Women in Economic Development: It’s Time to Give Yourself Permission

When I first decided to write about Women in Economic Development, my initial plan was to share the post immediately after the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Annual Conference. That conference is well in the rearview mirror and my goal of publishing this post immediately after was curtailed by a Hurricane Matthew here in Florida, but after my discussions with the many intelligent multitasking women that I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference, I think the main takeaway I heard is relevant and supportive enough that it still needs to be shared.

You see, as women, we feel we have to do it all—home, social, and community, all while navigating the male-dominated work environment.  And in my case, putting together a generator and finally tracking down enough gas to fill it, not to mention doing conference calls in my car because the electricity was out. I encountered this same “no excuses” attitude repeatedly while spending time at the Woman’s Mentoring Luncheon at IEDC with a super diverse group of multitasking woman. We were under 30 and over 50, married and divorced, student, pregnant, and had several children and no children. We came from California, Texas, the Deep South, and the Heartland. What rang true for everyone is that not one of us at the table was taking the time to appreciate their successes and doing what was required to get closer to that self-actualization goal in life.

Asking for help when there was a fear of a “ball being dropped” was not in the comfort zone for most at the table. This rang true in both business and personal life.  “Giving yourself permission” to ask for the resources required (whether spiritual, financial, maid or nanny) was a big leap. Just being together and discussing these issues made significant changes in many of our lives.

In addition to attending the Women’s Luncheon, I also did a bit a research on the evolution of women in the Economic Development field by reaching out to some of Convergent’s clients. These women are the top executive’s in their respective organizations and were kind enough to share some thoughts. Below is a summary of what was shared:

There are obviously more women in the field now than in the 90’s. Then, the position women typically held was a role in marketing, retention/expansion, or fundraising. These were often very tactical in nature. Another common option was a one woman shop who did it all. Today’s executive finds her time consumed with managing/massaging egos, trying to satisfy everyone, and communicating, re-communicating, and confirming the communications message. One could almost argue that this modus operandi is merely sharpening her saw for home life. But I digress.

Today’s ED Woman Executive shares the same challenges as her male counterparts when trying to drive their agendas. These are seen in the areas of Board consensus and partners/vendors keeping commitments. But the opportunity to network with CEOs after hours in social environments is still an issue for many women. Some of this apprehension is driven by the community and culture where one resides, family obligations, and sometimes nothing other than being in our own heads too much.

It is time to “give yourself permission.” Get out and play golf, socialize with your key investors. Then go home and hire part-time help if you need it. Get involved in a networking group or form one. All of these promote communication, trust, and most of all, the elusive variable of sleep.