Meet #WonderWoman Margaret Spence

In a Twitter conversation not too long ago, Sarah Morgan reminded us that HR is full of women and people of color, and that patriarchy and white supremacy impact how we are viewed and promoted. Thinking about HR’s perpetual quest for ‘a seat at the table’, I was reminded of what Tarana Burke said at WorkHuman last year: hiring and promoting women isn’t enough. We have to untrain the effects of being steeped in the patriarchy. This brought me back to Margaret Spence’s SHRM18 session on ‘Radically Rethinking Empowerment and Engagement: Transform Your Approach to Developing Women Leaders.’ Margaret believes that one of the fundamental hindrances in seeing women rise in leadership is that traditional leadership development has been designed by men, for men. Trying to fit women into that design, rather than addressing their specific needs, holds women back.

There are two ways to apply this lesson. The first is for female professionals in HR to think about ourselves. Margaret challenges us to think first: who am I as a leader? Women, she says, often need to be told they can lead in order to see themselves in that role. Isn’t that true for many of us in HR? How have we been negatively influenced by a cultural narrative that requires us to change who we are in order to succeed? Or creates a definition of success that doesn’t resonate with who we are at heart?

The second way we in HR need to apply this is in how we function within our HR role. We are the gatekeepers of training, development and promotion. There is a serious problem in our businesses: women are 46.8% of the workforce, and only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEO’s. Let’s drive that home: in 2018, there are only 24 women CEO’s leading Fortune 500 companies. And only 2 are women of color. None are African-American. None. There are no African-American women leading a Fortune 500 today, even though African-American women earn more MBA’s/PhD’s than any other subgroup.

Margaret Spence is on a mission to change the way women, especially women of color, experience leadership development. She wants to break down barriers to the C-Suite and change the dismal status quo. Margaret, a successful CEO in her own right, is moving away from her traditional consulting company to focus her energies on the Employee to CEO Project, which, as Margaret puts it, is “closing the diversity gap between the Executive Suite and the C-Suite by ending career plateaus and off ramps that derail the careers of minority women and men. There’s a tiny space between making a difference and accepting the status quo – we work within that gap.” Part of the Employee to CEO Project includes the new 10-X Leadership Academy, workshops developed by women for women to help leaders grow their careers.

Wendy Dailey and I had a chance to talk with Margaret recently for an upcoming special episode of the #HRSocialHourHalfHour podcast as part of a new series, #WonderWomen, where we focus on amplifying the voices of women of color who are making a difference in HR. According to Margaret, women need coaching and training specifically designed for women. We need to ask what they want and listen to their responses. And if you are an HR professional and a woman, ask yourself the same questions:

What is the message that you’re telling yourself about your career?

What can you learn about yourself today?

What is absolutely essential to your career development?

Where are your opportunities? What are your biggest barriers to success?

What goal do you have that takes your breath away every time you think about it?

What do you want to achieve? Why do you want it? Why don’t you have it now?

How committed are you to seeing it through?

When we ask these questions of the women in our organizations and listen to their answers, and when we answer these questions for ourselves, we’ll experience the transformation that Margaret envisions. Check out the #WonderWomen podcast to hear more as Wendy and I talk to Margaret Spence.

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