Understanding how women’s leadership programs in the workplace can help personal and professional advancement
Seek and speak your truth. This is different. That was my first thought when I got to chapter six of the holy grail of women’s empowerment books “Lean In” written by Sheryl Sandberg. I perked up at the thought I was reading about authenticity and was happy that this was considered a non-negotiable essential read as a participant of the 2019 Women in Leadership program – GTA Cohort.
Launched in 2013, the six-month program is open to internal employees and external organizations (“Friends of PwC”). The program helps top female talent by providing them with hands on education and networking experiences to equip them with practical tools and techniques while on their path to leadership positions. It also promotes sponsorship and the importance of having supporters at the senior level.
It is very evident that the program is well organized, thoughtful, and has just the right ratio of emotional intelligence and professionalism rolled into one.
“The leadership tools, network and sponsorship I received throughout the program was a launching pad for my own accelerated advancement and was a crucial part of helping me get to where I am today; not only a first year partner at PwC but a wife and a mom of a beautiful three year old daughter.” – Jordan Prokopy, Partner and Privacy Practice Leader Canada
The program would not be what it is without the hard work and dedication of several folks behind the scenes who make the whole experience seem effortless. One of these women is Sandra Mederios (Director Learning and Development and WiL Program Lead) from Toronto, who walks the talk of the program and is a great representation of what it means to be a woman in a leadership position.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Sandra to chat more about her experiences with WiL.
Tell our readers how you got involved with WiL and what motivated you to get involved?
As part of my own career journey I wanted to move into leadership development where I could make a real and tangible difference in people’s lives.
I have a strong desire to make a difference and when I came across the WiL program I was drawn to the vision. I feel privileged that through this experience I have met so many amazing women and men who are also passionate about the topic.
How has the program grown from when you first started to now?
I have seen growth in three key areas:
- There is now more of a focus on the “whole person” i.e. not just leadership skills but also the skills required to have a healthy body and soul;
- As our program has evolved, the number of men who are involved has increased significantly which is key to the success of WiL; and
- We have added our “Friends of PwC” to the program which has deepened our relationships and conversations about topics that are relevant across corporate Canada and globally.
What makes you the most excited about being the WiL Program Lead?
I love the opportunity to be part of the incredible journey that the participants have as they go through the WiL program. It goes back to my passion for change and fulfilling my personal leadership vision of “helping people be their best by unlocking what is already inside of them”.
In response to the question “what’s the biggest challenge to being an authentic leader”, you said that the differences across senior leader’s personalities and perspectives is what an organization needs in order to be successful. What is your advice to those out there who are reading this on how they can bring their authentic self to the workplace without second-guessing himself or herself?
Be clear on your values and what matters most to you personally. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable and acknowledge where you need your team members strengths to complement your weaknesses. People want to follow leaders who are real and relatable.
Speaking of authenticity, a message that is heavily promoted through the WiL program, you have a clear love for dogs through your involvement as a member of the Board of Directors at National Service Dogs and as a therapy dog volunteer with St. Johns Ambulance. Nowadays, the concept of being one person when you are at home and another when you are at work is no longer the case. What is your view on bringing personal life into workplace conversations?
To be your true self at work you need to be comfortable with sharing that “whole self” including your personal side. For me that means being transparent about the things that matter to me like volunteering, going to the gym, or taking advantage of the concept of flextime. This also works the other way around by making sure that those in my personal life know when work takes a priority.
What are some of the greatest success stories that you have seen come to life through the WiL program?
Seeing our alumni have the courage to go after what makes them happy i.e. being admitted to the PwC Partnership or taking on a totally different role that is outside of their comfort zone. Talking to them six to twelve months (after they completed the program), and seeing how happy they and how the program made a difference in their lives is always gratifying.
Of all of the things that you took away from Sandberg’s Lean In, what resonated with you the most and why?
The idea that it’s a jungle gym and not a ladder. A lot of people (me included), have this preconceived notion that those we see in senior leadership positions have climbed a ladder that is linear. I’ve heard so many stories of the real journeys of some incredible women (and men), and there is a lot that happens behind the scenes (twists and turns), on their journey.
Sandra is clearly on her leadership game and it comes through in all aspects of the program.
I am personally appreciative of my experience as a participant. After our second face-to-face session I have learned so much about what it means to embody a female leader. I have heard from women who showed us that being a leader means bringing your best authentic self forward and being proud of your values.
The program hosts a wide variety of exciting topics, guest speakers, and group networking events. All of this has quickly generated a lasting bond between participants, sponsors, facilitators, and volunteers who feel like they are there with a purpose; that purpose is to seek and speak our truths while walking, talking, and feeling like a boss!
To learn more about how women in circles are creating change and how to start your own group, please visit Lean In Circles.
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