“We need you to be a part of this institution with all your heart,” said Dean Nitin Norhia, Dean of the Harvard Business School (HBS), in his closing remarks for the W50 Conference last Friday in Boston, MA. W50? It was a two-day celebration marking the fiftieth anniversary of women’s participation at HBS. A dear friend of mine who looked puzzled when I told her about it asked, “that’s something to celebrate?”
Quirkiness aside I was intrigued by the Dean’s choice of words, ‘your heart.’ Earnest. Simple. Powerful. He sensed power enough in the connection with women’s hearts that he appealed to it. Directly. What else can benefit from that type of engagement?
At two years into transition I think transition is about having the confidence to listen to your heart. What will make your heart sing? The answer is highly personal. To understand it requires a long journey full of ambiguity, isolation and energy.
In January I had the pleasure of spending the morning with a well-regarded researcher of gender studies at Babson College, a leafy hot bed for entrepreneurship just outside of Boston. Thank you Research Jam for such wonderful access. Or, did I always have it?
Anyway we talked about her observations on the transition that women go through when choosing entrepreneurship. Her responses surprised me.
I asked about the triggers she sees when this transition occurs. “The trigger is a ‘realization,’ a realization that living the dream is not just for only a few people,” she shared. Sound familiar?
She also shared her view of transition’s characteristics. Three I thought bordered on profound. First, transition like entrepreneurship requires a self-created identity. In entrepreneurs she observed that this skill set is highly developed.
A self-created identity. Interesting. If I’m honest I’ve had a more productive second year in transition than my first. It might be because I’ve created a working hypothesis or draft identity that supports all my various experiments. It goes something like this. “I’m interested in women’s development. This manifests itself in three ways….” This is where I break and fill in my experiments, including Novofemina. It’s nothing earth shattering but it serves as an umbrella under which I can align my various trials.
Her second characteristic…in transitioning to entrepreneurship women realize that they can create a business on topics that matter to them. Climate change. Nanotechnology. Organic foods. You name it. As a side note this fact played out consistently in the responses to the Research Jam’s Online Survey. Women shared example after example of businesses that were created out of all sorts of passions and events in their lives or the lives of their loved ones.
Her final characteristic was ambiguity. From my humble perspective this is the show stopper for many in transition. Most women I know have so much going on – care of aging parents, paying off education debt, managing families, cultivating all sorts of relationships, work – they don’t have time to invest in ambiguity.
Allowing ambiguity to hang around for any period of time seems like a luxury. Am I right? Women need to wrestle with ambiguity quickly so that they can get on with the 25 other things they need to accomplish before lunch.
It’s funny. A person I interviewed earlier this week also mentioned ambiguity. She thought it was the great divider too. A veteran of transition and a gracious mentor to others she thought that those willing to walk with ambiguity in transition yield a tremendous benefit. To her ambiguity opens our hearts to surprisingly valuable views. Those who don’t go there never see this potential nor benefit from its many gifts.
Before concluding my conversation with the gender research expert at Babson she mentioned data about the growing number of women choosing entrepreneurship. Why is that I wondered out loud?
“Many are disenchanted with the environment from where they came. They see it as their only avenue forward.”
Coincidentally I heard this as well at the W50. “Women seek entrepreneurship as a form of escape,” remarked HBS Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter at the W50 Conference last week. Long time readers will recall that I didn’t really enjoy her book, Confidence, in spite of its awesome title.
What an interesting theme…both thought leaders were onto escape. How do you respond if overtime you aren’t listened to in the work environment or in other environments where you contribute ? Escape sounds so negative. Is it simply another trigger to create? Creating something that can leverage the fullness of our potential.
I’m a bit critical of a Dean who appeals to hearts of women and the minds of the other gender. But I’ll suspend that conclusion for the more productive……I believe that women get really engaged when they are passionate about something.
Transition in large part is about having the confidence to listen to our hearts. Make no mistake….it isn’t a solitary introspective activity. It requires reaching out to new people and challenging new experiences. Each of these activities needs a common denominator…..your heart has to be in it. Where is yours these days?
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