Billie Jean King, the tennis legend who won the Battle Of The Sexes to prove women could, in fact, play the sport as well as men, and Ursula Burns, the charismatic CEO of Xerox, are two ladies every woman should meet. Known for their fervent support of feminism, the duo routinely take to panels around the world to extol the virtues of "leaning in" (a la Sheryl Sandberg) while also offering up tips on how ladies can look to rule their workplace.
Spend just 30 minutes in their presence — which we recently did at the Rogers Cup Women's Executive Event courtesy of Häagen-Dazs — and you'll leave feeling electric, motivated, compelled to inspire change and driven to support the success of women. What are some of their biggest and most important secrets to ruling the workplace? Read on to find out.
Patience Is A Virtue
It's easy to get impatient about climbing the corporate ladder, but Burns encourages women of all ages to be patient when it comes to developing their career, largely because we're still perfecting the art of having women in high-powered positions. "When you're a pioneer, you have to be willing to sacrifice. We can do what we do because women before us sacrificed. So it's good to want change, but it's also important to help others who come after you."
Play To Your Strengths
As a tennis coach, King tells her students to spend 90 per cent of their time talking about why they win and 10 per cent reviewing their weaknesses. "I want people to remember their strengths; I want people to know what they are; and I want them to bring their whole selves to the job."
You know that meeting you had with your boss that didn't go so well? It's time to shake it off because, as King explains, it's in the past. "I don’t use the word failure. I use the word feedback. I take in information and readjust and correct what I'm doing accordingly. Then I take the delete button -- what was, is now history."
"It’s very uncomfortable to be uncomfortable," says King. "But think about the biggest changes you’ve had in your life — were you comfortable with the direction of the changes you were facing? Likely not." It's in those moments when you push yourself, though, that great things happen (like King and her colleagues advocating for their right to play tennis). Trust that everything will turn out OK — because it will.
Ask 'Why Not' Instead Of 'Why'
King: "Ask the right questions. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes not taking a risk is taking a risk. Take a leap of faith. When we started women’s tennis, there were only nine of us who signed a $1 contract. Instead of asking "Why," about the problem, we asked "Why not?" Why couldn't we make change? What's the worst that could happen?"
When King was a teen, her father wouldn't let her read press clippings or gossip mags that discussed her career. An example: Her first front-page cover story came after she lost a big match. When her father caught her dwelling on the article's details, he told her: "Stop looking at [that]. It's in the past. It was yesterday. Yesterday doesn't matter anymore. It's what you do today that matters." The lesson? Ignore gossip as something that will blow over and hold your head high; today is the day that matters.
What's Success For You?
"One of the things I’m always amazed at is how people define success by what I do," says Burns of her high-powered position at Xerox. "For me it works just fine, but I have no idea what works for you. Be clear about what your success metrics are. Don’t just shoot for what’s popular. If what you think success is is only getting to my job, you’ll be disappointed because there’s only one of me. Don’t let someone else define you."
Women Must Support Other Women
Success starts with the women you surround yourself with, and one of Burns's biggest points of the night was that women must learn to support each other if they want to change corporate structures. "What’s the reason we don’t have more women in roles now? I can’t believe men or women wake up and push women down. No one is actively thinking about not selecting the best. This is about habits we need to break down. We are very comfortable with certain patterns and company. It’s about what you’re doing to make it possible. Women who are in positions to hire need to hire more women for every job available."