Like many of you, I was saddened to learn of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing a couple weeks ago. She served as an icon and inspiration to many. I think women who benefited from her work and her decisions, the loss felt almost personal. For me, spending most of my career as a single mother working in a very fast paced industry, I often felt as though in order to succeed professionally, I needed to minimize the impact of balancing motherhood with the demands of work.
Times are changing and traditional roles are evolving. Now many fathers are sharing the responsibilities of children. But when I was coming up through the ranks of the workforce, that evolution had not yet taken place.
In my 30 plus years of working, every single leader of every single company for which I worked were men. I’ve had the good fortune to work with inspirational company heads and to learn from their styles and their leadership and vision.
Today I find myself at Medable, and it’s the first time I have worked for a female CEO. So, is there a difference?
My experience has been similar to those of many others. A recent article in Newsweek, focusing on the difference in responses between female led countries versus male led countries amidst COVID noted that "world leaders who are women have been more likely to use language focusing on compassion and social cohesion”. Forbes published an article last year examining the different ways genders are socialized and found that “women excel in leadership positions because they have developed soft skills necessary for effective leadership...traits like empathy, communication and listening". In 2019, HBR evaluated 360 degree reviews and found that "women in leadership positions" were perceived just as - if not more - competent as their male counterparts". Yet the percentage of female CEOs of public companies still does not reflect the population.
There is some evidence of progress. A woman just assumed the CEO position for the BNSF - the first female to hold the leadership position for a railroad. GlaxoSmithKline, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, is led by a woman.
So what's been the difference for me, a woman in her late 50s, arguably closer to the final years of my career than I am to its beginning? Medable's culture is shaped by our leader, Michelle Longmire, a physician and founder who believes in the power of passion and drive. But she also believes strongly in the power of people and connection and works to connect with her teams and collaborators in a very personal way.
When I was contemplating leaving my former position to join Medable, I asked one of my colleagues for her thoughts on the best thing about Medable and her instant reply was "Michelle. She's inspirational". Despite the stereotype, women want to see one another succeed and it is inspiring to see how our CEO has taken an industry problem as a challenge and an opportunity and built a company around solving those problems. Her skills as a listener mean that the team is drawn to her and willing to share ideas; her openness to multiple perspectives feels different than what I've experienced at other organizations.
We mourn the passing of Justice Ginsberg – a petite, soft voiced judge who will be remembered partly for her belief that "you can disagree without being disagreeable." Justice Ginsberg showed us that leaning into our traditionally female qualities wasn't limiting and may in fact be liberating. I appreciate all she did for our country and, in particular, the women in this country. Equally today I appreciate the opportunity to experience a new generation of female leadership.
Thanks Michelle and the Medable team – it’s been a great journey so far!