Journalist and radio show host Regina Brett opened a recent edition of her show with the legendary voice of Whitney Houston singing, “I’m Every Woman.”
It touched a cord for one of her guests, Akron Children’s Vice President of External Affairs Bernett Williams.
“I think I represent women from all walks of life,” said Williams, who in 2009 was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. “I’ve had trials and tribulations. I’ve had what some consider success. I’m a mom, I’m a wife.”
Williams was tapped as a keynote speaker for Kent State University‘s third annual Spirit of Women in Business Conference, and explained to Brett that her advice, and her speech, was aimed at a wider audience.
“I think the message will speak to women from a place of laughter, a place of pain, and fun,” she said. “We have to believe in ourselves. I think it’s perfectly fine to say, ‘I’m fabulous, and I’m ok with it.'”
Brett was enthused. “Ooh, I like that!” she exclaimed. “I’m putting that on my mirror.”
Brett invited Williams on The Regina Brett Show, along with veteran communications experts Colette Carlson (speakyourtruth.com) and DeLores Pressley (borntobeup.com), to discuss the issues women face as they climb the corporate ladder. These issues include glass ceilings and “sticky floors,” when women get mired in low-wage jobs.
Williams brought her expertise as a woman in the corporate world to the lively forum.
“Twenty one of the current Fortune 500 chief executives are women – just 21 – and we’re half the population,” said Williams who prior to Akron Children’s served as president and CEO of the Akron Urban League for 14 years. “We have to find ways to infiltrate the boardrooms.”
Part of the challenge, she said, is that the people who make decisions about who will be in power are men. “And as people, we tend to gravitate toward people who are more like us.”
Her advice was, in a sense, to “fake it, ’til you make it.”
“There are times when I walk in [to a room] and I am totally confident. I bring it with me,” Williams said. “And there are times I have to fix myself before I walk in the door, and prepare my attitude or my demeanor for what I’m about to encounter.”
Williams, Brett and the rest of the panel also discussed the behind-the-scenes people and motivators that have been crucial to their success.
Williams pointed to her faith. “I spend a lot of time in my church,” she said. “My faith carries me day to day.”
Pressley agreed. She said a woman she coached once tweaked the “fake it ’til you make it” into “faith it ’til you make it.”
Williams’ belief system – in herself and in a higher power – has undoubtedly buoyed her rise through the executive levels. When the discussion turned to negotiating higher salaries for women, Williams encouraged her peers to look at the experience in a different way.
“As women, we tend to think about the figure we can live with,” she said. “We’re in survival mode rather than going in with the approach of what you can bring to the organization because they’ll be lucky to have you. First and foremost, I go in taking the approach that I know what I bring to the organization, and that my contribution is going to elevate this organization.”
Williams opened the sold-out conference on March 6 with a morning speech that Brett wrote about in a Plain Dealer article.
“Too many women worry about work when they’re at home, and worry about home when they’re at work,” Brett wrote. “Williams suggested making work your refuge from home and home your refuge from work.”
With wise words from women who really do manage to balance work and family, maybe we’ll get one step closer to following Brett’s advice.
Listen to The Regina Brett Show featuring Bernett Williams