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Susan Bulkeley Butler: "Have a can-do attitude"

Welcome to the Financial Times live web chat with Susan Bulkeley Butler who features in our Ten Questions Q&A.

Susan Bulkeley Butler, chief executive of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders and author of Become the CEO of You, Inc. will answer your questions on Thursday, 19 July 2012, between 15.00-16.00 BST.

Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day on this page.


Hi Susan, I would like to know your thoughts on quotas? I hear so many people opposed to them even though they have been trialled and proven successful in other countries. No, women don’t want to be given a job just because they are a woman and no, we don’t want to see the wrong person in the wrong role because of gender. In an ideal world, we would like to be competing on an even playing field, but unfortunately we are doing neither of these things and progress is tediously slow.

Debbie Golec, Pink Coaching

Susan: Thank you, Debbie. The discussion around quotas is an interesting one. I know that there are countries who have them and it is working, hopefully with very qualified women in the positions. In the US, many remember the days of affirmative action and many thought of that like a quota.

My work today has set a goal of at least 30 per cent women in senior level positions by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the right to vote in the US. Goals are better than quotas in my mind.

I believe that the CEO needs to understand the rationale of why “diversity at the top” and diversity of thought is essential to their company. Then the CEO develops a strategy to achieve a goal, with measurements and accountability for achieving the goal. And supporting the strategy is an even playing field for everyone and everyone in the positions are qualified to be there. The goal being to have 30 per cent representation everywhere.

The appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo is currently being widely discussed - what tips would you give her in her new role, especially considering she is now pregnant?

Susan: My congratulations go to the 19th woman CEO of Fortune 500 companies. And, I believe, as any new CEO, she has her hands full, even more so with her pregnancy.

My advice is to use the honeymoon period to gain as much knowledge as she can, including hopefully retaining the person who was the interim CEO and very knowledgable of Yahoo. Her team is going to be essential to her, at Yahoo and at home, preparing for the care of the baby.

Setting the right atmosphere in the company is also important. She is coming in with minimal experience, some would say no experience and she is the fifth CEO in five years. Her people have to believe in her and how she is going to move the company forward. My suggestion is setting time to “listen and learn” from everyone. And, to communicate, communicate, communicate.

She is also going to have to take care of herself given her pregnancy. This is something that we often forget about, but in this case this is essential, also.

I see that you think mentors and mentoring is very important. I am a female junior executive and in my office two senior executives have offered to mentor me - one male and one female. Both are equally senior. Would it be better for me to be mentored by someone of my own sex?

Thanks, Susan

Susan: Great question. Mentors are absolutely essential. And, based on my experience, I had more than one. To me, mentors are there to give you advice and counsel, someone who will just listen to you when something happens. Listening is an important attribute.

In addition, sponsors are essential and these may be the roles of your senior executives. They should help you get the right skills for future roles. And when there are roles out there, they should be thinking of you. One thing to remember is that you have to do the job that you want before you get it.

Being the CEO of You, I hope you have your next position and the skills, capabilities, and experiences needed identified. These sponsors should know this, too and help you find the roles to prepare you for your next position.

What inspired you to set up your Institute for the Development of Women Leaders?

Susan: My aspiration is to “help women and girls to be all they can be.” This has evolved over the years, since I have been the first in so many places. I set my sites to change the landscape for women. This is how my insitute came about.

I have written two books for my readers to learn from and to help them to “make things happen for themselves” based on my experiences.

The institute is about ‘women helping women’. There is nothing more exciting then to “pull others up behind me” and to celebrate in their successes. That is what my insitute is all about.

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