As we usher a in a new board, we decided to get their thoughts on what it means to be an executive woman and what it means to serve as a leader and a champion for women and girls in the ever-changing landscape of the workforce.
The Leopard: Questions with Yolande Agard-Simmons, president, AFETT 2018-2020
Who are your greatest inspirations and what does leadership mean to you?
I grew up in a home with a strong, confident and self-assured woman – who I am blessed to call my darling mother – a mother who by her own example showed me what leadership truly is. She has been and continues to be my greatest inspiration as a God-fearing woman, a wife, a mother and a true friend. Through her I have been schooled in building my self-confidence and had to learn that self-confidence is not arrogance.
A good leader gives clear direction and helps people under his or her care to gain personal strength and resources so that they can solve problems successfully. "This is a requisite for the successful 21st century leader," says the book 21st Century Leadership: Dialogues With 100 Top Leaders. A management textbook says: “[A leader] needs the sensitivity of a social worker, the insights of a psychologist, the stamina of a marathon runner, the persistence of a bulldog, the self-reliance of a hermit, and the patience of a saint."
I have also learned that treating people like people should be my ethos and it has been the secret to my professional success. That for me, is truly what defines a great leader – one who recognises the worth of each individual and values what they bring to the table.
Where would you like to see AFETT in the next ten years?
As the leading female executive network in the Caribbean; the go-to association for female executives who wish to give back and as the premier resource for issues related to women and girls. I see AFETT as a centre of excellence in the region, partnering with tertiary institutions to lead in topical research matters and serving as a thought leader.
What made you decide to serve on the board of AFETT?
I consider myself blessed to have been the recipient of high quality and consistent mentorship over the years, particularly very early on in my career. My role in AFETT allows me to lead in "giving back" to so many deserving female professionals. Mahatma Gandhi famously said that the best way to find oneself is to lose yourself in the service of others. This, however, is not a journey of self-discovery, but one of selfless service for me.
What issues are most important to you as a female professional?
As a female executive and a new mother, my perspective in terms of child care solutions and paid parental leave has become sharpened. I believe it is critical that organisations provide a safe working environment for their employees; not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Policies and procedures need to improve and changed to facilitate the changing demographics of the work force. We have many more women in the work place and our HR policies should reflect that reality. Employers need to be willing to offer flexible working hours; working from home options; and create work spaces that facilitate the presence of young children who may have to be picked up from school by parents who return to work to wrap up the official work day.
What advice would you like to give to an aspiring executive?
I listened to an interesting presentation some time ago and something that the speaker said stuck with me. He said that in this life, ability without humility is a liability, whereas ability with humility is stability. My advice to any executive is that they should always be mindful to temper their ability (be it inherited or learnt) with humility, while demonstrating a willingness to serve, since this is what defines the humanity in each and every one of us.
What does mentorship mean to you and do you think that it is important for female executives to have good, strong mentors to guide them on their journey? If so, why?
The animal kingdom provides us with many a lesson. The leopard is a highly agile animal that adjusts its efforts to suit its needs. Sometimes it relies on stealth, at other times speed, and at other times agility. For example, it can track its prey on the ground and also climb trees to hunt. It can move silently through the forest and at the same time marshal a burst of speed to close in. The lesson there is that leaders and organisations that are adaptable can be assured greater opportunities to achieve success than those that rely on a more limited mindset and skillset.
In my opinion, mentorship is extremely important. We each need a leopard to guide, direct and inspire us. They have travelled your path before and they can help you identify pitfalls and challenges and prepare you to deal with them. Moreso, they are your greatest champion for the moments when you doubt yourself and your abilities; brief though they may be. They are also your pep-squad on the days when you do not feel your best. Mentors are like lifejackets in the tempestuous ocean of executive leadership. Any professional who wishes to succeed should ‘arm’ themselves with at least two mentors.
Set your dreams on fire.
AFETT is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2002 with the goal of bringing together professional women and engaging in networking opportunities, professional training and business ideas. ASK AFETT is a column meant to address issues and concerns of professionals seeking advice to assist in progressing in their careers. Today's response was written by AFETT president, Yolande Agard-Simmons. Learn more about AFETT at www.afett.com, search for AFETT Events on Facebook, follow us @AFETTEXECS on Twitter or contact us at (868) 343-2160. Email us your career-related questions at email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors, meant strictly as advice and guidance, based upon their experience and expertise. In no way are they meant to be legally binding upon AFETT and or its members, servants nor agents.