Christina Bruce is a management coach and leadership development consultant. She held her first workshop, Know Your Value and Negotiate for Better Outcomes, on Saturday, May 6 at 9am at Homewise with Christina Bruce, management coach and leadership development consultant.
We spoke with Christina about what she’s learned about positioning yourself in the workplace—and in life.
What are the most common challenges in workplaces for women?
One obvious answer is the famous glass ceiling. Historical limitations for women in business, industry, academia are perhaps less than a generation ago, but we all know it still exists. I am encouraged by the younger generation of women in the workplace, including my two daughters, who heard in their homes and were told by their teachers and professors that they were just as talented and able as their male siblings and colleagues and needed to be strong enough to demand change.
What changes have you seen in terms of pay equity?
A recent NYT article stated that many people say that women earn less than men because they gravitate toward lower paying professions like social work and teaching. This simply isn’t true. Rearranging women into higher-paying occupations would erase just 15 percent of the pay gap for all workers and between 30 and 35 percent for college graduates. An example is medical professionals. Among doctors and surgeons, women earn 71 percent of men’s wages — after controlling for age, race, hours and education. Women who are financial specialists make 66 percent of what men in the same occupation earn, and women who are lawyers and judges make 82 percent.
Other occupations have managed to narrow the pay gap. As pharmacists, women make 91 percent of what men make and as computer programmers they make 90 percent. So the gap still exists, and we must continue to work towards closing it.
What are the most important skills or qualities that contributed to your success and how did you develop them?
I feel my strongest skill is the ability to communicate. For many professional and managerial tracks, communication is the essential element of success. From an entry level position to a leadership role, the ability to articulate your ideas and rationale, and the ability to motivate and engage all have their basis in the ability to communicate.
I had the advantage of a primary education that laid a strong foundation in both writing and logical thinking. My high school and early college education was in journalism, which taught me the value of being able to remain neutral and to be persuasive. I was attracted to several different areas of public service, which taught me how to work within a system and be flexible and creative to achieve my interests. And my family upbringing gave me a strong work ethic. I will always go the extra mile.
Name three inspiring women, or three women that are or were role models for you.
Corny – but it would be my mother and both grandmothers. The three were very different women, but they all faced almost insurmountable personal challenges with strength and grace. They were and are (in my mom’s case) intelligent and hardworking, not afraid of making decisions and moving ahead, and they were charming and friendly women. My mom and her mother ran businesses, and held their own economically. As a young girl, and until I understood the limitations at the larger world placed on women in business, I had no idea that those limitations existed. And as a working mom, it never occurred to me for a moment that I couldn’t do both successfully. I am hopeful that I’ve passed on the same to my daughters.
What if someone doesn’t have these examples in their home? How can we identify and learn from mentors out in the world?
You want to find people that are successful in the ways that you want to be successful. I think asking people honest and direct questions about what they think contributes to their success and how they navigate challenges is a great place to start.
What is your best advice for recovering from a setback or failure?
For me, it is always to own it, not to let the inevitable embarrassment last too long, and to view the setback as a lesson. Don’t beat yourself up. You should study what happened – like sports coaches do after a game – and determine how you could have managed better. Then move on. Everyone makes mistakes. And maybe sometimes it wasn’t anything you could have controlled, but it created a setback. In those cases, you have to chalk it up to the inevitability of challenges and, again, move on. I’m not saying you should be a doormat or allow yourself to be pushed around, but you learn to pick your battles. Many times I knew that my best decision was to let something go, and to find a way to advance my agenda on a different day. You will not win every argument. But if you’re strategic, you’ll win enough to make a difference.
What are you reading right now?
I’m rereading a number of business books and HBR articles to prepare for the WISC conference. But when my husband and I retired, I gave myself the gift of getting back to novels. One secret pleasure is English detective novels. For years I’ve also read anything by NYT columnist Anna Quindlen and anything by Isabel Allende. Since moving to NM I’ve become enamored of some of the popular novelists who paint wonderful stories about the American Southwest. And in the past year or so I loved reading A Long Way Home, on which the move Lion was based, about an adopted Indian man who found his birth family, a book titled The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, about runaway slaves during and after the Civil War, and a great novel titled Euphoria by Lily King loosely based on the life and loves of Margaret Mead.
What is or was your most rewarding accomplishment?
Personally, raising two amazing young women who have established themselves personally and professionally in the world, both are feminists, global citizens aware of and concerned about equality and human rights, and who are also lots of fun to be around. Professionally, it would be the 16 years I spent at the National Cancer Institute, managing “people programs” in a scientific setting. Of all of our programs, I am most proud of a minority recruitment program that brought talented young scientists into a training environment that traditionally was difficult if not impossible for them to access. It’s the kind of scientific experience that is a springboard to acceptance into mainstream research careers.
Who’s work are you excited about? (It can be an artist, business, activist, etc. the idea is to point to other living women who’s work is inspiring)
As a transposed Washingtonian and Latina, I was thrilled by the selection of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I think she is going to be a voice of reason on the Court for decades. Also, Justice Ginsberg, who I know is a friend of WISC, and Senator Wendy Davis of Texas, who filibustered for 11 hours to help defeat a bill that would have restricted women’s right to choice in her State. I’m sort of a political geek.
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Women’s International Study Center honors women’s accomplishments, supports study and research through fellowships, and facilitates inter-generational, multi-cultural and cross-disciplinary dialogue via symposia and other events.
We are dedicated to inspiring and enabling women around the world to achieve their full potential.