Ep. 39 - Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Transforming Businesses, & Being Agile: Understanding the Power Formula to Propel Your Career Forward - with Ines Lebow

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The experiences women have in the workplace today are vastly different from -- and more positive than -- how they were 50, 30, and even 10 years ago. However, there are still career challenges and misconceptions holding women back from fully living up to their growth potential.

Ines LeBow, founder and CEO of Enterprise Transformation Solutions, had the odds against her nearly her whole life, but skillfully worked her way up the corporate ladder while running various companies that were primarily male-dominated.

Ines’s personal transformation and career agility created the momentum she needed to break through both the business inertia she faced – and the glass ceiling.

The Upward Journey: Self-Reliance, Pushing Forward, and “I Can Do This!”

Ines’s early life prepared her to be a courageous leader in a male-dominated world.

Born in Argentina the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Ines learned early on the criticality of survivalism. Her family moved to America when she was 10 years old, and even at that age, she was trusted to care for herself; she took a bus into the city on weekends to do her own shopping and go to the movies.

“I don't know if today, we would do that with our 10-year-olds, but it certainly was very valuable in my life for it to be fearless, and to go forward, and to be able really to take care of myself and be able to just be self-reliant. So, that was early on when I was growing up.”

These lessons stayed with Ines through life. She earned three degrees from American University, including two Masters, did a short stint as a teacher and then decided to pursue law school. However, she was rejected for being a woman, even with all the qualified credentials. She took another route and interviewed for an opportunity as a program manager at American Satellite Company, where she had no background in that role.

Of course, that didn’t stop her. She got the job and was determined to figure it all out. So Ines took night classes to help build that industry and skill set knowledge and worked during the day at the satellite company, all while raising her son as a single parent.

Over time, her self-belief and persistence, combined with consistently delivering great work, carried Ines up the corporate ladder to key leadership positions in the company.

But despite her high-ranking position, Ines still felt like she had to constantly prove herself as a woman. “I was the only female in the company leading a team of engineers,” she recounted. “And that was really challenging.”

Self-reliant and resilient, she learned how to use her strengths to her advantage. She was a natural problem-solver and pioneer. She understood the need to dynamically adjust and pivot to the changing environments – in other words, be agile.

And so Ines continued her career in roles across the country, helping companies solve problems, fix things, and grow – all while battling the sexism that permeated corporate offices.

Business Transformation = Changing From Within

By the time she started her own company in 2015, Enterprise Transformation Solutions, Ines had worked for 12 companies and helped sell nine of them.

And what she learned in turning around these organizations is that change has to start with the people. Employees are what make or break companies so it’s necessary to create a connection with them.

And for many women, these relational and communication skills are fundamental assets they possess that should be leveraged. Women are intuitive, they sense and feel what’s going on, and tapping into that is a significant advantage.

Ines tapped into these strengths, coupled with her innate ability to adapt to and embrace change. And along her career journey, she sought out other important information to empower herself, ultimately giving her the career momentum necessary to climb the corporate ladder and smash through the glass ceiling.

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Creating and Executing “The Power Formula”

Women have made progress since Ines’ days when she couldn’t get into Law school because she was a woman. But there is still the constant challenge for women to have to prove themselves, and often fight to have a voice and be recognized for their work.

As Ines shares, if you don’t speak up for yourself as well as fight for what you want and what you feel you deserve, then you will limit your opportunities. It also requires you to think about the traits/behavior that can sometimes hold women back like the need to be liked and being intimidated by others authority.

“You need to speak up for yourself. That's how you get the power. Your work ethic and speaking up for yourself, that's the power formula.

“You have to figure out the politics. You have to let go of your fears, and push all the boundaries, and you have to be a risk taker, and you have to dream about succeeding, and not be inhibited, and self-reliant, and not intimidated. You cannot be intimidated. I think, some women, get intimidated by this authority or power that they see.“

From Ines’s perspective, breaking through involves making sacrifices, and she feels “Leaning In” doesn’t necessarily translate into that upward movement. At the end of the day, your attitude is critical. Be self-aware and know that no one can defeat you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Be aware of the politics around you. Do an analysis of the situation and devise different ways to approach it.

    • To navigate office politics, it’s important to know that women can and should speak up. It’s not like 20 years ago when the woman reporting sexual harassment would get fired. Now, women have more power and protection, and they should use it to fight injustices.

  • Sometimes situations will push you and require you to be tough. You have to stand up for yourself and speak up. The situation may change but you need to be persistent.

  • Because women are often not handed a promotion right away, especially if there are similarly qualified male candidates competing, women have to be aggressive.

  • Find a mentor or advocate who will support you against the odds. Someone who is able to help you navigate the dynamics and ensure you are top of mind.

  • The Lean-In mentality doesn’t always work. If you want to break the glass ceiling, you will have to make sacrifices, like moving for a job, giving up free time, etc.

    • You need to be self-aware. You need to understand the tradeoffs: what are you willing to do to take the risk, play the game, and move forward.

  • Women often feel the need to be liked. You have to let that go. You need to be respected, but not liked. Because, as Ines believes, “When you're going to go into this work environment, and you're going to be in leadership roles, it's much more important that you're respected because you're not necessarily going to be liked because of the politics...because of the decisions that you make, and the role that you have.”

  • When going in for a new job, think about the culture and if it’s a right fit for you. If it’s not, you won’t be happy there and you need to walk away.

  • You gain power in your position by 1) having a strong work ethic (building credibility) and by 2) speaking up for yourself (gaining respect).

  • Women should pursue high-visibility jobs. Go after big projects or projects that you know you would excel at. Don’t be inhibited or intimidated and don’t pursue those  non-promotable tasks.

  • When you start to push the boundaries, have the mentality that you cannot be defeated. Even if you get fired for stepping over the line, your attitude can’t falter.

  • Many women innately have an advantage when it comes to communication. They’re more likely to sense how others are feeling and reach out to employees who need it. This allows them to learn things or create bonds that can help create momentum in their careers.

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