Pattie Sellers, assistant managing editor of Fortune magazine, has interviewed her share of powerful women during her career. Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg and Carly Fiorina are just a few.
Sellers spoke Wednesday to a crowd of members and supporters of Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast about the qualities of women in leadership and the challenges they face in those roles. She was the keynote speaker for the nonprofit’s LeaderSHIFT 2016 luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee.
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“How many people in this room like the word ‘power?’” she asked. Few in the mostly female crowd raised their hands.
Some of the top women leaders Sellers knows also have an aversion to the word, which could be because of how women approach leadership differently than men, Sellers said.
While women often view power horizontally and measure it by influence, she said men tend to think of power vertically, and strive to move to the next position on the ladder.
“What do successful women all do? They tend to view their careers not as ladders, but as jungle gyms,” Sellers said.
When she joined Fortune in 1984, the business world was dominated by white men. And in order to be successful as a woman in that world, one had to act like a man, Sellers said.
“A lot of women back then were a little bit too forceful. A little bit too strident,” she said. “Women are judged by a narrower band of acceptable behavior.”
There was only one female in the Fortune 500 in 1998; Now, there are 22. That’s progress, but companies still have a ways to go in promoting women leaders, Sellers said.
Her advice to the girls and women in the audience to advance more women into top leadership positions: Stay open and flexible in your career, and get the men on board.
“Power can be good, power can be bad. We all need to define it for ourselves,” she said.
Her own definition of power, after years of studying those at the top of major companies, Sellers said, is this: “Real power is what you do beyond what you’re supposed to do, what you’re expected to do and what you’re paid to do.”
Before the luncheon, Sellers sat down with a group of about 30 Girl Scouts of all ages and talked to them about what they want to be when they grow up, as well as her own career and the ambition and drive it takes to become a leader.
Christy Brown, chief executive officer of GSWSE, told the luncheon crowd that Girls Scouts aims to prepare young girls for their careers by teaching them to embrace and celebrate leadership, and lead with confidence, courage and character.
“We are developing the leaders of tomorrow, adding new talent to the pool at a time it is critically needed,” Brown said.