Alumnae gathered in Cambridge for the MIT Sloan Women’s Conference to network and learn from expert women in their fields. One such workshop, run by Nicki Roth (Executive Coaching Program Lead, MIT Leadership Center), guided attendees through “Finding Your Voice, Making Your Impact.”
Roth started out with the definition of impact: “The way we have impact, every single day, is through small actions. Impact is not the big stuff. You are most likely unconscious of the impact you have on all the people you touch.”
To find your voice, said Roth, you must be aware of the voices you possess, which can be broken down into three categories. The first, the “inner voice,” is what we all have in our heads. Audience members called their voices “cheerleaders” and “Monday morning quarterbacks,” true to the knowledge your inner voice can propel you forward or hold you back. But those who struggle with an unruly inner voice can fall back on their learnings at MIT Sloan.
“Show me the evidence,” said Roth. “Show me that you screwed up, that you’re not worthy of that promotion. Once you start to look for data, you’ll see it does not substantiate the criticism that’s going on in your brain.”
The second voice is the “relationship voice,” which Roth has found most women excel at given societal expectations and socialization—making connections using the relationship voice easiest for women. The last voice Roth called the “boss voice,” which is used when running meetings and managing teams.
In order to make the biggest impact through the smallest of actions, all three voices must be used, honed, and developed. Roth’s advice to those struggling with their inner and boss voices is to find strengths in the relationship voice and build from those.
“The relationship voice is the future of work,” said Roth. “This is a superpower. Amp that up. Get your teams to connect and relate to each other. Once we form a bond with each other, we want to do incredible things together. By the time you get down to the boss voice, where you might have insecurities and fears, you already have these relationships and connections, so even if you don’t know everyone in the room for a big meeting, there’s someone you can connect with and make more relational.”
But what about when natural strengths aren’t valued? “You do you,” said Roth. “It’s time that we women just be ourselves. It may work sometimes, and it may not be well received, but that’s already happening. They’re already judging you and putting you in a box you don’t fit in. Bring all our assets to the table and don’t start to chop pieces off.”
As an executive coach who specializes in strengthening different voices, Roth has found that people know what they want to work on. They’ve received feedback on it in the past and they’re already paying attention to it. Roth will ask her clients, “What’s holding you back from fixing this?” and encourages them to separate the initial problem from a past problem that is causing the current issue. After discovering this, the change in behavior is very rapid, but the insight is where people get hung up—and that’s where Roth’s help comes in.
Roth closed the session by sharing a story about a woman she coached named Susanne, who was high energy, very smart, and mentored over 50 women in her company to help develop the next generation of women. She was fearless, bold, and highly respected.
The condolences for Susanne’s death read by Roth revolved around her leadership, her relationships, and her positive impact on those she came across. There was little mention of her trade. Roth then left the audience with a challenge: “What’s holding you back from being bold, fearless, direct, with high integrity? What’s holding you back from being Susanne?”
Visit the recap website to see more selected highlights from the MIT Sloan Women’s Conference.