This post was written by Amy Fenollosa, Director of Learning at The Latimer Group.
Melinda Gates, best known for her role supporting global health initiatives through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has another passion. She’s been investing in VC firms that are promoting women and minority led ventures.
In a recent interview with Fortune, she discussed her role of funding women and supporting women leaders. As a strong and confident woman, Melinda gave advice to women leaders who have a difficult time establishing authority.
…when you used to attend meetings with Bill, (you said) people would avoid looking you in the eye or including you in the conversation because they assumed Bill was the decision-maker. What is the best thing for a female founder or VC to do if she finds herself in a similar situation?
GATES: First of all, she needs to surround herself with people who have her back, who know she is the leader — man or woman. As soon as the person turns to the male at the table, he would reference back to the female founder and say, “Jane actually knows the answer to that. Jane, you and I were just talking about that. Tell them what you think.”
You do that once or twice and the people at the table will stop asking him the questions and realize that she’s the one that knows this business deeply, and she’s the one who has credibility.
I’m so inspired by Melinda and her commitment to women’s success. As a philanthropist, she’s helping women around the world; as an investor, she supporting innovative women in business; and as a role model, she’s advising women leaders on how to demonstrate authority and earn credibility.
We can all take a lesson from her advice. Whether you’re a new emerging leader or an established one who has trouble finding a voice at the table, seek your mentors. Find people who believe in you and be bold; ask them to support you and give you a voice. As you start to demonstrate authority and establish a reputation, consider how you too can perpetuate a culture of inclusivity. Ask people to speak up. Encourage everyone’s voices to be heard.
It will take time, and it’s not easy. But think of the communication successes we will have as we begin to include more perspectives from diverse leaders in our corporate environments. Communication and leadership are inextricably linked. Use both to help your career, develop others, and expand the success of your entire organization.