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Women Should Leverage Their Diversity: Speakers

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — Women in the workplace should leverage their diversity rather than try to fit in by acting more like men, according to speakers at this week's Executive Leaders Forum 2012 here, sponsored  by the Network of Executive Women.

"Women bring different experiences to the dialogue,” Gisel Ruiz, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., Bentonville, Ark., said. “And because there are fewer of us at the executive table, that makes us different and unique in a good way. So whatever makes you feel comfortable, do it. Don’t try to be more like a man or less feminine or less passionate. Demonstrate the connection between passion and action at work. That’s a powerful combination, and you shouldn’t try to subdue it.

“Women are different than men, with special characteristics and traits we can leverage. Don’t weaken who you are by trying to be more masculine at work. And don’t concern yourself with questions like, should I be more feminine or less feminine at work, or should I wear more cologne or less. Be a woman. It’s a gift and an advantage.”

Larree Renda, executive vice president for Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., offered similar advice. “Women lead with their brains and their hearts,” she said. “Don’t apologize for your differences. Whatever you do, don’t confuse what comes naturally and being a nurturer as not being assertive, aggressive or taking initiative.

"I’ve never known anyone who got promoted because they did what was in their job description. If you want something, you have to go after it and make it happen. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t pushing boundaries enough. Even if you are on the right track, if you just sit there, you will get run over.”

Lynn Marmer, group vice president for corporate affairs for Kroger Co., Cincinnati, said women bring a different perspective to a job. “The strongest women leaders often have better analytical skills and more ability to communicate,” she pointed out.

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According to Marmer, women in the workplace need to look out for themselves. “Women should not have to ask for opportunity — you’ve got to seek it out.

“If you aren’t getting feedback about your job, you’ve got to ask for it so you can be held accountable — to make sure others are interested in your career.

“And if the company is looking for someone to volunteer for something, raise your hand, even if you’re not totally ready to do that job. These kinds of opportunities can be real growth opportunities for you and your career.”

Donna Giordano, president of Kroger’s Ralphs division in Southern California, said she has figured out how to balance work and family life. “I’ve learned to give 100% of my time at work to focus on work and 100% of my time with my family to focus on my family,” she noted.

She said she also realized early in her career that she was in control of her own destiny “and that I had to make it happen. So I asked people in the store I worked at how they did their job and why, and that equipped me with a strong knowledge base and taught me it was OK to ask others for help.

“Never let an obstacle be an obstacle. When I had moved to the corporate office of King Soopers years ago, I said I wanted to go back to the stores. I was told I wouldn’t be able to handle the meat department, but I persevered. The first department they sent me to work in was the meat department, and I asked the meat guys to teach me — I learned to be dangerous.”

It’s important for women to create a vision as they assume leadership roles, Giordano said. “When I got the job at Ralphs, I gave myself 100 days to figure out the marketplace, the competition, the demographics and our customers, and then I met with leadership to make them part of the process. At that point they all understood they could have an impact on driving the company’s vision.”

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