There are times when I get so discouraged, like when I see a Catalyst report that says only 6.7 percent of the top-paying positions in the Fortune 500 belong to women. But then again, there are times like this moment when I see the potential that exists because of who we are as women. We are growing into our power—together. We are learning from our mistakes and triumphs—together.
The first time I tried to get an interview with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, I got the same answer that I’d gotten from the other women CEOs on the Fortune 500—a polite-but-firm no. The reason was the same, every time. The CEOs wanted to be viewed as CEOS—not as “women CEOs.” It was as if the qualifier suggested “less than.” But I asked Whitman’s spokesman if he would pass on a memo that I would write. He agreed, and I spent quite a bit of time composing my argument.
It came down to this: Some successful women know innately what it takes to break through in difficult environments. They know how to use their strength without being punished for it. They know how to fly above the politics and build teams that perform. It doesn’t come so naturally to all of us. That doesn’t mean the rest of us are less able or less deserving—it means we need a little guidance so we can get our chance to prove our mettle.
If the intuitive leaders don’t share what they know instinctively, they always will be viewed as “women CEOs” because they will be the only ones up there. If they share their wisdom and enlighten the rest of us, they won’t be so rare. Whitman wound up giving me an incredible interview. I loved her. The other “women CEOs” didn’t come around, and I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t share their mentoring wisdom.
Fortunately, a new lineup of great women is in power, and they not only agreed to participate this time—many said it was their duty. You are their legacy. What you do with what they teach you will play out over years and even decades. Just don’t do it alone. Remember the women coming up behind you, and help them along. The more success you create for others, the more you will succeed for yourself.