Ego & Leadership: Impact of Gender Stereotypes

Carol Vallone Mitchell, Ph.D.Season 1Episode 4


Our next guest, Carol Vallone Mitchell, Ph.D, Co-Founder of Talent Strategy Partners, covers the topics of gender bias and leadership with insights from her Amazon Bestseller, Breaking Through “Bitch”: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly, as well as an intro to her upcoming book, Collaboration Code: How Men Lead Culture Change and Nurture Tomorrow’s Leaders.


Carol Vallone Mitchell

Carol Vallone Mitchell, Ph.D.


A co-founder of Talent Strategy Partners, Carol’s expertise is the backbone of every engagement as she leverages her extensive grounding in behavioral competency modeling, leadership development and organizational culture. An accomplished researcher in women’s leadership and gender differences in leadership effectiveness, Carol has developed over 50 competency models used to assess and develop both men and women in all industries.

Prior to co-founding Talent Strategy Partners, Carol was a principal at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, a consultant at the Hay Group and an HR generalist for the DuPont Merck pharmaceutical company. She began her career as a research scientist, where she first became intrigued by what non-technical competencies led to career success,and pursued graduate study in psychology.
She received her doctorate in Organizational Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania where she developed a behavioral profile of success for women leaders. Continuing her research as a practitioner, she developed the Women’s Leadership Blueprint™.

Carol is the author of Breaking Through “Bitch”: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly about how women lead and succeed. She is a contributing editor for the Huffington Post, and has written numerous articles featured in publications including Fast Company, The Globe and Mail and Safari Books. Sought out for her insights on leadership, she has appeared on various radio programs and has been featured on podcasts such as Women Taking the Lead, Blog Talk Radio and Moving Up the Ladder., and has written numerous articles featured in publications including Fast Company, The Globe and Mail and Safari Books. Sought out for her insights on leadership, she has appeared on various radio programs and has been featured on podcasts such as Women Taking the Lead, Blog Talk Radio and Moving Up the Ladder.

Carol is a go-to keynote speaker for companies and professional associations on women’s leadership development, culture and leadership.
Warm weather and swimming enthusiasts, Carol and her family are “honorary residents” of Hawaii, spending much of their time-off over the last 20 years in Kona. Carol, an avid tennis fan, closely follows the Grand Slam tennis tournaments every year.


Troy Blaser (00:01):
Our next guest on Simply Feedback is an accomplished research scientist and writer with a passion for cultivating talent and a heart for helping women lead and succeed with insights she learned from more than 20 years of research. She developed the Women's Leadership Blueprint 360 assessment and wrote the Amazon bestseller, "Breaking Through Bitch: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly". She currently is a co-founder of Talent Strategy Partners and is also a contributing editor for the Huffington Post. Although she has kept busy with clients and speaking engagements on leadership development and culture, she enjoys her time off, relaxing with her family in Hawaii, playing guitar, watching tennis and even weight training. She's a force to be reckoned with for sure. I would like to welcome to our podcast, Carol Vallone Mitchell.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (00:54):
Thank you Troy. I am delighted to be here.
Troy Blaser (00:56):
So Carol, we've worked together for a long time on a number of different projects. But I always enjoy it in these discussions to get to know you a little bit better in a different way because we're not focused on a particular project. But maybe if you don't mind, would you share with us some of your background, kind of how you got started going from a research scientist to being a co-founder of Talent Strategy Partners and a go-to keynote speaker on women's leadership?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (01:20):
Yes. So I spent the first eight years of my career as a lab scientist and I went back to graduate school while I was still in the lab and then moved into human resources. I was working for the R & D department at DuPont as their HR representative. So it was an easy transition for me to go from being a scientist with that group and then being their HR representative. So eventually, you know, over time I got involved in projects, met consultants who opened my world to the various things that you can do as an organizational psychologist. And I left DuPont for a large consulting group called the Hay Group, which is now part of Korn Ferry. I learned a lot being in that consulting group and then moving to Mercer and then eventually in 2001 with two other principals of the of Mercer, we created Talent Strategy Partners because we wanted to focus on talent management.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (02:28):
It was a wonderful experience to be able to move into our own organization and do the kind of work that we wanted to do rather than the work that was being fed down the pipeline, if you will. But one of the things that surprised me about 10 years ago is I realized that there are a lot of women who have been successful leaders that started their career in a very different place. So they took a very circuitous route from where they started to where they ended up. So I was like, wow, I thought I was the only strange one, you know, to go from lab scientists to psychologist and consultant.
Troy Blaser (03:11):
I mentioned in the intro your bestselling book and let's talk about that for just a minute. The book is "Breaking Through Bitch: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly". I imagine that name causes a lot of people to do a double take. Tell us about the kinds of responses that you've received from the book.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (03:32):
You know, when you, when you read the title, you can see that the word "bitch" is in quotation marks, which helps emphasize the fact that it's referring to a label. A label that is put on people or women. And so when I am talking and people ask me, you know, what's the name of my book? I always feel like I have to do the quotation marks, you know, with my fingers in the air. Right? And you know, when people will say, Oh, what's your book about? You know, what's the title? And I'll say, okay, so here's the thing. And then I'll go into the story about how I wanted to understand how women could lead successfully, could be strong leaders without getting that label. And my research, which I started when I was doing my PhD program, I took that and then carried it into my professional consulting life because I was doing in-depth interviews with male and female leaders.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (04:36):
And so I just kept building on my database, if you will, of what are the behaviors that these successful women have in common and how is that different from men who are successful? So that's what the book is about. And I, I wanted it to not be an academic book. I wanted it to be accessible for people at all levels and in all walks of life really. Because you know, as a society, we have some issues with women who are in a role of power. Unless it's that role is consistent with what we expect women to be in. So if a woman is a nurse, you know that's okay, but as soon as she goes into a profession that doesn't match as a society, we just have some difficulty accepting that a level of power for a woman in that particular job. It's something that is just as true today as it was when I started this research 20 years ago.
Troy Blaser (05:35):
I agree. I think your book is helpful of course to women, but I think it's also helpful to men who are working to understand better as they see women in a leadership position and, and you know, okay, how do I as a man best interact with her and follow her leadership? So I think the book is great and I think the whole idea, the concept is important for all of us to be aware of.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (05:59):
Well, I mean I have to say that I was delighted that there were a lot of men who praise the book and said that it was very helpful. A lot of those people, um, are executive coaches and working with women and they found the book very helpful, not just their understanding, but to also share with the women that they were coaching. So that's, that's been very satisfying. And then of course when I've talked about this book, there are men who have said, when are you going to write the book for us? So yeah, that's really what got me started to think about, okay, men have issues around leading collaboratively. So how do I unpack that?
Troy Blaser (06:42):
Sure. I know that as part of the book and as part of your research, you created the Women's Leadership Blueprint and LearningBridge helped you put that online, helped you gather some of the feedback that you used in that. But can you tell us some more about the Women's Leadership Blueprint, what it is, why you created it, how you incorporated that into your work?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (07:01):
Yes. What I did for the research for "Breaking Through Bitch", I identified nine characteristics that women who I had interviewed who were successful leaders, what, what were those characteristics that they had in common. So it helps women who are developing and also being coached. It helps them understand what are the behaviors that will help them be successful? You know, what do they need to work on, if you will? And this gets back to simply feedback. I think that feedback is great when you can specifically point out behaviors that are effective or not effective. So that's how the Women's Leadership Blueprint came to be.
Troy Blaser (07:46):
That is, I totally agree. I think it's super important that people and in particular in this case, women, are able to say, how am I doing? Let's break it down into these nine components and are there places where I can focus on to improve behavior, to strengthen behavior and really improve overall. So is there a specific time or an experience when you've seen feedback really be a point of inflection in somebody's life or has made a difference to them?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (08:15):
Yes, I have. And it goes back to some work with a large community hospital and we were working with the executive team on leadership development. And as a part of that, we were giving feedback on a 360 that we had done based on the leadership competencies for their organization. And I got to work with the chief nursing officer, I'll call her Maggie. And so I got to coach her not just on the leadership competencies that were a part of the 360, but I got to coach her on some of the behaviors where people perceived her as being mean or cold or aloof. And so interestingly, I'm not sure that the coaching was as much of an inflection point as she had a heart attack. Now this is a woman in her fifties at the time and she had a heart attack and she was not at work.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (09:21):
But anyway, she's in the ambulance and she realizes they are taking her to her hospital and she's thinking, cause she knew how people felt about her. She was like having a moment saying, Oh, you know I have to put myself in the hands of these people that hate me. Right. Well it turns out no, they didn't hate her at all and gave her wonderful care. And because of that situation, it really helped her open up and, and actually see how other people did care about her. And she also changed her behavior, realizing that, you know, she was just busy and trying to be professional and she realized that she had to do more around building relationships and managing their perceptions of her, which she did.
Troy Blaser (10:19):
It's such a big shift in perspective, right? To go from being the manager, being the leader to now she's forced into receiving care and that perspective change really can affect you once you go back to being the leader again in a very dramatic way in this case.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (10:37):
And her group, their reactions to her and their perceptions of her change dramatically. So it was, yeah, it was a good story actually.
Troy Blaser (10:46):
That's fantastic. I want to ask you, you know, we talk a lot about feedback. Is there a particular piece of feedback that you have received in your lifetime that has been particularly meaningful to you?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (10:58):
Yeah, and it actually goes back a long time. It was before I had moved into human resources. I was working in a biotechnology group and doing very well. I mean we got a patent for the work that we were doing. It was great. So anyway, it was about the time that I did want to go back to graduate school. And quite frankly, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go into molecular biology or whether I wanted to follow another passion of mine, which was psychology. And so as a part of that journey to exploring that and then also applying to various universities, I really got cold feet because I didn't do that well as an undergraduate grade-wise, like a B minus average student. Right. And I thought they'll never let me in. And so I had a boss at the time who said, don't do that to yourself, you know, look at all that you've done and you're successful and they're going to take that into account.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (12:01):
And that's not such a bad grade average anyway. And so anyway, yeah. And I was like, okay, I'll do this. And then I looked at a program and it said, you had to be a full time student, which of course I couldn't afford at the time. And same boss said, you know, don't assume, don't follow the rules. You should not just assume that you should go and find out more and talk to them about it. Rules are not always, you know, a hard and fast. Yeah. So I did that and that's, you know, I got accepted into the University of Pennsylvania. I was still working full time at DuPont and I was taking classes as well, so I mean like a full time load. So the reason it was important Troy was because for me is because in my study of issues that women have as far as advancement and development, women tend to look at the rules and follow their roles.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (13:04):
Men will look at them a little bit differently. So I'm sure you've heard the saying that a job is open and a guy has 20% of the skill that's needed and figures out, you know, I can do this and learn the rest. A woman has 80% of the skill base and says, Oh, I'm not, you know, I'm not ready to do that job. And just, just, you know, shut down that opportunity before they even explored it. So that's why that feedback was important. And I still have to remind myself sometimes, you know, there are other ways as women that we will shut ourselves down saying I'm not good enough in some way, shape or form. And it's usually a very high bar that women will set for themselves. So it's really important I think to not have such a high bar that, that they shut themselves out from opportunities that would be really, that they would be successful and they would get a lot out of.
Troy Blaser (14:03):
That makes a lot of sense. And so just that nudge was what you needed to say, Oh, I'm going to push a little bit and go beyond what these rules say. And, for better or worse, you ended up with a full time job and a full time school load for a little while, but it's what you needed
Carol Vallone Mitchell (14:20):
And it is, and it's valuable too because I keep thinking about it and being asked to do this podcast, I was like, well, I'm not an expert in feedback and giving feedback. I'm not a high flying executive coach. You know, I work with organizations. Yes I coach leaders, but it's not my specialty. So having feedback like that can have a long-term effect.
Troy Blaser (14:46):
Okay. So I really like what you said. The feedback you gave to sort of push help you push the limits, a little bit of the rules. Is there some specific advice that you could give our listeners? Maybe potentially, especially women who are starting out their careers. Something that you often give or share as advice and you don't need to give away the secret sauce necessarily, but what kind of feedback would you give?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (15:17):
So probably number one, particularly if you're working in an organization that is focused on building relationships with people, particularly more senior people. The people that have been there a long time. People who are at a senior level get to know them, just get to personally know them and so that they get to personally know you as well. Getting back to the feedback part. Unless you have a relationship with people and the senior people, you're not going to get feedback from them. You've got to have a comfortable relationship in order for there to be feedback back and forth. So I do think that that's critical.
Troy Blaser (16:03):
Yeah. I go back to even that, that piece of advice you got as you were looking to apply to school and having that relationship allowed, that mentor to sort of push you. But of course if that relationship wasn't there, then you never have an opportunity to get the feedback. That's right. That makes a lot of sense. You know, as you, you mentioned earlier, working with this woman at the hospital who was maybe particularly cold. What do you do to help someone like that accept feedback? Sometimes it's hard for us to hear feedback.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (16:35):
Yes. I remember sitting with Maggie in her office and talking to her about it. She started to cry, which in some ways it surprised me because she's such, she's such a tough character, but I just, I pointed out to her that I had been working with so many executive women that I said, you know, you're not alone. I mean, helping them understand that it's not just them, that they're in good company. So reminding them of that and also able to talk about the fact that this is about perceptions. So, and it's managing people's perceptions and also cluing them in to the gender bias that we have. Women don't smile. We, we think that they're aloof or they're mean or they're cold. So cluing them in to those gender expectations that we have that they just need to think about the fact that people are looking for that smile. No, it's not fair. You know, I mean, you know, a lot of men get away with not smiling, but women have to deal with gender bias all the time. And being able to be aware of that and also to understand this feedback you're getting is helping you manage people's perceptions of you. It's not a ding to your character.
Troy Blaser (18:07):
Right? It's not necessarily what is the actual fact, but it is how people perceive you that that ultimately matters in the relationship. Carol Vallone Mitchell (18:15): So well said Troy. Exactly.
Troy Blaser (18:18):
I'd like to, you know, the first tip that you mentioned was this idea of normalizing the feedback that you're not the only one that's like this and lots of people are like this and there are definitely changes that can be made and so you don't have to feel like you're singled out.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (18:34):
That's right.
Troy Blaser (18:35):
Okay. We've, we've talked about the book that's out that's been out for a number of years now, but tell us a little bit about the new project that you're working on. It's a new book. I understand. I even got to read a draft of the introduction and it was entertaining and exciting, but tell us a little bit about the book. What's it about? Where is it at?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (18:55):
Yes. So I'm happy to say that it will be in my publisher's hands next week and the book is looking at collaborative male leadership. So it's a direct step from "Breaking Through Bitch". And that "Breaking Through Bitch" gave men and women a view of collaborative leadership because in order for women to be successful leaders, they have to lead collaboratively. And the Women's Leadership Blueprint talks about those characteristics that help women lead collaboratively. So men wanted to know, well, how do we lead collaboratively because we don't want to just act like women. So the more I thought about it, there are gender expectations that we have of men and they're often not healthy. So the idea of being a collaborative leader rather than a directive, independent thinking kind of leader, there's a disconnect. So men are like, "Hmm, how do I do this?"
Carol Vallone Mitchell (20:02):
I did the same thing that I did for "Breaking Through Bitch". I interviewed about 20 men who lead collaboratively. They were recommended to me by executive women who work with them. So that was my screen, if you will, or I worked with them. So I found a set of characteristics that they had in common. And the big secret sauce, if you will, at the center of all of it, is that these guys temper their egos. They get out of their own way. They share the spotlight with others. And because of that, they're more approachable because they've stepped past their ego. They're able to focus outside toward others rather than just inside. They don't feel like they have to prove themselves. So all of these things are wrapped up in that one characteristic of temporary ego. So that's just one of the seven that I identified for this book. It's really exciting. At one point the book was going to be called "Breaking Through Ego".
Carol Vallone Mitchell (21:12):
I got feedback, talk about feedback. I got feedback from a literary agent who was trying to sell my book to publishers that they thought that it sounded like a diss of men. So I mean, there was a little bit of skittishness about a woman writing this book and unlike, well, I'm writing as a researcher and don't telling me that as I can't be a researcher, as a woman for this topic. So I had a couple of hurdles to go over around that, but, but I ultimately got to a much better title, which is "Collaboration Code: How Men Lead, Culture Change and Nurture Tomorrow's Leaders".
Troy Blaser (21:53):
That's it. That sounds fascinating. It was very interesting for me just to even read the introduction draft that I got to read it. It caused me to take a step back and think about my own leadership style and growing up and early in my career perhaps I learned leadership a certain way. And is it, it's important that I modify that leadership style as times change and as things become certainly more collaborative today than they were 20, 30 years ago in a top down style of leadership that was happening.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (22:28):
Yeah, and the second book that I'm writing is helping me just as much as the first one did around my own style and just paying attention to what I'm learning from these collaborative men. So I'm excited that this book is going to be relevant to both men and women.
Troy Blaser (22:48):
So tell us the name of the book one more time. So that we can be watching for it on Amazon to preorder as soon as it appears.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (22:55):
Well, thank you. It's called "Collaboration Code: How Men Lead Culture Change and Nurture Tomorrow's Leaders".
Troy Blaser (23:04):
And of course the author, Dr. Carol Vallone Mitchell. But if our listeners want to know more, if they want to continue the conversation with you, was that something you would be open to?
Carol Vallone Mitchell (23:14):
I would be delighted.
Troy Blaser (23:15):
Okay. I assume probably the easiest way is maybe at your website. That is the easiest way for them to get ahold of you. Carol, I've really appreciated the conversation that we've had today. The thoughts and ideas are something that I'll continue to be interested in and think about in my own career, in my own life. And I'm sure it will affect many others as well. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been a pleasure.
Carol Vallone Mitchell (23:47):
Thank you, Troy. It's just been wonderful to talk to you.