Grace and space

While Garth Brooks sings “life is not tried it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire” in his song Standing Outside the Fire, Brene Brown is referencing Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena stating “the credit belongs to the man that is actually in the arena”. 

While I fully understand there are so many days we are merely trying to survive, I also witness moments where had we jumped into the ring of fire (or the arena), we may have been able to thrive rather than survive. I’ve reviewed countless self appraisals and although it has improved every year, the trend tends to be that females undervalue and over criticize themselves, while males tend to do the opposite. How does this affect females when it comes to promotions and raises when their managers are reading self appraisals more self deprecating than their male counterparts? 

Sheryl Sandberg’s Book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, attested to this as well, pointing out how often women won’t apply for a job without meeting all of the qualifications, while men tend to apply as long as they meet 60% of the qualifications. I’ve seen this play out in the office so many times and find myself asking female team members why they aren’t applying for positions I know they would be great at. Especially in today’s marketplace where talent is hard to find, many companies would happily provide the training and resources to ensure we keep great talent within the organization and not look elsewhere. Small and mid-sized credit unions have to take the steps to ensure they are doing this, as there often isn’t much room for movement within the organization and greater risk of losing top talent. 

When Lean In was published, of the 500 highest revenue companies, 21 of them were led by women CEOs. The great news is we’ve made progress and today that number stands at 41, so with a growth rate of 95% over about a decade, which is great, don’t get me wrong, we will have reached 50% of women CEOs in those companies in about 25 years. In the credit union space, we are doing much better, especially at credit unions under $1 billion in assets. My credit union is a proud contributor to this statistic. Of the five executives at our credit union, four of them are female and that includes our CEO. 

While credit unions are doing better than other industries, we still have more we can do, including how we treat females across the spectrum. Every human is unique, as are their circumstances. This is my favorite part of leading people. Every human is so unique and has their own story. They each bring a different perspective to work and it’s truly beautiful to witness, but we have to be careful about not lumping them into categories based on those stories. 

My uniqueness is that I am in my thirties without any children. Most of my female counterparts have children. As leaders, it’s super important we recognize the unique challenges for all team members. While it’s important to recognize that one team member may need a day of rest because their newborn isn’t letting them sleep, it’s also important to recognize if your childless colleague needs a day of rest because she’s on ten different boards due to others assuming she has time to give because she is childless. This is just one example of many. 

The world has come a long way since Lean In was published, but we can do more to encourage women to jump into the ring of fire (arena): 

  • Encourage others to apply for jobs they are interested in even if they don’t meet the qualifications. They may get an interview that will allow them to learn more about the role and it will keep them top of mind for leadership when other roles open. Or they may actually land the job. 
  • Recognize the spectrum of individuals within your organization. They all have unique challenges at home and in the office that require support from their colleagues and leaders. 
  • Support team members in saying “no”. They need to know they will have your support when they recognize they cannot take on any more. And exemplify this by practicing it yourself. No one was made to do it all and we have to provide support in squashing that myth. 
  • Proactively ask team members what job they would want if they could have any job in the company and why, then help build their career path to get there.
  • Prioritize mental health, physical health, and rest for yourself and your team. If you’re not taking vacation, they won’t feel like they should either. Be vulnerable in telling them if you see a therapist (they don’t need to know the details). Let them know you make sleep a priority to bring the best version of yourself to work each day. 
  • Mentor other female leaders. It’s not only great for them, but soul fulfilling for you. Watching those you’ve mentored blossom is one of life’s greatest gifts. 
  • Stand up for your colleagues. When you see a female colleague getting spoken over or not being heard for example, be sure to ask the interrupter to pause so your female colleague can finish. 
  • Be flexible. Trust your team to get their work done. While not all positions are flexible, try to be as flexible as you can with your team and they’ll work even harder for you. 

This list comes from personal experience. To the mentors, friends, colleagues, and leaders who have shown me the grace of all of the examples above, thank you. And thank you to the readers who take this list and show this kind of grace with others. The more grace and space we can give, the greater the opportunity for others to jump in the ring of fire.

Danielle Frawley

Danielle Frawley

As Chief Lending Officer for Fort Community Credit Union, Danielle has implemented electronic and remote delivery of consumer lending, doubled insurance income, and overhauled loan policies and procedures. In the ... Web: Details