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2020 Rising Female Stars: How To Turn ‘Challenges’ Into ‘Opportunities’ For Positive Change

Mettacool co-founder Natalie Eicher spoke with CRN about a number of issues facing women in the workplace today, from insecurities about networking and self-promotion to the impacts of the “Me Too” movement.

Natalie Eicher is a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach as well as the co-founder and co-CEO of Mettacool, a coaching consultancy that focuses on women. She spoke with CRN Executive Editor Jennifer Follett about a number of issues facing women in the workplace today, from insecurities about networking and self-promotion to the impacts of the “Me Too” movement. Here is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

For women who are just starting to hit their stride in their career path, what are you seeing as the biggest concerns that they have?

One of the things keeping those women up at night is looking at their career path. A lot of them still don’t have enough of a network built and don’t have enough visibility into their organization, and they’re wondering how to proactively build out a career path, and how do I create more awareness of who I am to know what the next steps are for me? And so a lot of times we’re focusing on helping women understand more about who they are, what they want, helping them reflect on the career that they’ve been in so far, noticing what are their individual standout strengths and what are their transferable skills? And then also focusing a lot on mindset, so looking at how you develop a growth mindset in everything you do.

How does someone develop a growth mindset for themselves?

It’s all about understanding that you do have the ability to change and adapt and build new skills and talents, even if you don’t have experience doing those things. Someone with a growth mindset is going to approach challenges and feedback and look at them as opportunities for positive change instead of seeing them as setbacks. You have to reframe your mindset to, ‘I don’t know that yet, but I can learn to do those things.’

What advice do you have for women who want to build out their networks?

A lot of research reveals that women actually have a negative perception of networking and see it more as a kind of politicking, as something that maybe feels inauthentic, especially women who are in more male-dominated careers that might think about networking and associate it with golfing and happy hours and things that maybe don’t seem in line with who they are. But they should be taking a very intentional approach to networking and making sure that it’s something that they’re really cultivating throughout their career. This isn’t a one-time thing where you identify some important people for your career. It’s something that you should be continuously revisiting.

And what if they aren’t comfortable with, like you said, golf outings and happy hour as networking opportunities?

It’s really important to find networking activities that are in congruence with and authentic to who you are. So you can ask other people to do networking activities that you do enjoy, creating those opportunities for networking. If you prefer one-on-one settings, then ask someone, during these times, for a virtual coffee, as an example. Find what feels more authentic to you.

What are the common mistakes the women you’re speaking to are making in their career development process?

Here’s one: expecting others to realize your value. A lot of people, and especially women, have this fear of self-promoting or just assume that if they’re doing the work and doing their jobs well, that others are going to notice. It’s so important for organizations to instill a culture of self-promotion where people are truly encouraged to promote their accomplishments and talk about how they’re adding value. For some people that looks like promoting their own accomplishments as a part of the team. Or using metrics and numbers about their performance, because numbers are really strong. Maybe a way that you self-promote is by talking about some of the projects you’re most proud of on social media. There are a lot of different strategies.

With so much discussion going on right now about diversity in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, how should companies reshape their hiring processes to make sure their candidate pools are not only gender-diverse but also racially diverse?

Bias can really be interjected in all steps in the hiring process and the promoting process. So yes, there are certain ways that you should be wording or structuring your job postings, looking at your interviewing practices in order to remove that natural bias. One of the things right off the bat is when you’re in an interviewing process, you should have people doing the interviewing that reflect the diversity that you want to hire. So, for example, if you’re interviewing a woman [of color] and the five people that interview her are white men, she’s not going to be able to see herself in the organization.

What are the particular challenges that face millennial women in the work environment?

Millennials are really craving more purpose in their work, and they’re really wanting more consistent feedback and reward, more coaching and development. They’re wanting more professional development as well. They’re wanting more exposure and more upward mobility sooner than previous generations. It requires a different level of communication in order to retain that [millennial] talent. An organization has to be thinking about how to make readily available ways to constantly develop their skills and develop both personally and professionally.

The concept of work-life balance gets talked about a lot, but Mettacool has a different take on that?

We would love to banish the phrase ‘work-life balance’ from the vocabulary because when you think about the notion of balance, it’s a zero-sum game. It just assumes that you’re going to have this unrealistic ability to balance your work and your life. But if you think about the modern times that we’re in, work is life and life is work. So we like to talk about work-life integration, which is how you can more effectively integrate your work and life instead of creating this complete divide between the two and assuming that you’ll ever have this perfect balance. It’s more about creating harmony between the two instead of conflict. What we talk about a lot in our coaching programs—especially because work-life integration is one of the most identified challenges that women say that they face as a barrier—is to hone this work-life integration. We do this exercise that’s adapted from the Four Circles exercise, where you look at these four different domains—work, home life, self and well-being, and community, and then you really take inventory of what you value most in these domains, what are you prioritizing, and then you look at how you can create more harmony where there might be a conflict.

Amid the pandemic, so many women have found their work-life balance, or integration, to be way off -kilter. What’s your advice to them?

Know that there are going to be things that you need to let go of. You need to give yourself some grace and know that you’re not going to be able to be as efficient as you were in these things. Switching your perspective from your productivity to more of an outcome focus with your work is an example because you’re probably not going to be able to put in the same hours as you were before, depending on your circumstances.

Could the increasing acceptance of the work-from-home paradigm help women in the long run?

Yes, we’ve been talking about that for the last few months. We really think that one of the very positive things that will come out of this pandemic is that we’ve known that women are wanting more flexible, remote work. That’s something that they identify as important for them when they evaluate an employer. So I think you see a lot of organizations right now that were previously opposed to remote work and had a strong in-office culture are seeing that employees can be very efficient and can produce the outcomes that they need while working remote, so our hope is that, coming out of this, we will see an increase in the ability for remote work, which will then attract more women and keep more women in the workplace.

Especially in the wake of the ‘Me Too’ movement, have you seen changes in attitudes about women in the workplace? Are things getting better?

Things are getting better, but the progress is still so incredibly slow. It’s not where we would like to be in order to reach pay equity and true equality in terms of workforce representation. You see some great organizations, companies like Dell, for example, making very public goals. [Dell in November said it plans for women to make up 50 percent of its workforce by 2030.] In order to make a true movement, we need to understand and believe that women truly still are under-represented, and there still is a true inequality that we’re dealing with.

What’s your overall message to women in the workplace?

It’s imperative that we collectively change the narrative of what it means to be a successful working woman—from the toxic narrative of sacrificing our well-being and glorifying a masculine idea of ‘hustle’ and the idea that we need to ‘fi x’ ourselves to get ahead in our careers to a new narrative that gives us permission to prioritize our well-being in parallel to career advancement and fulfillment and use our voice to help create a more inclusive workplace where women can thrive.

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