“Dive into an issue and become an expert on it,” said Bomar. Concerned about the lack of women leaders at Dominion when she began her career she chose to step up and fill the role herself. She said while there are many paths to leadership her formula is simple, “Hard work, passion, and have your own expertise to offer.”
Bilimoria’s path brought her from India at the age of 23 and as she navigated cultural challenges her lesson was rather straight forward, “The only limit we have on ourselves is our imagination.” Working in the male dominated academic field, “where you don’t just have egos, but massive egos” Bilimoria advices a gentle approach in bringing about change; “You have to temper advocacy with inquiry,” she said. Blame stuns growth, while encouragement and support enhances services she said.
Jensen never thought she would end up in Cleveland. The Seattle native began working for American Greetings at age 16 as a register girl and supported herself through college with the same job. One thing she has learned about the greeting card industry, “We attract nice people,” she said.
Jensen said balancing home and work life requires discipline and she maintains a routine along with her hectic travel schedule to maintain her sanity.
Danforth declared work-life balance is a myth; “Surround yourself with caring friends who can help you,” she said. As a single mother, Danforth said not everyone’s needs were met daily but by the end of the week everything balances out. The most important revelation for her, “I learned to forgive myself,” she said and acknowledged measuring herself with her mother, a teacher who worked full time but was home to have dinner on the table. “That didn’t quite work for me and that was ok… at the end of the day I let go of the guilt,” she said.
Danforth said women tend to let life happen to them, while men plan careers; “I am a perfect poster child for this.” She began her career as a social worker, went on to earn a law degree, worked for Mayor Michael Reed White and is credited for reviving the Cleveland YWCA, encouraged all along by friends. At Ratliff & Taylor, I am the happiest I have ever been, “Because I took time out to evaluate what I wanted to do and took into consideration everything I have done in the past.”
Bilimoria agreed, “Whenever I am my true self, I always succeed.”
But leadership is not always about coming out ahead; sometimes it requires stepping back and allowing others to step up. Jensen said in team building she finds talented individuals who are smarter than her; “Talk through problems, listen to all suggestions but be ready to make decisions and move forward,” she said.
Bomar added, collaborative leadership shouldn’t be confused with lack of confidence and pretending to be someone else will guarantee failure. “In a time of crisis pretense will fail you, trust your own instincts.”
There is no membership for Women of Color Foundation; all interested are welcome to participate and scholarships are available, “We do not want cost to be a deterrent for anyone,” she said.
For more information visit: www.womenofcolorfoundation.com