In this episode of Room at the Table, Betsy Cerulo welcomes her guests Dr. Famane Brown and Eileen Scully to talk about women in leadership and what it takes to empower organizations and elevate up-and-coming female leaders. Their discussion touches on the challenges faced by women in leadership, including societal labels, LGBTQ discrimination, and the demand for workplaces to adapt to the needs of diverse employees.
About Dr. Famane Brown
Dr. Famane Brown has been involved in Government procurement for over 26 years, as a Contracting Specialist, Senior Contracting Officer, a Senior Procurement Analyst, and an Acquisition Career Manager for various federal and state government agencies in several areas of the United States. She is currently serving as a Director at the Division of Acquisition Certification & Training, in the CMS Office of Human Capitol located in Baltimore, Md. As the Director for Division of Acquisition Certification and Training, she provides expert talent development (leadership and acquisition training) advice to the senior leadership and is responsible for the successful execution of an enterprise training platform. Prior to her current position she was a Senior Policy Analyst and Contracting Officer at the Office of Acquisition and Grants Management, CMS, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Office of the Secretary, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Acquisition Management Contracts & Grants, located in Washington, D.C. Before returning to civilian agencies, Dr. Brown served as a Senior Policy Analyst at the Washington Headquarters for the United States Army Corps of Engineers; serving 10 years with the Corps. Dr. Brown also held positions as Contracting Officer for Environmental, Civil, and Construction requirements. At the Baltimore district Dr. Brown lead teams to procure Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) construction contracts that ranged from $220K to $1.5 Billion.
Famane is a double Certified Acquisition Professional and holds Level III Certifications for Contracting and Contracting Officer Representative. She is a Certified Federal Contract Manager by National Contract Management Association (NCMA) and has been a member of the NCMA since 2001, serving in several positions and states. Dr. Brown has received several coins awarded by U.S. Army Generals as well as awards from HHS for commitment, dedication, and a job well done.
Dr. Brown received her PhD in Public Administration, Public Policy from Walden University.
About Eileen Scully
Eileen Scully is an international keynote speaker, author of “In the Company of Men: How Women can Succeed in a World Built Without Them” and founder and CEO of The Rising Tides, a consulting firm that makes workplaces better for women through assessment and advisory services.
In September of 2019, she published her first book “In the Company of Men: How Women can Succeed in a World Built Without Them.”
In June of 2016, within the first year of founding The Rising Tides, Eileen was invited by the Obama White House to participate in the United State of Women, one of five thousand global
advocates for women and girls.
Eileen studied briefly at Hofstra University and was part of the first cohort to complete the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell University.
Episode Transcript – Women in Leadership
Welcome to Room at the Table, an opportunity for you to join me, Betsy Cerulo, and my guests for conversations about creating equitable and inclusive workplaces where leaders rise above mediocrity and our teams thrive. Pull up a chair, there’s always Room at the Table.
Welcome to another meaningful conversation on Room at the Table. I am Betsy Cerulo, your host, and welcome to my guests today, Dr. Famane Brown who is the Director of the Office of Human Capital for a federal government agency. Her leadership philosophy is centered around creating inclusive, high-impact teams with a focus not just on handling the day-to-day, but coaching employees to be the best leaders possible. She loves helping people to access their full potential and believes that all levels of training is a highly business critical function. Our other guest, Eileen Scully, is the author of In the Company of Men: How Women Can Succeed in a World Built Without Them. Eileen writes, speaks, and teaches about the power of women, and how by our coming together, we create systemic and global change. So, today, we are talking about women in leadership, and what it takes for us to do what we do to empower our organizations and elevate up-and-coming female leaders, including ourselves. So pull up a chair, enjoy your favorite beverage, and let’s get started. Welcome to you both. I so appreciate having you here to talk about a conversation that I know is near and dear to all of us.
Thanks for having me.
Absolutely. So I’m going to jump right in. I’d like to ask a question since we’ve all been in our careers for a while. We’ve had many people that have taught us along the way. So, Famane, I’m going to start with you. Who were some of your mentors as you developed your leadership style?
So, Betsy, great question. Ironically, we were just speaking about people in fem making. So I was so attracted to Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge as a young woman. I thought they made some amazing accomplishments, especially dealing with Hollywood, right? I look to them to try to figure out how did they make that goal happen? And without a lot of famous black females before them, right? I mean, there were some, but I feel that they definitely had led the paveway to more actors and actresses and Hollywood of color. Secondly, though, one of my most favorite individuals was Susan B. Anthony. She made me understand, and I didn’t know this, I mean, starting to work at age 14, but then I did a report on her in my first year of college, and I realized women are not getting paid the same as men. So what was that all about? I was very, very curious about that and realized, ironically, that still goes on today in some areas, believe it or not. And we’re talking about many, many decades later, this issue is still very prevalent in the workplace. And then most recently, I focused on Stacey Abrams, who is a black female politician in Georgia and did a lot of amazing things to get the vote to happen for the Democrat Party. She was a great person with the movement on voter suppression. So I just thought, “Wow, this woman is amazing. What has she done in her life to get her to this point? I need to really study her because I’m sure I can learn some amazing things from her.” And then lastly, my mom who was an elementary school teacher in the inner city of Baltimore in the late 60s and early 70s. She was the first, and I didn’t realize this until I got in college, to graduate from college in her family of 13 siblings. My mom is 92 years of age, currently, and I still ask her point of view on certain leadership issues. And she always gives me a very, very good response. So I just wanted to mention those individuals that pop right in my mind right away. And I’ll turn it over to you, Eileen.
Oh, What a great group. What a great group of women. Eileen?
Don’t you imagine them all sitting around a table with you? That’d be a discussion. Yeah, so, my response is maybe a little bit more personal in that we’ve all had really great people managing us in the workplace, and some people who probably shouldn’t have been in management positions in the workplace. And when you start to elevate into leadership, I think if you do it responsibly, you look at what are those characteristics that the good ones all shared? And what are the characteristics that the not so good ones also shared so you’re not replicating those? I would say it comes for me if the question is, how did I adapt that into my leadership style, when we think about the way that organizations share knowledge, there’s a perceived power in knowledge hoarding. The best managers are truly the people who freely share. And I’m not talking about things that violate NDAs or confidentiality. But when everyone on the team knows the same information about what’s happening, where we’re going and why, you have a more cohesive approach and you have a stronger leader. I think strong leaders also take the attention away from themselves and use their platform to highlight different people on the team at different times for different reasons. I talk a lot in my practice about professional generosity, and it’s the idea that you’re providing opportunities for people around you that wouldn’t normally come across themselves. So it’s, what can I do to elevate this person’s knowledge and this person’s contribution without looking for a buy back on your own career? You just do that because it’s the right thing to do and it’s professionally generous. And I think, to go back to the original question, the best managers are people who do that, who take advantage of their stature in the organization and their platform to say, “Well, hey, you might not be aware of this, but Famane is really good at running that report that you rely on every month for our forecasting,” or whatever it is. So taking that approach can be a true game changer. And I’ve tried to do that as much as I can in my practice now, but in different organizations where I’ve had different levels of responsibility.
It’s interesting when you share that because, for myself as a CEO, I have an amazing staff. Right now, it’s all women. It wasn’t planned, I promise, it wasn’t planned that way. It just happened that way. Because of where I’m at in my career, I am passing more information to the team because it’s smart business. In small businesses, the owner tends to contain a lot of information. But something that may seem pretty rudimentary to me could be really challenging to someone on my team. So I have been moving a lot of things off my plate. Now, what we all have found as women, what I notice on my team, we’ll typically say, “I’ll just take care of that myself.” No, no. That’s what women tend to do. That’s just the way we’re groomed. So what we need to do is stop. It may take 10 minutes longer, but share the knowledge because what happens is that we get exhausted. And so, I’m really trying to teach my team and myself to really maximize our energy because we’re older and it’s smart business, and it’s smart well-being. I appreciate what you’re both sharing. I can tell you that some of my best mentors were people that were not good leaders, on the flip side. I have some I would look at and say, “Well, I’m not doing it that way, especially in the climate that we have now out in the world.” We are certainly, I’m going to say, victimized, on a regular basis by people that are spewing things and you’re thinking, “Who taught them leadership?” So I kind of go back to, “Is that really what you want to teach your kids? Is that how you want to teach your kids to behave?” I find that when I’m in a leadership role, I’m also mirroring to my kids. My daughter happens to be working for me. She’s amazing. And my granddaughters. I have to behave how I want them to be. So I think it’s really important. And I think women do that better than men. I really do. So I guess I’m biased. Shame on me. Let me ask you. So we have three categories of feminine leadership here. We have an LGBT leader, woman of color, and a Caucasian woman. Tell me what kind of challenges have you all encountered and still encounter on your journey in leadership? So, Famane, I’m going to go back to you first.
Yeah, another good question, Betsy. I feel that, number one, society has kind of labeled women as humans who are humble by nature. And the reason I say that is I feel, sometimes, and I have been definitely an individual thinking this way at one time, to downplay my intentions. And the reason I kind of downplay my intention is because I feel that I will not be included in the conversation because I might speak my mind, and it would not be taken as something that adds value. With that said, one of my challenges was to start speaking on what’s on my mind, but doing it professionally and making sure that I’m speaking about things I know about and have done backbinding about to include individuals that I feel that would add value to my approach. So that’s one of the challenges. And the other challenge is just knowing when to speak and how to speak, right? As a leader, of course, sometimes, you are faced with things that are off the cuff speaking so you need to really be able to answer things without downplaying your role, number one, and number two, acting like you understand what you’re saying, and how you’d like to share the knowledge as we were just speaking about previously. I also feel that LGBTQ women have an additional lens in society impacting their leadership style because they are constantly dealing with numerous issues, not just dealing with the qualifications of a leader, but dealing with the questions about their sexuality, which I feel is so unfair because we’re here to complete a mission and not have an anatomy course or how you’re feeling should be shared amongst each other. So those are some of the challenges. And I want to say, again, I know times are changing, we are in 2023. But of course, it is still an issue within the business world, especially for women.
Famane, I’m going to address what you brought up about LGBTQ women, and it certainly has evolved. There was a time doing business where I was followed out to my car. In the earlier years, I was very careful where I shared about who I was, or I didn’t or my wife’s name is Susan, well Susan was Steve or Sam. And then after where I was, like, I just can’t do this anymore. But what I have found now, even though I still have that hesitation sometimes in business, when to put it on marketing materials, I mean, it’s everywhere with my company, but there’s still that pang inside of me. I wonder if there’s going to be someone that’s not going to do business with me. But this week, we had a conversation with my team. And we got to the point where we said, if there is a potential customer out there that does not want to work with us because we’re LGBTQ, then that’s not the kind of customer that we want to work with because we have a very diverse workforce. And all of our people need to feel safe, which they do. But I still am very careful when I look to do business, like, what’s that organization’s culture? But at least today, what I have found, especially on the federal side, though, the LGBT status isn’t yet recognized as a certification in the federal government. When I have spoken about my company and the ownership, I have actually found that sometimes someone will come up to me quietly if I’m in a networking event and say, “My child is gay. Can I just talk to you about that?” or, “Can I have him or her reach out to you as a mentor?” So, I’m happy to say that the tables have turned a little bit, but the fear has not fully gone away when I say it. So, Eileen, what do you experience?
So, I think, for all of us women, the challenge is we have one month a year where people want to hear from us and hear our points of view and invest in programming around changing workplaces, and then it all goes away on April 1. So it’s how do we take these things that we’re all talking about and have them be part of our work experience every single day? How do we build in the fact that people are not homogenous anymore in the workplace? And how do we retrofit a workplace that was built for the single male earner who had someone at home that took care of everything at home when we have a school day that ends at two o’clock, when we have single parents working with small children at home? How do we adapt workplaces to really meet the needs of every single person in a way that feels equitable, and not asterisks the way a lot of companies tend to do? Right? They tend to look at what we look for, paid leave, child care assistance, those things as special compensation, where it’s just how we need to operate to get to work everything. I mean, I think the pandemic definitely brought that to the forefront for a lot of people. When I started my career, which was quite a few years ago, I was a single mother, and back to bad managers, bad mentors, there was a team member of mine who called the meeting at nine o’clock, 30 miles away from my home. I lived where I lived and I commuted and sometimes the traffic was not within my sphere of influence. So she chose to go to my boss and say, “You know, Eileen doesn’t always get here for the nine o’clock meeting.” And he said, “Well, you know she has a fixed time. She has to drop her daughter off at school. But she has an open end on the back of the school day. So why don’t you move the time in the meeting?” which was not at all what he expected him to say. She thought she was giving me a reprimand and he would have a sit down with me, and I would suddenly arrive at nine in the morning. Thank God, he flipped the conversation around. But here’s someone who was so inflexible in the time of one stupid meeting, but that could have completely torpedoed my career if I worked for someone else. And that was years ago. So to Famane’s point, we’re still having all these conversations, and some things have changed and some laws have changed, but not enough. Not nearly enough.
Yeah, I am part of different CEO groups for women. And I have definitely seen along the way in my career, the way we support each other. And I’ve also seen many instances where some of the women tear each other down where there’s that jealousy. And I will immediately bring up, but don’t you see that if we all move forward together, there’s plenty for everybody. Really, there’s plenty for everybody. Many of us think that way, but there’s still some that really just will sabotage another’s efforts. And one thing I can share with you, so I go to, especially pre-pandemic, so many conferences for networking, and I’m part of a group that’s focused for female business owners, and then I’m part of another group that’s for LGBT certified companies. And when I go to the annual conference, I’ll say the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, we will literally walk each other to another customer, even if we’re in the same industry to introduce, “Hey, you know what? I don’t do this type of staffing. But Betsy does.” And I do the same for other people. And I don’t get that same experience with the all women organizations, because we have, look, in all of our careers, we have had doors slammed in our face. On the LGBT side, what I have found is we have not just had doors slammed in our face because we’re women, people of color, people within the disability community, but now we’re adding on that we’re LGBT. So there’s some kind of unspoken collegiality that I find occurs in that environment that I greatly love. But when sometimes I go over to the women-owned side, I just kind of stand back and look. We’re supposed to be sticking together here, I don’t understand.
Betsy, I want to stop you on that for a moment because, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I do see younger women, mid and early career stage women, have completely abandoned that scarcity model. They are working together and collaborating in ways that we never did. And it gives me such hope for the future that that’s busted. So just like the chauvinist, sexist guys are dying off every day, that scarcity model, I hope that we are able to adapt from the younger women around us because it’s brilliant.
I agree with you, I love to be in the energy of a lot of the up-and-coming leaders because what they know, and the leaps that they will take, I’m inspired. Absolutely inspired. So thank you for bringing that up because that’s so true.
Well, I get frustrated when other women talk about the infighting among women because I feel like that perpetuates the myth. And it’s not really that common anymore. And if it is, just spin out, like get out of there. Yeah.
Yeah, Eileen, I just want to add. Eileen, you bring up a great point about the inside sexual abuse, it’s dying off. I mean, we’ve seen many broadcasting giants get rid of a lot of individuals, as well as the movie industry. And we continue to hear more appalling individuals practicing that way. So yes, hopefully, there is going to be a change where that is no longer a way to provide leadership because that is definitely a negative leadership style. But yeah, I just want to mention, hooray for that happening and the Me Too movement and all that. We hope that continues on in a way that it does clean up the negativity in-house.
Absolutely. I have had some amazing men in my life that have elevated me, and that I learned from, especially early on in my career. I’m really grateful that I’ve had wonderful people that were willing to take me under their wing. And how that happened is I asked. I wasn’t afraid to, maybe because I had three older brothers, and I knew what it was like to be pushed around and you’d survive with all that male energy, but I just would ask, “You know what? I want to be like you someday.” And come on, and the door was just wide open to teach me and what I see, too, with the younger generation, they’re not afraid to ask, which is wonderful. So, I want to ask, we’re kind of talking about that, what do you think for our generation, because we’re seeing it in the up-and-coming, how can we continue to level the playing field? What do you see that we can do?
I think when we talk about mentoring, that’s essential. I do talk to my clients about moving from mentoring to sponsoring and the differences I delineated is mentoring is a private one-on-one conversation, it’s usually power to less power. Sponsoring is a public endorsement of someone’s skills and you’re absorbing a certain level of risk by sponsoring that person but you take it on because it’s going to make you look good like you recognized potential and talent, and it’s also going to, hopefully, elevate their standing in the organization. When I talk to groups of people, I encourage them to find sponsors not only at their workplace but to find them at your competitors, find them in your church, in your community, find them at your children’s school. So anyone who’s doing something that you admire, approach them about sponsoring you. But do it in a way that makes it easy for them to say yes. Do not burden them with scheduling, do not burden them with sending your resume and all of your portfolio documents. Keep it simple, keep it focused, but keep it going. And then when certain people are of less value, because your career has changed or what have you, you can sunset them, politely thank them for helping you, and then bring someone new on who’s going to help you continue growing what it is that you need in your career and in your life.
Eileen, I think you really, definitely hit it right on target. I’m all about coaching as much as possible, and you just made the distinction that it is important to be with the individual that can provide value to your career going forward. So I think it’s good to try to figure out what coach works best for you, and try to engage that individual as much as possible. And like you say, all of us are very busy. But as a good leader, you should take the time if someone reaches out to learn more from you. And I just think coaching is such a great tool to use to try to get a person on the right track and also feed into their career advancement. So I’ll just leave it there.
One of the things that’s been really valuable in my organization is the use of coaching. So I’m a certified executive coach. So I pass that along in our culture, and we have a very high retention rate for the individuals who are working on our contracts. A lot of that has to do with if there is an issue that comes up or a moment in time where someone falters, we all do, we all have, I will make a phone call to that particular contractor. And sometimes the joke is, “Uh-oh, am I in trouble?” No! I’m just here to talk and support you. So now the conversations, when they do occur, are welcoming because when you’re in that coaching capacity, we all have the answers within us, we just need someone to help us ask the right questions. So I find that journey in coaching just so sacred. And not only does it benefit the individual that’s in receipt of the coaching, I learned so much from the individual that I’m in conversations with because I certainly don’t have all the answers. And it’s the listening that helps to create questions to ask. So, in hearing this, I’m just really grateful that we all see that value in coaching. I have a coach and boy, you know what? She can, in a nanosecond, tell me like it is even if I really don’t want to hear it. But part of it is when you’re an opening for change, I’m just like, “Okay, bring it on. I’m ready. I’m ready to do the work.”
Well, I think that’s why, sometimes, it’s helpful to have multiple people in that capacity because they, objectively, may echo the same observations of what’s limiting you in a way that you’ll never see on your own. So if someone in your community is sponsoring you, and somebody in your career is sponsoring you, and they both have the same observation, it’s kind of hard to not take note about yourself. Yeah?
I agree. Yeah.
Absolutely. And I think leadership is also a work in progress because, again, the world of work is constantly evolving, and we have to be ahead of it. So, we, as leaders, I think it’s important that we’re always doing that inner work, whatever that inner work looks like, to be able to expand ourselves to help others expand around us. So, in closing, I want to ask you for the up-and-coming female leaders out there, what would be a pearl of wisdom? Famane, let’s start with you. What would be