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The Hidden Barrier That Locks Successful Women In Place, With Ellen Taaffe

Courage is the key to success – unlock the ‘Mirrored Door’ that’s holding you back and step into the spotlight of your own career. This episode reveals the secret to women’s success with our special guest, Ellen Taaffe, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management. Today, we open the “Mirrored Door” that holds women back from reaching their full career potential. Ellen’s groundbreaking book, The Mirrored Door, dives into the hidden obstacles that successful women face, but rarely talk about. She explores how this problem affects not only women but can also resonate with men, including the ever-present Imposter Syndrome. Join us and transform your approach to career success today!

 

Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit pathwise.io/podcast/. A full written transcript of this episode is also available at https://pathwise.io/podcasts/ellen-taaffe

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The Mirrored Door: The Hidden Barrier That Locks Successful Women In Place, With Ellen Taaffe

Clinical Assistant Professor At The Kellogg School Of Management

In this episode, my guest is Ellen Taaffe. Ellen is a clinical assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management where she teaches personal leadership insights and is the Director of the Women’s Leadership Program. Outside of Kellogg, Ellen runs a leadership advisory, consulting, speaking, and coaching business. She is also a TEDx speaker and an independent board member. She also wrote a book titled The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place.

Prior to her academic governance, coaching, and writing career, Ellen spent 25 years with Fortune 500 companies holding the top brand management post to divisions of Pepsi, Royal Caribbean, and Whirlpool. She then pivoted into a growth-stage small business as President of Ravel, a brand strategy consultancy for Fortune 500 clients. Ellen speaks and writes on a variety of topics and has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Insider, and The Washington Post among others. She received her MBA from the Kellogg School and holds a BS from the University of Florida. She lives in the Chicago area.

Ellen, welcome. Thanks for joining me.

I’m glad to be here with you, J.R.

I appreciate your time and opportunity to talk about your book, The Mirrored Door, playing off the concept of the glass ceiling. Describe what you mean by this concept of a mirrored door.

The mirrored door is something that many women encounter across their careers many times. It’s when we see an opportunity and reflect inward usually in a distorted way and think we are not ready or worthy to move forward into action. I see it in myself, my students, the women I’ve coached, and the research as well.

Can you talk about it playing out across careers? One of the points you bring out in the book is that the things that often help women be successful early in their careers, the preparation, the hard work, pleasing others, and playing it safe work to a point but all of a sudden, it starts not working.

I’ve identified these five strategies that do make us successful but there’s an underbelly to them. They can put us and our careers or self-perceptions in a little bit of a peril.

The book is full of examples and stories. Before we dive in a little bit into those five things that you mentioned, can you share 1 or 2 of the stories that help illustrate the kinds of situations that women often find themselves in where they lose the momentum that they have built for themselves over the early part of their careers?

One is the origin story that got me focused on this area. After a corporate career, I joined my alma mater to teach MBA students. I was at Kellogg. I was the Director of the Women’s Leadership Program where I still am. I was at one of our first orientations all excited for my new role and to be able to help these amazing Millennials advance their careers.

At the orientation, there was a female CEO who shared her story. When she opened it up for questions, all the questions came from men and not one from a woman. I was shocked. I asked the person next to me, “Is that usual?” She said, “Sometimes in the classroom too.” To get into this school, you need top scores and have accomplished a lot in your twenties. I know that these women were capable.

When I met them, I confirmed that but it took me back to my MBA orientation where I didn’t raise my hands, and other women in the room didn’t either. There were a lot fewer of us at the time but it launched me into thinking maybe this was not generational because I had thought Millennials are going to take the world by storm.

I still think they can but there’s something going on with gender. I started to learn what was happening at other business schools and in other parts of women’s careers. There’s this holding back and waiting for the perfect, in this case, question, answer, or self to move forward into the next promotion or the next job.

You make the point about that being the origin story for your book. The origin story for a lot of women in this situation starts in their childhood where there are different expectations or the idea that girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice. You shouldn’t expect outrageous behavior from girls in school that boys will be boys and all of that. That was a generation ago that you and I were in school but here we are a generation later. It’s still happening. There’s something that’s still going on in kids’ childhood.

The research supports that too but it’s as if something is in the water that things have not changed as much as we would have thought generationally. For sure, women and girls are advancing. Seventy percent of valedictorians in the US are young women. It attaches well to education and academics but we learn some of these things early on about being a good girl, obeying authority, rising, and being superior toward others. That stays with us. That works fine in school but when we get to the workplace, we don’t necessarily take risks or adjust to some of the gray area.

The research shows boys learn one-upmanship. That must be hard as a little guy. You’re much more challenged as a boy to try things before you’re ready. It teaches boys becoming men to go for things without knowing with 100% certainty that it’s going to work or that they’re going to be fantastic in the job and good for them. We see things like men going for jobs when they have 6 of 10 of the criteria and women waiting until they have all 10 when it’s the company’s wishlist. We carry these childhood things with us. It’s harder where there’s more gray area in the workplace.

That sense of competence that you described with men may be overrating their competence whereas women perhaps underrate their competence. Is the comfort with ambiguity and the comfort with risk the key things that are often holding women back that perhaps come more naturally to men because of the way that boys and girls are brought up? Is there more to it?

There is a discounting that girls and many times women can feel of all that we have already done, our qualifications, and our experiences. I talked to someone in a session. She said her boss talked to her about going for this job that would put her in the C-Suite. Her immediate reaction was, “I’m not ready for that.” The person who went for it had less experience.

There is this tie to preparation to being 100% certain that contributes to us downplaying ourselves and our futures too. Maybe men become overconfident but what they’re learning to do is to fake it until you make it, and going for things and understanding that they’re going to like how it works and that they’re going to grow into a position. They don’t already have to have mastered it. Good for them. We need women to take a page out of their book and do that for ourselves too.

There’s an element of Imposter syndrome here. You talk in the book about the notion of the voice. You call it the inner antagonist and talk about needing to find your inner protagonist. This does affect men too but you make the argument that much more so women.

I teach men and women. I’ll hear Imposter syndrome quite frequently. It’s become part of the vernacular. It is more intense and frequent with women but it cuts across regardless of gender too. It’s important to understand and bring awareness to what is that inner antagonist or critical voice. I’ll say, “What are the greatest hits in your mind that other people can’t see? What are those top five things that you say that make you question yourself? What’s on replay?” I faced it even with writing a book or moving into academia very late in my career, “Who am I to write a book?” The solution is bringing awareness to it but disrupting it through what’s a counterpoint to that.

In my case in that example, it’s going from, “Who am I to write a book?” to, “I have a message to share that can help people.” It can help to put a post-it on your monitor or mirror to help you think that way and take the next step from mindset to action, “If I have a message that I can share that can help people, what action would I take?” For me, that’s getting up early and writing or doing more posts on LinkedIn to get the message out even though I think, “Who am I to act like the authority?” It’s a discipline and a practice of taking small steps to counter this narrative.

Ultimately, you make the point that the narrative ought to be, “Why not me,” as opposed to, “Who am I to whatever?”

More boys and men have the, “Why not me?” Good for them. We need it too.

You mentioned these five attributes a little bit earlier in the conversation. Let’s come to those. They can have as you write a positive or a negative impact on your trajectory. The first of those is preparing for perfection, which you argue has to be let go. How so? Why is that important?

It helps us. We become go-to people and deliver in an excellent way but we tend to rely on preparation and certainty to be able to deliver this type of perfection, and it becomes part of our identity. What happens is as expectations rise, as we rise in an organization, we don’t have the amount of time to prepare like we once did. We also need to delegate to others and have them do more of that.

It can create internal stress when we’re called to make decisions with less information or manage other people and empower them versus micromanaging them. It can be a stressful thing. That stress is a real problem for us internally. Sometimes it serves to have us hesitate and hold back because we are worried about what the downside is.

My students will say they have FOMO. There’s also in all of us FOMU or Fear Of Messing Up. That is true for a perfectionist. What also happens is there’s not only the internal perception and the stress that goes on but there is also the perception outside of us. It can impact our careers. We can go from being the person who is the go-to that delivers and becomes the worker bee that we want on our team but is not someone we want to lead the team because we’re not decisive or moving fast enough with less information. We’re not taking the risks that are expected of leaders as we develop in our careers.

You talk about a number of tips across all five of these areas but on this notion of working to perfection, is there one that stands out to you more than the others in terms of helping women to break that cycle and rethink the whole relationship they have with trying to be perfect?

It’s being aware of it and getting mentoring on it. Most of all, I would hope that would be with your boss who can help you prioritize your work in ways that teach you there are some things that you don’t have to be perfect on. In other words, what parts of your project list or all the things that you do you need to deliver A-plus work on? Where can you go in with a draft or give it to someone else? Sometimes we want to be so perfect in everything that we exert a lot of energy on things that don’t need it. We can move faster but it takes a little bit of practice. Getting help from someone who can help you to do that or asking for help is one of the hardest things for someone who is in this mindset.

I used to describe to people when they would ask me something that needed some work, “Do you want the 2-minute answer, the 2-day answer, or the 2-week answer? Help me understand how much detail you want to go into.” That’s a different way of thinking about a very similar thing to what you described.

I love that because what’s the work that would make this decisionable? It’s understanding what are the risks because that ties also to what’s the level of effort, completion, or perfection.

It comes a little bit into decision science, which we won’t get into. It’s thinking about the upside, the downside, and how much information and working backward intuitively to what you need to figure out whether you’re comfortable making that decision as opposed to trying to gather all the facts before you give it a shot.

I love that because it can help move someone with the information we have available, “Here’s my recommendation. It may not be perfect because we don’t have perfect information.” I love that. For another day, we can go deeper.

The second one is around this notion of eagerly pleasing. It comes back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier in terms of the nice girl. When those girls become women, how does that focus on pleasing get in their way?

It goes from this learning that cooperation and other orientation is powerful. It’s what we can be great at. They’re the glue that holds the team together but what happens is sometimes we neglect our opinions or needs and can even feel underlying anger or feel like, “I’m being taken advantage of here,” but don’t know how to necessarily express something that is disagreement or conflict or even saying no. There’s the stress that comes up like, “What about me,” even though we haven’t always served that up.

The perceptual risk that gets in our way is being seen as too soft or not able to make tough decisions or face conflict. Some of the solutions here are to unpack this being liked and this fear of disappointing other people and opt for respect. Often some of the people who feel are the strongest have the strongest relationships that can withstand some amount of disagreement. It takes the practice of setting boundaries and addressing conflict. I say, “Tap into your courage to do this in the smallest way. It’s building muscle around getting your voice heard or your needs met through saying no.” That’s a complete sentence.

Often some of the people who feel are the strongest have the strongest relationships that can withstand some amount of disagreement. Click To Tweet

As you become a more senior leader, you are going to make decisions that will not make everybody happy and you have to get comfortable with that. Without it, you will go into appeasement mode or compromise mode. Neither one of those necessarily is going to lead to the right answer and won’t lead to the right answer in all decisions. You mentioned conflict as well. The best teams have some amount of conflict. If you’re not willing to say something somewhat controversial, then you’re probably not helping the team push the edge as much as it needs to. You are playing it safe in those situations.

The mirrored door is reflecting inward, “I’m going to lose this relationship. They’re going to think worse of me.” To your point, as people move forward and move up in organizations and have to make the tough calls, some of the ways are getting input upfront and when you have made a decision, sharing with great transparency. That would be a great way for someone who is very other-oriented to make sure you’re keeping people abreast of why you made the decision. That’s how you also shift into not only being liked but being respected also.

A related point is fitting the mold, which is in some ways a different way of seeking to please this idea of staying within the guardrails of the corporate culture. You made a point in the book that resonated with me because I have said those words that women are held to a narrower set of acceptable behaviors than men. It’s awful that’s the case but there is truth in that, and we have to fix the workplace. As a woman or a manager of a woman, you have to help them understand that there is that perception difference that they have to be at least aware of.

We’re good at fitting the mold because this other orientation that comes with our upbringing helps us to read the room to understand what success looks like in this organization. We adapt and are agile to fit in as a way of belonging but if we’re not showing more of ourselves, it’s not belonging. Your audience might not see I’m wearing red here.

I tell a story in the book of being told to wear a navy jacket early on in my sales career and resisting that, given I have dark hair and Irish fair skin. Navy is not my color. Red or something brighter would be. That’s an out-of-date example but there are other aspects of our identities that we’re in question like, “Can I show that? They hired me in one way.”

I have a former student who interned in a company, and she wanted to work for them. She’s a Black woman, “I want to be able to wear my natural hair. Am I going to be accepted? Am I going to be successful here?” The workplace and the situations we’re in call on us to figure out, “Do I want to pioneer a new way? Am I up for this? Do I want another place?”

The more we as leaders in our organizations have different ways of showing who we are while being effective in the workplace, the more that we can have women and have everyone not feel like they have to fit a mold. I say, “Break the mold or expand it in some ways.” It’s good to bring awareness to that, especially if you’re someone who is part of the majority of the organization. These may be things that people aren’t even aware of that others face too. People with intersectional identities have multiple things, sometimes visible and sometimes not, that they’re thinking through, “Can I come out in this organization? Can I share a disability that I have?”

One organization is different from another. Most organizations are making an effort to be more inclusive of the different types of people that will come and work there but it does vary and it takes time. To your point, there is a little bit of a tradeoff you have to decide when you’re in a population that feels in the minority about whether you want to push the envelope a little or a lot.

It’s very individual but leaders can help.

I want to come back to that. There are a couple more of your five that let’s cover first. You talk about working pedal to the metal, which implies working crazy hard and doing everything. It’s a little bit linked to this notion of working to perfection but is that concept grounded in an over-reliance on the idea of a meritocracy and an under-appreciation of the fact that most work environments are not pure meritocracies?

I didn’t think of it that way but it could be. It’s more reflective of someone’s style of hard work and likely being super competent but where this comes up a lot of times is a woman who is so focused on results and is highly competent but those around her a lot of times are looking for the warmth. This can be falling prey to some bias of expectations of what I’m expecting to see in a woman, “Where’s the team building? Where are all those kinds of things?” We need people who are running hard on a project and leading the way. What happens is for sure, it can lead to burnout too, especially because a lot of times, you’re leading the way and your team is further behind you.

The other part is creating that followership and building the relationships. There’s research on warmth and competency. I have a lot of coaching clients or students say, “Can I get down to business? Do I have to create all these niceties?” There’s a lot of energy expended on, “How do I build these relationships?” It is so important to slow down, pause, come back, and share what your intentions and motivations are.

It’s often explaining, “I want us to jump right into this thing. We’re going to have an aggressive schedule but it’s because I believe in this product and I want it to go to market as fast as we can. They’re counting on us.” You are explaining who you are to others so that they’re not looking for something that is not coming as naturally to you as well.

One thing that I would argue has changed over the course of my career is leaders will slow down and explain the why more as opposed to barking in order and expecting you to run out of their office and do it. This notion of being willing to show your true self and not feeling like you have to be this perfect invincible superhero all the time has opened up a lot of different leadership styles that a generation ago would have been harder for people to succeed with.

I do feel like older workplaces had much more of that command and control. We’re adding to it collaboration, compassion, and the importance of sharing the why of who you are as well as why we’re doing the work we’re doing. We need all of those things. It opens up much broader styles of leadership. It’s what employees want too. They don’t want to just do it.

CSCL 82 | Mirrored Door

Ellen Taaffe: Older workplaces had much more of that command and control. We’re adding to it: collaboration, compassion, and the importance of sharing the why of who you are as well as why we’re doing the work we’re doing.

 

It worked for Nike but not for leaders. The last one is performing patiently. It conjures this image of somebody working hard and waiting for that promotion to come. When and in what ways do women need to be more impatient?

They need to share what they want and what they have done. It’s a myth to think that you’re going to be noticed by putting your head down and getting the job done. Often women and some men feel like, “I don’t want to be self-promoting. That’s icky and disingenuous.” That comes from this childhood don’t-be-superior thing. We have to rethink that to be much more about career planning. If your boss doesn’t know what you want, how can they advocate for you?

It's a myth to think that you're going to be noticed by putting your head down and getting the job done. Click To Tweet

The risk here is that you can be seen as less ambitious as well and then feel that disappointment, “What about me?” It’s important to also share what you’ve done. People are so busy. They don’t know it if you don’t share it. I’m talking about more than the annual performance review in that as well. It’s a real mindset shift about the importance of what’s called self-promotion but it’s about sharing what you want and what you have done, having the courage to have these conversations, and getting feedback on how you are tracking relative to what you want as well.

We have talked about this from the woman’s perspective or the individual’s perspective but what can managers and companies do to help women along this journey and make sure that these five things don’t necessarily become negatives for the women that they want to grow and develop in their organizations?

It helps to be vulnerable because managers, women, and men who work through this have faced some of these issues. It helps someone to feel like they’re not alone if they hear an example, “I used to feel like it was hard for me to say what I wanted or have these difficult conversations. Here’s what I’ve done.” Being vulnerable is one way in. Looking for and sharing the potential that you see in others is also important.

Korn Ferry did a study of the Russell 2000 and the top female CEOs in that group. Sixty-six percent of them were told that they had the potential to be CEOs before they realized it or thought about it themselves. Often women have not seen role models of someone like them, whether it’s from their family, neighborhood, or past companies to be able to recognize that they could ascend to higher levels too.

Being candid with your feedback can be helpful. It’s tricky because subjective feedback is not helpful but if we see as managers that someone is getting in their way, how can we identify that and help them? For example, there is a need to raise conflict. How can you coach someone in particular on how they can still retain the relationships they have but be able to address conflict? That’s part of the program. Sometimes it’s like what it says on mirrors, “Objects may appear bigger.” These risks appear bigger so frequently. Helping dissect that can also be another helpful thing for managers to do. Managers can play a key role here by being open and asking good questions as well.

You suggested some of those in that middle portion of the book, which I thought was helpful. In the last portion of the book, you talk about grit, growth, and gravitas. You referenced it a little bit that courage needs to come before competence. Describe how that plays out in practice.

To me, this was a big point because so often, women get feedback, “You need to show more confidence.” It is something hard to work with. It’s not the best feedback because my belief is that courage is the prerequisite for action. Confidence comes from experiencing something that you’ve gained or you’ve lost, and you’ve gotten back up.

CSCL 82 | Mirrored Door

Ellen Taaffe: Courage is the prerequisite for action. Confidence comes from experiencing something that you’ve gained or lost, and you’ve gotten back up.

 

Often, if I ask a group of women to share examples when they are confident, they have a hard time coming up with that. If I ask them to tell me three times when they showed courage and generally even came to that session, getting an MBA, going for a job, having a child, or all these things, there’s a lot that makes women and girls very courageous. That’s what they can tap into to move into action or even to try these small steps or mini-risks that can help them take the bigger risks later. It’s all about courage but our society and every women’s magazine or every conference is going to talk about confidence, and that’s the outcome.

You mentioned as well that it takes a village. You need to rely on the community around you, whether that’s mentors, sponsors, or a professional network. What are some of the specific roadblocks that the women that you work with encounter? How do you help them overcome them to build that community around them to help them have the role modeling that they need?

One of the first ways is believing that asking for help is a weakness. There’s a lot of going alone. Some of that happens when you’re the only one or one of the few in an organization but it also can be a mindset of, “Head down. Work hard. Don’t take the time to meet other people. I’m also concerned about what will other people think if I reach out and say I don’t know everything.” You’re not alone. It’s one part.

The other part is rethinking about networking. Networking for many women and some men too feels disingenuous. Even research shows that it feels for some people like, “It makes me feel dirty. I’m asking for a job here.” It can feel transactional too but in reality, women tend to be known for, “This is where our childhood deep relationships can help us.”

One of the things that I outline in this chapter about taking a village is how to network in ways where you’re thinking about it, “I’m asking for directions.” Number one, what do you want to be mentored on? How can you be specific about your asks? You’re more likely to get acceptance of those asks. That’s an important way to be able to reach out to people versus, “Can I pick your brain?” It’s rethinking networking and how you think of it as asking directions and learning someone else’s story, “How did you pivot from sales to brand management?” That might be one that I would get.

The other thing that we know from the research is that networking is about building relationships with people who are connected but what they have learned in research on successful women and how they network is that they have a close-knit group of women that they connect with that serve to give them insider tips or private information that enable us to go into new industries or companies and learn more about what’s it like to work at this company.

“Even within your company, I’m thinking of shifting into that division. What’s it like in that division or to work for this boss?” Those deeper and closer relationships for women are powerful. It’s something that women appear in the research to need more of to help them navigate their careers and make some of those. Driving deep relationships is also important.

Lastly, you talk about the idea of becoming a protagonist. Describe what you mean by that.

By that, I mean taking the lead in your life back in our English class days, “What’s the protagonist?” Often, we are raised in ways to play small and be a bit more of a supporting player. We do have a lot on our shoulders. It tends to be more caregiving and things like that but I also think you can be the lead character in the story of your career and life even though you are caring for others in your life. You can do both, taking center stage in your life and believing that’s not a bad thing but many times, it starts with giving yourself permission to step into that role as well.

You can be the lead character in the story of your career and life even though you are caring for others in your life. Click To Tweet

Before we spend a few minutes on your career, what were your parting words of wisdom at the end of the book that you would want our audiences to take away here too?

It’s the idea that our voices carry and that we can amplify other women’s voices and ourselves and open the mirrored door for those who follow us as well. It’s all about helping other women. When we change things in the workplace, it benefits everyone, whether there’s more flexibility or other benefits or ways of working as we talked about. Adding collaboration, compassion, and the why into our workplace feels like more feminine things but they’re what everybody wants. We want the combination of things to get to a better workplace. Women are poised to step into their center stage but help others up there as well.

Before you started teaching at Kellogg and working there, you had a very successful corporate career of your own. How and when did you walk through your metaphorical mirrored door?

I’m always doing it. Early on, I had to learn how to promote myself. I was more performing patiently. It came up for me with, “How do I say what I want and share what I can do?” I also think that I learned to tap into the care that I have for other people to be able to make tougher decisions and give clearer feedback. I learned how to do that. I worked for Quaker Oats and PepsiCo. We had tremendous training but I realized I’m doing a disservice if I only say the good things to other people.

That was powerful for me to transition from being a little bit fearful of giving someone difficult feedback to being able to do that in a way that’s caring and compassionate but also clear. I probably fell more on the pleasing perfectionist scale but then becoming a professor, something I hadn’t done before, and writing a book were things that were opening the mirrored door, “I have to do the best I can. It’s not going to be perfect but I’m drawn to do this. For the sake of my career and my students or readers, I need to move forward into action.”

How else did you change your style as you became a more senior leader in the different organizations that you worked for?

I became more open and shared more of myself over time and more of what my struggles were. I realized that I am someone quieter and humble, more of a thinker. I’m very empathetic but I also sometimes get underestimated. I became aware of that through great feedback from a mentor and boss. It has helped me to be aware of that and help show who I am because I can surprise people with how quietly driven I am.

You also served on some boards. How have you found that experience relative to being a corporate executive?

I love it. It enables me to focus on things like strategy, succession planning, and talent development and learn about governance. It has me in the business world helping both the leaders of a company to drive the strategy for where we want to go. I had to learn that it is an oversight role. You’re not management. When I was a newer board director years ago, learning was much more about asking questions to know that management has done what they need to do or has thought about what could be around the corner.

Years ago, I can remember presenting an ad campaign to the board. Some of the questions that I got like, “Why is her dress green,” were unhelpful at the time. Before I was on a board, I thought, “I will never be that board director.” Part of that experience guided me to make sure I was elevating the game. I’m asking questions that can help management and also make us deliver against our responsibilities to make sure we’re guiding the company in a way that is going to be successful for all.

You got certified as a board director. Did you do that before you joined your first board? Was that part of your learning process after you got your first board role?

I did it much later. Early on when I was interviewing for the first board, Kellogg had a director of development program for women. It was an executive education program. I did that. Before I joined my second board, I did the National Association of Corporate Directors, a professional director development training. In both cases, it helped me to be better in the boardroom. Years ago, I became a certified director. That was a newer program that NACD has offered. As the demands in the boardroom, the risks, and the new topics come up, it was preparing for it and taking the test where you do a lot of case study kinds of answers. It was hard and I was thrilled to pass to become certified.

A lot of my contemporaries are wanting to join a board. What advice would you have for them in terms of getting that first board role?

The first one is the hardest. Think through in what ways you can add value to a board. Think of your career. In what ways could you guide boards versus being a manager or a consultant? We have interviewed people. You want to hire them as a consultant but not as a board director. The biggest advice is to network with people. Let people know. You could also get feedback.

Let people in your network know that you want to be on a board. Get their feedback. Do they see that for you? In what ways could you be more ready for that? Often, board director roles are done through networking. If you have relationships with recruiting firms, ask to be introduced to their board practice. Networking is your biggest way to get in. It’s still done that way. Look at private companies too.

Why so?

There are many more of them. It’s easier to get on a private company board before a public one.

You don’t have to deal with all the public reporting topics that come.

It helps you to prepare. There are so many small-cap companies that are looking for more guidance as well but there are thousands of them and a lot fewer of the public companies. Maybe a public company looks better on the resume but it also comes with a lot more work and risk too with the fiduciary responsibilities that might be heightened on a public company board.

What’s next for you? What do you want out of the next few years of your career?

CSCL 82 | Mirrored Door I was going to go after that after this book came out. I’m still figuring that out. I love the board work. I love teaching. I love this experience. I’m going to spend a lot of the next year sharing this book. My hope is that it becomes a more evergreen go-to book for women building their careers and their allies. That’s the near term. It’s more of the same but also figuring out what I dial back on to have a little bit more time. With our empty nest, my husband and I hope to travel a little bit more and that kind of thing.

 

Is there any final career advice that you want to share with our audience?

Run your race, know who you are, and focus on spending your time doing things that you could be great at versus what someone else thought for you or thinks you should do. It’s self-awareness to play to your strengths so that you can enjoy all that time you spend working.

That’s a great advice. Thank you for doing this. I appreciate it. There are lots of great insights not just for women but for all professionals in terms of how to think about the ways that they need to adapt as they start to rise through the ranks.

I enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.

You have a good rest of your day.

Thank you. You too.

I want to thank Ellen for joining me to discuss her new book, The Mirrored Door, and its messages for women and men who are finding themselves stuck at the midpoints of their careers or maybe more generally. If you would like more regular career insights, you can become a PathWise member. It’s free. You can also sign up on the website for our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Thanks. Have a great day.

 

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About Ellen Taaffe

CSCL 82 | Mirrored Door Ellen Taaffe is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management, where she teaches Personal Leadership Insights and is the Director of the Women’s Leadership Program.
Outside of Kellogg, Ellen runs a leadership advisory consulting, speaking, and coaching business. She is also a TEDx speaker and independent board director. She also recently wrote a book titled The Mirrored Door: Break Through The Hidden Barrier That Locks Successful Women in Place.

Prior to her academic, governance, coaching, and writing career, Ellen spent 25 years with Fortune 500 companies holding the top brand management post at divisions of PepsiCo, Royal Caribbean, and Whirlpool. She then pivoted into a growth stage small business as President of Ravel, a brand strategy consultancy to Fortune 500 clients.

Ellen speaks and writes on a variety of topics and has been published in HBR, Forbes, Business Insider, and the Washington Post, among others. She received her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in 1997 and also holds a BS from the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. She lives in the Chicago area.

 

 

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