Four Critical Takeaways from Female Senior Leadership at Southwest Airlines for International Women's Day
Wearing a J. Crew dress and my Elle Woods-style Calvin Klein blazer that you can find on Amazon for $70ish.
Southwest celebrated International Women’s Day with a day-long event kicked off by our own fabulous CFO, Tammy Romo. Y’all know I was all over this.
Tammy Romo is this tiny blonde woman who’s constantly toting around a workbag that’s bigger than she is and a venti coffee that comically juxtaposes her small frame. This woman is a puma in a pencil skirt, and I want her to adopt me.
Our VP of Technology, Erika Linford, was also there—she has a Masters in Organic Chemistry from MIT and owns a brewery in Colorado. So OK. What do you do in your free time? Because I know what I do in mine, and it’s not that.
But let’s level set really quick, because I just rattled off two bad ass female VPs with whom I don’t deserve to breathe the same air.
I found out here’s where we are, as a company:
On an aviation front, just over 6% of the world’s commercial pilots are women, the first being hired in 1973.
And only 6% of CEOS in the S&P 500 are women.
Is that OK with you? Because that’s not OK with me.
Southwest was the first airline—in the entire world—to have a female President, Colleen Barrett. And you know what she said about her female directors?
Be aggressive and stand your ground, strategically.
Colleen said in an interview that she believes women are better leaders because they called her bluff. They didn’t paraphrase their opinions or back down from their beliefs. They cut to the chase and challenged her when they believed she was wrong.
This kinda surprised me, given the popular narrative that surrounds women in the workforce as more timid than their male counterparts.
And Colleen herself had a pretty dope motto: “I like to solve problems. Tell me I can’t do something, and by God, I will kill myself trying.”
Erika also had some amazing insight on being an aggressive woman in the workplace and how, typically, when a woman is identified as ‘aggressive,’ it just means she’s behaving in a way that’s more akin to the way men behave at work—but it’s perceived differently coming from a woman.
Her tip for navigating that stickiness was this: if being aggressive in a situation is going to make you less effective, then tone it down. If that’s who you are and that’s what that situation necessitates, be aggressive unapologetically.
Tennina, a woman on the panel who’s a senior station manager at our top international gateway station, had a really hilarious answer to a related crowd question: “How do you be a female leader without acquiring a certain reputation or being called a bitch?”
“Honestly,” she answered slowly, “I don’t really care.”
The crowd erupted.
On work-life harmony and finding a life partner.
Erika also made some really fantastic points about making a marriage work with another career-driven individual. She said being tethered to another person has really changed her perspective on her career growth, because she has this sounding board who’s super invested in her growth, too (and damn, talk about #MarriageGoals).
A few weeks ago Sarah sent me an article about some troubling findings regarding marriages between two career-driven people and how, most times, the woman's career has to take a backseat in order to make the family dynamic work. That freaks me out, and I truly don't think it has to be that way. I refuse to allow that in my own life, and I think Erika's comments spoke to that well.
Her opinion stuck with me because it highlighted how crucial it is to find a partner who believes in you just as much as you do, because your success will be directly affected by their support (or lack thereof). I’ll never forget what my friend Ali told me when we discussed this a few years ago: “The only men who don’t want a strong woman are the weak ones.” Hell yes. (For more on this, check out the recommended reading below).
Erika was probably my favorite panelist because she was so damn blatant and specific with her comments. I loved her intelligence and candor.
Family came up a lot. Anthony Gregory, our VP of Ground Operations, said he loves how everyone at this company is just absolutely nuts about Southwest, but that the balance of life is ultimately more important. He said focusing on your family makes you a stronger and happier person in general, which transcends into your work.
This guy caught my eye because he was extraordinarily young to be a VP (#goals) and he spoke super wisely about incremental progress—about how each day is about taking small steps forward.
Tangent: it reminds me a little of this amazing Wait but Why post called “Life is a Picture, but You Live in a Pixel.” It says that, when taken as a whole, life is a big, magnificent picture—but we don’t live in “broad, sweeping summations,” we live in the folds of every day. Major successes are just extremely long series of tiny, underwhelming accomplishments strung together as unimpressively as waking up every day, making your bed, and kicking a little ass.
(He even goes on to say that life is really just one “Mundane Wednesday” after another, so the secret to being happy is learning how to enjoy Mundane Wednesday. And that marriage is just Mundane Wednesday, every day, together.)
Work is much the same way. You're not going to go in every single day and conquer some massive accomplishment, but if you make incremental progress every day, it will amount to something astounding.
Male/female mentorship goes both ways.
But anyway—Anthony told a cool story about his mentorship of a younger female colleague. He said that he noticed when she presented (in their Ground Operations department, which is 60% men), she always conveyed a very humble tone and noted that they “still had a lot to do” and “had a long way to go,” effectively downplaying the significance of the subject matter she was delivering.
He instructed her to be more confident when presenting and believe that what she had to say was important.
It wasn’t until another woman in Ground Ops got wind of this that he realized he may need to change his approach.
She told him that the department was mostly men—so one of the few young women in the department was ‘living in a completely different world’ than he was, as a man, in the same department. Just telling her to be confident probably wasn’t resonating much, he realized, and that’s a sign of how much progress we still need to achieve in the work place.
Erika had some solid, tactical advice for women who report to men: We have to tell our male mentors what we need from them and coach them about what women do and don’t need in the workplace. It reminded me a little of a conversation I had with my new senior manager a few weeks ago during my performance appraisal where he asked me, point blank, what I wanted.
“Honestly, I want to be a better copy writer. I want to get better at concepting and I want you to mentor me through how to be more creative,” I told him.
And you know what he said?
“Ok, let’s do that.”
Easy enough, right? Obviously, conversations about promotions, raises, and otherwise are more nerve wracking than just admitting you want help to grow, but it was great to see how perceptive he was to my request for more attention and mentorship.
If you want to see progress, you have to be the progress.
Get your ass out of your cubicle and go learn the business.
Debbie Storey, retired EVP from AT&T, came as our guest speaker and brought some incredibly valuable advice with her that was super applicable for complex industries like ours (telecommunications companies and airlines, respectively).
She told a story about her years at AT&T as she was quickly climbing the ranks and a conversation she had with a director the day they sold their software company.
But there was just one small problem, she said: "I didn't know we sold our software company. Honestly, I didn't even know we had a software company."
Whether it's a combination of perfectionism or lack of confidence, she explained women take less initiative to get out of their own focus area and learn the other pieces of the business. She talked about how she was so niched down in her little world—her job, in her cubicle—that she never took the time to learn about other pieces of the business.
She suggested asking people in other departments to meet with you briefly and just chat about the state of the business. You bet I'll be reaching out to someone in Finance, someone in Revenue Management, someone in Network Planning and beyond to learn more about how Southwest's business stands as a whole now—not just how the creative on the homepage is performing.
It's awesome to be the subject matter expert in your arena—the go-to, indispensable person—but when you have a broad strategic knowledge of your business, you can participate confidently in conversation and become part of the discussion in a meaningful way. And you know what that means? Respect and opportunity.
Debbie was a boss. She was hilarious. She joked about the "man spread" and how men tend to take up space in meetings and subconsciously convey power and confidence that way. "When he hits you with a man spread, stretch out and hit him with one right back." Damn. I love this chick.
Happy International Women's Day, everyone. Go tell a strong woman you admire and appreciate her!
Some dope recommended reading for aspiring lady bosses:
GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
“Money looks better in the bank than on your feet.”
“If you’re frustrated because you’re not getting what you want, stop for a second: Have you actually flat-out asked for it? If you haven’t, stop complaining. You can’t expect the world to read your mind. You have to put it out there, and sometimes putting it out there is as simple as just saying, “Hey, can I have that?”
And an awesome quote on why it’s important as a female to be self-supporting: “But what I have realized over time is that in many ways, money spells freedom. If you learn to control your finances, you won’t find yourself stuck in jobs, places, or relationships that you hate just because you can’t afford to go elsewhere. Learning how to manage your money is one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Being in a good spot financially can open up so many doors. Being in a bad spot can slam them in your face.”
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (I know, I know, this one is so standard and typical and you’ve probably already read it if you give a shit about female empowerment, but it includes so many great statistics and a nuanced look at the reality of the way men and women approach their careers that I highly recommend.)
“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” [Can I get a f*** yes?]
Settle for More by Megyn Kelly
"In all the years I've worked at Fox, I have never had to ask for a promotion. I have been asked what I think is the next step for me, and I have never been shy to answer. So many broadcasters line up outside the boss's office, asking for this show or that one. I've spent my time in my own office, working night and day, and opportunity came to me. Most of my power has come from excellence, not advocacy...the solution of 'doing better' is far more empowering than lamenting one's circumstances."
REWORK by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried
“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn't matter if the person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever, their writing skills will pay off. That's because being a good writer is about more than writing clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society... Writing is today's currency for good ideas.”
“Workaholics don't actually accomplish more than non-workaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they're wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.”
Although tempted to name this something cliché like #GIRLBOSS, this section features all my obsessive-compulsive productivity hacks & candid conversations about career development.