Curtin drew a standing room only crowd at the 2014 IEDC Annual Conference.

In a candid conversation over the course of 90 minutes, Tracye McDaniel, then-CEO of Choose New Jersey, Inc., Marina James, President and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, Inc., and Jennifer Owens, CEcD, President of Lakeshore Advantage, shared these words of wisdom on how women can be taken seriously and advance rapidly in the male-dominated world of economic development:

  1. Get comfortable being the only woman in the room. With an estimated 80% of economic development being male, women have to “get over” being the only female in meetings. Don’t make a big deal of it. Instead, focus on “owning” the room.
  1. Get a seat at the table. Work through individuals who are your biggest promoters – whether men or women – to make sure you get invited to important meetings and events. Practice “power mapping” so you understand the people in the room and their spheres of influence. Learn to listen and to contribute with a smart voice. Don’t just say something to say something.
  1. Nurture and be nurtured. Recruit bright, aggressive women right out of college. Young female talent can inject new thinking into EDOs. Pull up the people behind you. Band together as women and lift each other up. Look for strong coaches, mentors or assemble your own “mastermind alliance.”
  1. Build your brand. Figure out your personal brand. Make sure it’s authentic and then stick to it so people know who you are and what you stand for.
  1. Dialogue without emotion. Have conversations with your bosses, colleagues and clients in a direct, open manner. Know when and how to “turn it up” to your advantage, but never get emotional. Keep calm and carry on.
  1. Be results-oriented. Seek to work on profitable projects that have an impact on your organization’s bottom line. Always measure and report your results. There is no denying good metrics.
  1. Exude self confidence. Don’t be a shrinking violet. Develop strong communication skills and your own sense of swagger. You don’t always have to have reassurance from others or look for someone else to have your back. Stand up for yourself.
  1. Never be afraid to ask for money. Know your value. Start by doing your research so you know what comparable positions are paying and where you are in the pay band. Practice your pitch and position yourself as a high-performing asset worthy of being highly paid. Be creative in your “ask” – perks in your overall compensation package may be as valuable to you as your salary.
  1. Take risks. Be your own trailblazer. Don’t take the conservative route. Go left or right when others may barrel straight ahead. Think about your “suite of skills” and carve out a role that will motivate you. Don’t hesitate to say “no, not now” and don’t be afraid to fail.

While the three women panelists were smart, savvy and spellbinding during the provocative session, the spitfire 93-year-old Mayor of Mississauga at the time, Hazel McCallion perhaps gave the most succinct “Lean In” advice from the back of the room as the session wrapped up: “Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a dog.” No wonder she earned the moniker “Hurricane Hazel.”

Written By

Dariel Curren

Dariel is the Executive Vice President at Development Counsellors International and directs the Economic Development Division. Since joining DCI in 1995, she has worked for clients spanning the globe, including destinations from Maine to Miami and from New York to New Zealand.

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