By Amanda Felt
As female leaders, we are often so busy “doing” that we don’t take time to reflect on and celebrate all that we’ve actually done. It’s understandable, knowing how much is on our plates both professionally and personally, but it’s also a lost opportunity for several reasons. First, without taking time to reflect, we inhibit our ability to learn and grow from our experiences. To truly internalize and build upon our strengths and weaknesses requires a verydeliberate, conscious form of self-awareness. Second, without cultivating and recognizing our leadership successes and challenges, we are much less likely to share those experiences and inspire the next generation of female leaders.
I recently connected with Jane Park, Senior Vice President, Business Investments, for Exelon, the nation’s largest utility company, to further explore the importance of reflecting upon and celebrating the acts of courage that millions of women demonstrate each and every day. I’m honored to share her perspective below:
Jane, why is it important for women to stop and reflect on their leadership journey? How does doing so impact the whole process of evolving as a leader?
Jane: This is a great question because for many working women who are also trying to raise families, the world goes by so fast. Our lives go by so fast. Unless you consciously make time for these moments to reflect, you can’tprocess all the data points you experience throughout the day. We need to intentionally reserve time for reflection in order to harness and activate on the insights that help us be better, and share those learnings with other women, particularly those from the next generation.
So, take time to be honest with yourselfabout what you’ve done well, what you haven’t done so well. Doing so will lift your personal and professional growth going forward.
How do you take that reflection and build upon it? How do you pay it forward to the next generation of female leaders?
Jane: There are as many ways to stop and reflect as there are women leaders to do the reflecting. It’s a very personal thing. The point is to do it however is best for you. For me, reflection is in my day-to-day thinking. I strive to be cognizant in the moment of what went right or what went wrong and think about what I can do better. It’s about continuous improvement. When you get into that rhythm and way of thinking, it becomes second nature to reflect and be self-aware of your own development.
There was a time when I was learning a lot of lessons the hard way. I didn’t mind the lessons, but I wished they didn’t have to be so hard won. One of my mentors told me, “these are the best lessons because you learn them humbly and you learn them deeply.” One of the greatest gifts you can give a colleague is to share the lesson learned humbly and deeply.
For many women, leadership takes significant acts of courage. How do you celebrate those acts and create an environment where other women feel similarly empowered?
Jane: It’s incredibly important for women to celebrate acts of courage, which happen all the time. Unless we intentionally look for them, there is a high volume - millions of acts of courage - that will go unnoticed, unappreciated, and never be modeled by others and proliferate.
If you were to ask me the greatest obstacle to celebrating those acts of courage, I would point to societal expectations that suggest that women should dismiss or not acknowledge our everyday acts ofcourage. That needs to stop. We deserve the credit. We must celebrate our strengths and accomplishments and stop taking them for granted or making them seem like no big deal if we are to make meaningful strides forward.
For example, as a single mom of two kids, I grew up in an America where there was a fair amount of racism toward Asians, which I personally experienced. So, at the height of the pandemic, with all the racism and hate happening toward Asians, that really impacted me as someone who has spent her whole life trying to fit into this culture. For me it took an act of courage to say this is unacceptable. I don’t want to leave my kids a world that is worse off than the world I experienced 40 years ago. It’s in those moments of silent resolve when you say, ‘I’m done with this’ and commit to making your voice heard and doing what you can to make the world a more equitable and diverse place. That’s how we start to make real change.
What challenges lie ahead for women in leadership? Great strides have been made, but what do you see as the potential obstacles moving forward, both individually and societally?
Jane: We have made tremendous progress as women leaders. Part of our ongoing challenge, even though there are many more women in leadership positions, is to continue to push the envelope and ask ourselves if we are truly at a place of equity. Breaking the final elements of the glass ceiling could be the hardest challenge of all. To do so, we need to build the strongest pipeline we can of women leaders. We also need to have more conversations on where race and gender intersect. We can move both issues forward by speaking up and talking openly and honestly about our experiences … by celebrating our acts of courage.