Earning It

Bestselling author shares stories of women at the top

By Kevyn Burger
Thursday, October 27, 2016

What qualities does it take for a woman to beat the odds to take a top leadership role in the corporate world?

It’s a question that Joann Lublin posed to 52 trailblazing female executives, presidents and CEOs. Their fascinating personal stories detailed in her book Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World, released earlier this month by HarperBusiness and is now at the top of Amazon’s Business Leadership bestseller list.

“The two characteristics most common in women CEOs are resiliency and persistence,” says Lublin, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and management news editor for The Wall Street Journal.

“They are very capable of bouncing back from setbacks and overcoming them, which made them better leaders. Persistence is the other side of the coin — they set goals and achieve them. Empathy is another important trait.”

Three of the women profiled in the book have built their groundbreaking careers in Minnesota — Sally Smith, CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings; Vicki Holt, CEO of Proto Labs and Janet Dolan, former CEO of Tennant.  

In her book, Lublin detailed a pivotal incident in Dolan’s early career.

“She was the mother of a young child when she was an executive at Tennant and it would bother her that male leaders would call meetings late in the afternoon; that made it difficult for her child care arrangements. She said, if I’m ever the CEO, we are not going to do it that way, and that’s what she did.”

Lublin finds that such work-life balance adjustments are a plus in attracting and retaining today’s top talent — male and female.

“This is a striking change in the millennial work force. Men are very keen to be highly involved parents,” she notes. “Women are no longer crying in the wilderness for progress.”

Sally Smith will appear with Lublin on Nov. 1 at an event at The Woman’s Club in Minneapolis.

“When I visited Buffalo Wild Wings headquarters to meet with her, she was so down to earth,” Lublin recalls. “So often you see CEOs who are full of themselves. Sally has the ability to be humorous and humble but she is very much in charge of her enterprise; it’s a rare combination.”

At the Minneapolis event, Lublin will sign her book and participate in a workshop hosted by attorney Sandra Smalley-Fleming, a shareholder at Fredrikson & Byron. For the past six years, Smalley-Fleming has hosted a series of public forums focusing on barriers women face in the workplace.

Lublin is also likely to discuss the renewed public discussion about sexual harassment, an issue that has been back in the news this election season.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Lublin penned a provocative article titled “When Women Have Power, They Can Do Something About Sexual Harassment.”

In it, Lublin notes that unwanted sexual overtures in the workplace are less likely to occur in organizations with women in top management positions.

“As more women gain powerful corporate posts, they can serve as a countervailing force to powerful men —  including those who sexually harass female employees,” she writes, adding, “Junior women will feel comfortable about approaching and trusting senior female executives who enforce and even expand standards of acceptable decorum in the workplace.”

But that change continues to be sluggish. Lublin’s article cites a 2016 study by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org. In its review of 132 global companies, the study found that the C-suite is 19% female — up from 17% from the previous year, but still far from what’s considered parity.