One of Intouch’s core values is “Live to Learn,” so in honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, Intouchers of all genders were invited to participate in an event hosted by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.

Choosing to Lead featured women execs from Eli Lilly, Intouch Group, Real Chemistry (formerly W2O), and Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical. The event focused on helping professional women advance their careers, despite the obstacles they face as they (attempt to) rise to leadership roles. Here are the highlights, so you can learn what we learned about what it’s like to be a woman in business, and how to break the barriers that hold women back.

It’s Time for Women to Write Their Own Stories
The event opened with keynote speaker Carolyn Buck, executive in residence at Imaginal Labs. She began by reminding listeners that women “have been living inside the stories of others for at least 5,000 years” … stories that have defined what it means to be “the right” kind of woman. Stories have been written about us, she noted, but not by us.

The Questions
Moderator Michael O’Brien, a Peloton executive coach, asked several questions, but in the interest of time called on panelists to answer only some. Here’s what these inspiring women had to say:

Which leadership qualities will be more essential as we move forward?  

Julie Adrian, Global Chief Experience Officer, Real Chemistry — Resilience and positivity are more important than ever right now, as is meeting people where they are right now.

Joy Fitzgerald, Chief Diversity Officer, Eli Lilly and Company — The world is at a critical fork in the road – the world we need to be, the world we’ve always been, and the world we’re comfortable in. We need our leaders to not just be able to deal with chaos and uncertainty, but instead, we need them to be those that thrive in chaos; we need culture-centricity as a key competency in our future leaders; people need to know that they can show up as their true selves.

What do you see that makes you optimistic about the change we seek to make?

Elaine Eroball, SVP, Quality & Compliance, Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical — 2.3 million women have left the workforce since the onset of the pandemic. They’ve had to choose between children and work. For those of us who have continued to work, we’ve had to work with this disruption, we’ve seen each other’s humanity; we’re seeing each other in real life – which is good. Going forward, there are conversations that must happen within organizations to find out who is struggling and how can we support them.

Paula Hackl, SVP, Transformation, Intouch Group — Women and minority groups have finally found their voices; we have finally admitted that we have a problem and we can move forward. We can have the conversations that, before, we couldn’t; individuals and organizations must continue to invest in diverse groups.

How do you identify sponsors, mentors, and support systems that will challenge us to think bigger?

Julie Adrian — Really being open to finding those sponsors and systems in unexpected places; don’t just look at work, although there ARE people in your org who will support you/help you; be open in everyday life in terms of who you interact with – my most mind-opening experiences are with people who aren’t doing the same work as me; “open your aperture.”

How have you dealt with self-doubt/imposter syndrome during your career?

Julie Adrian — Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you’re interviewing for a position, pay attention to what you’re asked … do they ask about YOU first? Or do they start with a spiel about the job, etc. If we allow ourselves to be about the individual rather than the org, we’ll always find a good match.

Joy Fitzgerald — We have to stop trying to prove ourselves. Women of color have to “femme up” rather than “man up,” in order to not be intimidating … if I’m not good enough, respected enough, then goodbye! Too much energy spent on trying to be who I’m not steals my energy to do my best; edginess leads to innovation. Just one mentoring or sponsorship conversation can be so deflating: I used to ask my earlier leaders, “What role do you see me in?” But their answers were often based on their life experiences, cultural norms, and their own biases. I don’t ask that question anymore; now I flip it and talk about where I see myself.

Paula Hackl — My approach is usually to dig deep into the areas that make me feel uncomfortable and try to find the literature, the references, talk to experts in the area, and build the knowledge that will allow me to back my decisions. I research so that I feel confident and can do my best. No matter what, keep going – don’t let fear paralyze you.

Elaine Eborall — When I’m fearful, it’s usually a growth opportunity; I take a positive approach.

What’s one leadership story we need to drop/let go or adopt?

Paula Hackl – Let go of the idea that our home life stays outside of the [office] doors. There are no doors anymore. Now, as more people work at home, the physical separation is no longer there. The idea of managing human beings that have families, pets, and home lives has become more real than ever, and we no longer have a choice.

Rewriting Our Stories
To launch the discussion, Buck talked about a book she’d recently read, The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking, but it also provides an apt bookend to this recap. Rather than reacting to everything happening in the “now” … the latest tweet, the buy-now button, the 24-hour news cycle … the book lays out how we can all move away from short-term thinking and toward long-term thinking to create a different, better kind of world. But what makes a good ancestor? A good ancestor, Buck said, lives in three dimensions:

  • Imagination: playing the long game, having a dream about what the future looks like
  • Caring: being able to have a legacy mindset, everything we do should be in the service of our own “tribe” but also future generations
  • Planning: moving out of short-termism thinking

Buck closed with these thoughts: Early in her career, there was always a “problem” that she thought was an attribute that held her back; there was an archetype of a leader (male) that diminished and restrained her early in her career. “We all have a responsibility to be cultural anthropologists … to understand the organization and then figure out how to create change. Don’t blame the culture; navigate it, create conditions needed to thrive. No one sees the world the way you do; no one has the same voice timbre as you; no one can do what you do; and no one can speak your truth, other than you. Imagine a new story, an identity; who you could be if you weren’t afraid. Who are you when you’re really in your flow? Now is the time to live your greatest story.”

What story will you write for yourself?