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Susan Colantuono is today’s TED.com Talk

We’re so proud to share this news!

You may have seen Susan Colantuono on the TEDxBeaconStreet Stage back in November. Susan, CEO of Leading Women, offers insight into why so many women are “mired in the middle” of organizations and what has to happen to take them to the top.  While women now constitute 50% of middle managers, companies have failed to close the gender gap at the highest levels.

Colantuono’s research about the Missing 33% in the career advice given to women–i.e. the typically unspoken requirement that leaders must actively demonstrate business, financial, and strategic acumen to be considered for top jobs–will change how women prepare themselves for the highest-level positions. View her talk, “Closing the Leadership Gender Gap”.


For more inspiring insights from strong women on leadership, check out our related playlist.

INTERVIEW (By Charles Tiu)

We were fortunate to catch Susan for a Q&A session, where she shared more thoughtful, inspiring, and actionable insights for all women at any stage in their career and all individuals who may become a mentor. She also discusses her role in the family and in the workplace that sparked her interest in leadership for women.

For all the women watching your video, what is the big message you want them to know?
What I want the world to get from my TEDx talk is that at any level, you are being expected to lead. Leadership means that to be a businesswoman, you have to know where the organization is going and your role in taking people there. And if you don’t get that leadership definition of success, your career will definitely plunder.

What is a step that women can take right now?
The step you can take right now depends on where you are in your career:

If you are at career start, it’s important to begin to ask questions and seek experiences that help you understand how the whole organization works. Secondly, take advantage of opportunities to listen to your executives talk about the financial performance of the organization.

Women who are in the middle of your career have good strategic, financial, and business acumen. Be able to speak the language of power, so not talking about how great you are with your team, but talk about the contribution you are making to the business.

If you’re at higher levels in the organization, begin to focus on representing your company to the external community by talking effectively about the business and where it is going and what you are doing to take it there.

What is the best action to take to break through this glass ceiling?
The glass ceiling is well represented by the fact that 50% in most organizations of professionals and management are women and they just get stuck there. The primary reason women get stuck there is because they don’t get advice on developing business, strategic, and financial acumen. Usually they get a lot of advice and become very skilled at working with individuals, developing their team and on how to develop themselves but very little on how important it is to transition from a woman in business to a businesswoman. And that’s how they will break through the glass ceiling.

Is your hope that there be more mentors after your talk?
Everybody at every level has an opportunity to get a mentor. It’s the type of mentoring that being called into question. At career start, it’s important to to get a good mentor to become a good people manager, etc. But they also need mentoring to understand the business. They need to be told that they need to care about the business and be invested into it. Anyone one or two levels above can be a mentor and give those messages.

What do you say to people that say men are better at one thing and women are better at another?
It is generally true that women are better at interpersonal and team skills and men are better at business and financial skills. This is a mindset that when women and men are managers, impact the guidance we give young men and women get as they grow in the organization, but it is an unfair mindset. It makes for an unfair playing field because men will get the knowledge they need about the business and women to consistently get advice on interpersonal skills. Most companies do a good job of telling men to work on people skills and many corporate training focuses on people skills, but they don’t do a comparably good job telling women to get business skills. Women and men both can be good at personal skills and business skills, if the business world nurture both genders equally on both skills.

How did you get interested in this?
I honestly think I was born to do this. I was the first born of 7 children. So I was born in the lead. I was interested in leadership started from when I was young. I was always tapped for leadership, to be the counselor in camps, run for office at school, etc.. But then sixteen months after I was born as the first granddaughter, niece, etc., I got a baby brother and in an Italian American family, he was elevated to a high level and it’s very apparent how different genders are treated. So that’s where the interest in gender came up. I also came of age in the 70’s when companies were first breaking ground. I was at one of the first companies to start a women’s initiative. I really like this is what I’m meant to do.

What is next?
I have delivered this message about the missing 33% throughout North America, Western Europe, and Asia Pacific. So I want to take it to Central America, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe. I want to take it to the rest of the world. To continue to do work with great executives who care about this issue, great women who are committed to advancing in their careers around the world, that’s really what I care about doing.

What is one quote or message you want all women to remember?
I would like women to remember that no matter where you are in your career, or what level you’re at in your organization, you have greatness in you, you have ability to help the organization make progress and you have immense skill set to make everyone work effectively together so tap into those skills and create a career that soars.