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April 2010 – Women in Business

Workforce Learning
Alice Waagen - Workforce Learning

Hello, Powerhouse

Women business leaders bring a powerful difference to the world of work because they tend to view life as an ongoing matrix of interconnected relationships – one that can be leveraged to achieve results.

In my experience, this constant outward focus is unique to women and their approach results in a rich environment that focuses on much more than the financial side of the business. Yet this constant outward focus can be overplayed and become a liability.

Here's why: For women business leaders to succeed, they need to focus inward on what brings them success. They also need to ask themselves what causes them to stumble. With this information, they can then create a development plan to consciously grow. Read on to learn how to turn your innate gifts into a business plan.

As always, send me your thoughts and ideas at

Alice Waagen, president
Workforce Learning


By Dr. Alice Waagen

In my work and in life I am a huge proponent of strategically planning personal development. By planning, I mean more than just attending a sporadic conference or seminar. I advocate writing a clear and succinct development goal, which should be future oriented and closely linked with your business goals.

Consider Caroline Lucas (pictured right). Caroline is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, and a Member of the European Parliament for the South East England region. Along with Jean Lambert she is one of two Green MEPs from the UK, a post she has held since 1999.

Caroline is noted for campaigning and writing on green economics, localisation, alternatives to globalisation, trade justice, animal welfare and food —and she is a hero of mine. In fact, in her time as a politician and activist, she has worked with numerous NGOs and think-tanks, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Oxfam and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

So when I think about being powerful, I reflect on her accomplishments and hunker down to make my business grow. For starters, I come up with a strong list of development goals.

What are your development plans for 2010?

Each December, I create a list of goals for the following year. It usually takes me a week, and I refer back to the list regularly. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. What is your primary business goal for this year? Do you have the knowledge and skills to achieve it? If not, write a development goal that will get you what you need.

Why? Because the link between the goal and your business should be strong and clear. When tempted to focus on work and ignore development, the business impact of not completing your development activities will become abundantly clear.

2. Identify all of the tasks and activities that you will schedule and attend to address your goals.

Don't limit your learning to the standard classes and seminars. Try to build a plan that involves active learning like forming a mentor relationship with someone who you feel is an expert in your learning area. Or, look for volunteer work that lets you try "dry running" skill sets. Free or low cost webinars are prolific these days.
Many of these will come with reference lists and tips for increasing your learning. Be creative, and try to come up with at least three tasks or activities per quarter to help you grow and learn.

3. Find a learning coach. This person need not be a professional coach. He or she can simply be a supportive colleague who will meet with you, hear your goals and keep you accountable and on track.

I have a small group of "development buddies." We meet every four to six weeks to report progress on our learning and to challenge each other to stay on track. Some of my best overall learning comes from my development buddy group because I not only share my accomplishments but learn from their successes.

Begin your development planning exercise by answering the following question:

What did I learn last year that had a positive effect on my ability to meet my business goals?

Use the answer to this question as the springboard for your new development plan.

And if you are struggling to come up with an answer, then start today to plan your personal learning to support your 2010 business goals. Here's to your success!


The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

In my opinion, Dr. Atul Gawande is one of the most articulate and thoughtful authors currently writing about health care issues and the human condition. How he has time to write such well-researched and engaging books never ceases to amaze or impress me.

A little background: Dr. Gawande (pictured below) is a general and endocrine surgeon at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and also leads the World Health Organization's Safe Surgery Saves Lives program.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is his third book, and by far his most applicable beyond the world of health care and medicine.

It tries to answer the broad question, "Why do highly skilled and experienced health care providers make mistakes?"

These mistakes, including a failure to administer antibiotics before surgery, seem like simple omissions, until he describes the consequences. "Patient injury and even death are the result of overlooking small but key steps in the surgery process."

The problem, he says, is that the volume and complexity of medical knowledge today makes it extremely difficult to deliver consistent, correct and reliable services. His proposal is to institute a simple checklist to ensure that a doctor's work is error free.

Skeptical, but then convinced

I must admit, I was skeptical at first that the humble checklist could be used in the complicated world of medicine. But Gawande illustrates the power of the "simple list" that is used in building skyscrapers and flying airplanes. He interviews several people in the construction and aviation professions who offer compelling ways to construct a good checklist.

He also tells of the failure of his first surgical checklist, which proved too lengthy and vague to be of use. As the book progresses, he builds his case for checklists, showing their value in a wide range of applications from homeland security to investment banking.

How the checklist can be used in business

The Checklist Manifesto has huge implications for the business world when we think of how much complex and costly work is done by teams – often working with fluid leadership and direction. Simple, repetitive team tasks, such as progress reporting or deliverable hand-offs, could be made much more efficient through the use of checklists.

I encourage you to read Gawande's important message, for it offers a useful solution to help us reduce errors in our complicated times so we get things done right – the first time.



A Q&A with Dr. Alice Waagen and Recruiter Paige Rhodes

How – and why – we've come a long way, baby

"Ladies, don't let anyone tell you otherwise – we've come a long way and at this point, there is nothing standing in your way," says recruiter Paige Rhodes of the DC firm Rhodes & Weinstock. "Forget the glass ceiling – the sky is the limit."

I couldn't agree more. See my Q&A with Paige below.

Alice Waagen: Does June Cleaver still exist?

Paige Rhodes: Yes, June Cleaver may still exist, and that role model is great for those who choose to follow it. But from my experience placing women in positions from CEO and chief financial officer to president of the board, I'm here to tell you that opportunities abound for smart, driven women.

Consider this:

• Data released last week by the Labor Department show that for the first time in history, women outnumber men in the workforce. As the job market stabilizes, older, experienced women appear to be on track to be the first hired back.

• New data shows women-owned businesses will create up to 5.5 million jobs by 2018, more than half the number of jobs expected to be created by all small businesses in that time. The research cites the customer focus of many businesses led by women as well as the sense of community and ability to help others succeed.

• About 10 percent of the people on the Forbes 400 richest people in America are women.

Alice Waagen: Since we're talking about historic female icons of the past, would you say that Rosie the Riveter paved the way for women to play a bigger role in today's workforce?

Paige Rhodes: Most definitely. During World War II, Rosie the Riveter introduced females into the traditionally male workforce of the factories. In the '70s, well-known women fought for female rights. The proportion of women receiving four-year college degrees has been steadily increasing since the 1950s, overtaking the percentage of male graduates by the 1980s.

Among African Americans, women college graduates outnumber their male counterparts by almost two to one; among Hispanic Americans, the percentage is even greater. Women have also overtaken men in the percentage of master's degrees awarded. In 1997, women received approximately 40 percent of all law and medical degrees earned.

And as more and more women are entering the skilled professional workforce, the Internet revolution has broken the "Old Boy's Network" approach to doing business.

Alice Waagen: What role do you think the Internet is playing in this shift?

Paige Rhodes: One pivotal shift is that people can comparison shop for products and services quickly and easily. Your online identity is not tied so much to who you are as it is to what you can do – so you no longer have to belong to the country club to get the attention of a prospective client or employer. You can compete based on merits, and not just based on whom you know.

Alice Waagen: Has this also made an impact on how companies look for new employees?

Paige Rhodes: Most definitely. A manager just needs to do a few minutes of research on the Internet, and they can get all the info they need about a company and the positions they're hiring for, without ever making a phone call or setting up a face-to-face meeting.

And, if you happen to have the qualifications they're looking for and you're interested in applying for the position, most companies now accept online applications.

Some may argue that it has gone from a "women can't do this job" environment to a "we need more women" environment. Stay-at-home dads are becoming more frequent, and magazines like Working Mother specifically focus on the demands put on females who choose to take on both roles of "mother" and "business person."

So whether you are a female already in the workforce and contemplating a career change, or a woman just entering the workforce (again, perhaps), my advice is this: Set your goals high, and don't accept anything less. The opportunities are there; you just have to go out and get them.

Alice Waagen: Thank you, Paige. Your thoughts are informative and inspiring. I'll look forward to talking to you again.

About Paige Rhodes

Prior to co-founding Rhodes & Weinstock in 2009, Paige Rhodes spent more than 15 years in staffing, human resources and law-firm management.

Throughout her career, she gained an intricate knowledge of the temporary, temp-to-hire and direct placement services. In addition to her staffing industry experience, Paige also spent several years in human resources, and as an HR manager at two large law firms in the DC metropolitan area.

The combination of in-house and outplacement recruiting experience gives her a unique understanding of the hiring needs and concerns of her clients, from large multinational corporations to small start-ups.

Learn more about Rhodes & Weinstock here:
Contact Paige directly at

Published by Inkandescent Public Relations, Hope Katz Gibbs: Editor

© 2010 Workforce Learning