Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Author Interview: Elizabeth Ghaffari on Women in the Workplace

Being a woman in the workplace can be challenging at times; but it also can be empowering and rewarding if you have the right skills and the right attitude for success.

We asked Elizabeth Ghaffari, the author of Outstanding in Their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed, for some advice for women who want to grow and excel in their careers.

Q. What is the number one issue/problem women face in today's workplace environment?

A. The women who DO lead, who DO excel, focus not on problems but rather on opportunities. In the 21st century, women have achieved more than their mothers (or fathers) ever could have dreamed possible. I know this to be true because I talked with my mother’s younger sister, and at the ripe age of 92 years, she truly sparkled with excitement and awe at the accomplishments of her daughters (entrepreneurs), her granddaughters (highly educated and competent professionals) and her nieces (my sisters and myself). She could not be more excited, nor could I, to learn about the top tier educational levels women have attained, the academic leadership, the civic and political roles and responsibilities, and the corporate ladders women have ascended. Another outstanding woman, Dame Stephanie Shirley (see her incredible career at http://www.steveshirley.com/) once wrote to me saying, "May women soon cease to think of themselves as a minority." You hit the goal in your vision: if you are focused only on problems and misery, that is what will envelop your life. If you focus instead on attaining your personal and professional best, you will hit the target that you seek.

Q. What are a few things women can do to better succeed in the workplace?

A. On May 17, 2010 Sharon G. Hadary (the former head of the Center for Women’s Business Research) provided some good suggestions in a Wall Street Journal article entitled "Why Are Women-Owned Firms Smaller Than Male-Owned Ones". (See: http://tinyurl.com/28y43wm) Women can "think big," imagine a more successful future for themselves, and create their own entrepreneurships. Women can build their own boards of directors, not simply wait to be invited onto others' boards. Women can imagine a world where they are not simply "helpers" and "supporters" in the workplace, but are the people who create jobs in the workplace through building great businesses they themselves imagine. For those who doubt that this is possible, consider that it was just 20 or 30 years ago that we were telling all of our young women, "Go to typing school to get a good job". Or, "Go into teaching or nursing because those are 'safe' careers". Would we dream, today, of telling young women who are candidates for Business School or Engineering School to "settle" for anything but their best possible career vision?

Q. What makes your book stand out among other books on this topic?

A. Outstanding in their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed (Praeger: 2009) is about women who look forward, not backward; women who stayed the course, did not opt out; and women who loved the skills, knowledge and constant learning that their careers afforded them. Even though they are extremely busy top corporate directors, these individuals are personable, caring, giving and genuine women who were gracious and generous with their time in order to encourage the next generation to pursue top corporate roles. Also, this is a book about governance – which is a unique form of leadership that taps more than 400 years of legal history, company evolution, and business contracts. Women have many contributions to make to the modern form of governance: they now have the opportunity and the responsibility of leadership.

Q. What is the number one question you are asked during presentations and how do you respond?

A. "Aren’t the women you interviewed so accomplished that I could never reach such a level of achievement?"

The women all started as daughters, just like you; helped their families, just as I’m sure you do; went to school and went after more education when the opportunity came their way; said "Yes" to unique challenges they wondered if they could handle; kept focused forward rather than backwards or on "problems"; and patted themselves on the back, occasionally, to encourage themselves to keep going when life tossed them challenges. These women are just like you – they are not super models, super stars, icons, or idols. They are hard working, conscientious, careful and diligent mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, and spouses. Just like you.

Elizabeth's 5 Need-to-Know Facts to Bring About Success:

1. Take the time to learn the fundamentals: what is governance, what is leadership?
2. Choose a worthy skill or endeavor that is of deep interest to yourself and which is valued by the business community.
3. Refine and develop that skill through your own personal efforts: take it to a higher level than you received.
4. Connect with others who are smarter than you are and who will challenge you.
5. Reach out and communicate with those who are outside of your "silo" of expertise: connect with multiple disciplines (including mixed-gender communities).

Elizabeth Ghaffari enjoys writing short articles for Directorship.com, the blog of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and a terrific resource for women interested in director roles. A perpetual student at heart, she signs up for great webinars that are available today from universities and businesses, and she is interested in speaking engagements where she can share the book’s important message with prospective women in leadership. When the weather cooperates, Elizabeth hits the beach pathway on her bicycle, and recently, dipped into the iPad, which she believes is "a game changer". Stay in touch via her website.

For more on Outstanding in their Field: How Women Corporate Directors Succeed, visit the book's website on abc-clio.com.



  1. I’ve tried to be open and receptive to women who have questions after reading my book. One question, recently, was this:

    “Does you research confirm that ‘personal connections’ are what count in getting into the boardroom?

    Even more important was the fact that the women built credible reputations in their field of competency. Once that core competency was established, next was their capacity to reach beyond their isolated professional silo and interconnect with a wider range of individuals with inter-related skills and expertise. More than personal linkages, it was professional linkages based on business need.

    One great example was Sally Richardson whose director position at Molina came out of the blue but was a shoulder tap to her as An Authority in the field of state-federal collaboration in rural or nontraditional healthcare -- exactly the business that Molina Healthcare wanted to enter.

    Another example was how Linda Griego was chosen by the Japanese Bank, not because of "personal connections," but because she was An Authority in the field of small business and historic preservation as part of an economic development strategy within the Southern CA marketplace. Again, exactly the business the bank wanted to focus on in the future.

    The book’s concluding chapter -- Quo Vadis? – reiterates the importance of “what value you bring to the table” as a pre-requisite to knowing people whose opinions matter.

    Elizabeth Ghaffari
    Champion Boards

  2. The May 17, 2010 Sharon G. Hadary (the former head of the Center for Women’s Business Research) Wall Street Journal article entitled "Why Are Women-Owned Firms Smaller Than Male-Owned Ones" can be found at:

    It is still highly relevant.