"Lead like a girl", says Tacy M Byham, PhD

AAA2018

Tacy M Byham
Photo: DDI

Tacy M. Byham, PhD was giving the American Academy of Audiology Foundation lecture at this year’ AAA Conference in Nashville, with the title, ‘Lead like a Girl’. Byham provides an insight into the topics she will be covering during the three-hour presentation on the main stage and answers some questions about issues such as leadership and confidence in women.

"Doing things ‘like a girl’ has always been a playground insult, but it represents a much deeper problem that anything women do is weak, silly, or otherwise not worthy of respect. I don’t think that we realize just how problematic this concept is for women long-term as they feel like they either have to try to act like men to get respect, or that acting like a woman means deferring to men.

“In my speech, I talk about the issues facing women today, and my own personal journey to finding my voice as a leader. I also draw on research to debunk many of the myths that keep women out of leadership, and give women practical advice, or what I call “power moves,” to advance their careers. Topics include: Finding your strength and the leader within you; exploring the confidence gap; identifying your personal wake-up call; and super power your network.

“Last but not least, I want to make it clear that this session is for men, too. Many men really do want to work in a gender equitable workplace, because they benefit from it, too. But men often don’t know how to go about being an ally to women in an appropriate way. That’s why I also cover actions that men can take to be allies to women. So this speech is not just for women, but anyone who wants to unleash the potential of women, including male allies, mentors, leaders, and even parents.”

Audio Infos: You published a blog post called #LeadLikeAGirl to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8th March; how do we, as a society, unleash the potential of women?

Tacy M Byham: There’s no simple answer here. The first step is helping individual women recognize their strengths, and overcome their own internal barriers that may be holding them back, a lot of which I address in my speech. But there is a much bigger aspect of removing the external barriers that are standing in women’s way, which requires a more cohesive approach.

The key to success is reframing the issue away from being “just a women’s issue” or a matter of achieving social justice. Instead, we need to focus on the fact that this is a business issue that affects everyone. Study after study shows that companies with more women nearly always perform better financially. For example, our recent Global Leadership Forecast 2018, produced in partnership with The Conference Board and EY, showed that companies change. It was a huge wake-up call to me that I was holding myself back by not declaring what I wanted. Of course, you still must put in the hard work, but then you’ve got to act as your own marketer to declare that you are interested in higher positions.

AI: Is there any element of your working life you enjoy more than others?

TMB: While a lot of my work these days is public speaking, I used to spend my time as a facilitator working with client groups helping their new leaders step-up to the challenges of their role. We would work together to help them hone the critical skills of involvement, empathy, and how to provide support to their team without taking over. The best part was hearing later that the communication skills they acquired at the office via our sessions had broader application and could help them upgrade their conversations back at home. For example, children not doing their homework or not sharing household responsibilities; teenagers coming home late; spouses having issues with their in-laws. These are real problems faced everyday around the world and, in general, people have trouble coping with them. And, if not handled well, the results can be damaging -- stress-related health conditions, general unhappiness, and even family breakups. As we increasingly talk about work-life balance and bringing one’s whole self to work, we are realizing that we can’t compartmentalize our “professional” self from our “personal” self. So, what I really enjoy is that what I do at work is not only helping people in their careers, but in their personal relationships.

DDI graphic
Photo: DDI

AI: What inspires you on a day-to-day basis?

TMB: DDI was founded on innovations. Our founder invented the behavioural interviewing process. So, we are responsible for those questions that start by asking “tell me about a time when…” and you collect an example of the candidate’s behaviour in the form of a STAR (situation, task, action and result). We also invented behaviour-modelling, the proven method to help leaders learn and succeed in their new roles. It’s inspiring to see our new innovations in training and assessments. I was in a session last week where we were reimagining the classroom learning approach with team competitions via cell phones at the tables. And then I saw a demo for a leader giving feedback to a candidate using virtual reality. Cool and inspiring stuff!

AI: What are your goals in life; have you achieved them, or are there still more to tick off?

TMB: I’ve always been curious and a high-achiever. I have stepped through my career and made several turns into unknown areas. It took courage, but the changes were the areas of greatest growth. My thought is that there is always more to tick off. Presently, I’d like to work in yoga or some sort-of meditation time. I am high energy and am always over scheduled and on-the-go. I need to find some downtime for reflection. I did this recently when flying home from a trip. The airplane announcement came over the airwaves asking us to shut-down our laptops for the landing. I stopped and instead of reading a magazine, I gave myself some head-space. Well, the ideas starting flowing and I later wrote a heartfelt communication to the company. I need to find my way to do this more often.

AI: What advice would you give yourself if you were leaving college tomorrow?

TMB: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately as I have a son who is heading off to college soon. As I look at him, I think about how incredibly difficult it is for kids in their late teens and even early 20s —boys and girls— to decide what they want to do with their lives. I still don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life! Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people who feel stuck in their careers, especially women. When I graduated college, I had a degree in math and computer science, and I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I joined a tech company, and just hated it. I stuck it out for a while, thinking that this was the path I had chosen. Eventually, I realized that I could change course, and I went back for my Ph.D. in industrial-organizational psychology. The advice that I would go back and give myself is to never think that you are stuck on a particular path. No matter what stage of life you are in, you can continue to learn, grow, and reinvent yourself. You will miss 100% of the chances you don’t take!

About Tacy M Byham, PhD

Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D. is chief executive officer of global leadership company DDI, leading more than 1,000 employees in 26 countries. Notably, women comprise 53% of DDI’s leadership bench. A nationally recognised speaker and author in the field of leadership, Tacy co-authored Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others with Richard Wellins, available in five languages. A staunch supporter of women’s empowerment and gender equality, Tacy served as the inaugural keynote speaker for the Women in Technology conference, sponsored by HR Technology (2016) and has delivered her #LeadLikeAGirl speech at many conferences and organizations worldwide. She was also a foundational member of The Conference Board’s Leadership Council on Advancing Women in the Workplace which is leading a systemic approach to gender parity and creating a ripple of growth and change.

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Victoria Adshead, editor-in-chief of Audio Infos United Kingdom