Because we've been playing by the male playbook that undervalues the uniquely feminine advantages that make women superior business leaders,” Smith explains. To address this issue, Smith did what any great leader would do – she stepped up to fill the ...
Linda Smith, Meanest Woman AliveLinda Smith
In her 40-year career as a senior litigator at O’Melveny & Myers, Linda Smith represented Fortune 500 in high-stakes lawsuits. There, she explains, she “tangled with outsized male egos — such as clients Mick Jagger, Michael Dell, and Sumner Redstone.” Instead of being beaten down, she rose instead to become a senior partner at O’Melveny & Myers. Yet while her personal career flourished, her outrage at the status of women in the workplace also grew. “After decades of struggling to demonstrate that we’re equal to men, not only are women failing to make progress, we’re actually going backwards. Why is that? Because we’ve been playing by the male playbook that undervalues the uniquely feminine advantages that make women superior business leaders,” Smith explains. To address this issue, Smith did what any great leader would do – she stepped up to fill the void.
In her new book, Smashing Glass and Kicking A**, Smith shares her tips for unapologetically rising through the corporate ranks — and “taking no prisoners” along the way. The following is an excerpt of her interview with Forbes.
Harrison: You say that women are moving backwards. What makes you come to that conclusion?
Smith: The facts are appalling. Just 14% of engineers in the US are women. A mere 7% of venture capital recipients are women-owned companies. And among businesses that report payroll, fewer than one in five are female-owned. Last year, just thirty-two of the S&P 500’s CEOs were women, and that was our all-time high! This year, that number has actually decreased. We’re going in the wrong direction.
Across every level of work, in every industry, women still struggle to earn the same level of pay, to receive equal access to opportunity and promotion, and to do the work they were hired to do without having to deal with pervasive gender bias or fear of harassment.
Harrison: In what ways do you believe women are uniquely qualified to lead?
Smith: Study after study shows that emotional intelligence is the secret sauce for success among business leaders. Emotional intelligence is scored in twelve categories. And, guess what? Women score better than men in 11 of them. The twelfth is a tie. This is not just about our warm and fuzzy skills — we’re outscoring men in “hard business skills” such as driving for results and taking initiative.
The problem is that we’re not using these advantages to our advantage. I wrote this book to show women that we have the power to be great leaders — and present the research to back it up. It’s time to act.
Harrison: After you were called "The Meanest Woman Alive” in Corporate Board Member Magazine, why did you decide to embrace that title, and what does it mean to you?
Smith: My view of “mean” is a woman being strong and brave, and that’s exactly what I am for my clients. During AMD v. Intel, the largest private anti-trust case ever litigated, it was my job to interview all the top sales and marketing people across AMD to gather instances of Intel’s misconduct. The company’s general counsel introduced me to the group at AMD’s big quarterly meeting as “The Meanest Woman Alive” and gave the audience members a stark choice: “If you cooperate with her and tell her everything that’s happened, when it comes to your deposition or at trial, she’ll rip the heart out of the person on the other side. If you fail to cooperate… she’ll let the other side rip yours out.”
When I’m in court with billions of dollars at stake, my clients love to say that “The Meanest Woman Alive” represents them. I view myself as a gladiator for my clients: think of the character Olivia Pope in the TV series Scandal — but as a trial litigator. I protect them and defend them. I'm actually a very fun person — unless, of course, you cross my clients or me.
Harrison: You talk about the “snowflake delusion.” Can you explain more about what that is, and how to overcome it?
Smith: Many women, especially millennials, have been raised to believe in their own specialness. The upside is that young women now face life with firm confidence in their own abilities. The inevitable downside is that they have loftier expectations and the potential for sharper disappointments than prior generations. All that self-esteem is great until it leads you disappointment when the world refuses to affirm your greatness.
For those suffering from the “snowflake delusion,” the start of your career can be a tremendous shock. You walk in the door absolutely sure you can do your manager’s job better than she can, only to discover that you are expected to do the most menial tasks. Welcome to Work Realities 101.
Here’s the hard truth: no matter how special you thought you were, the only way to succeed is to work hard, constantly learn new skills, hone your ambition, and exhibit the mental and emotional toughness required to deal with setbacks and unfair treatment. To go the distance, you have to show true grit — a combination of mental tenacity, courage, hard work, and sometimes sheer stubbornness to keep going until you reach a goal.
Harrison: You talk about the importance of the Old Boys’ Network. What is it and how does it work?
Smith: The Old Boys’ Network is the power grid running American business. This informal system by which money and power are kept in the hands of wealthy white men renews itself with an evergreen crop of young men to replace those who came before. This brotherhood determines who is part of the “corporate elite”— the inner circle. These top executives are members of multiple boards, exercise real power over corporate policy, are nominated to influential groups like the Business Roundtable, and are in the queue to be named to prominent government advisory boards.
It Old Boys’ Network exists and perpetuates itself because it works. In elite circles, powerful men make closed-door decisions that favor male candidates who share connections through mentors and sponsors. Men are naturally drawn toward people most like themselves, and it’s common for high-ranking executives and managers to mentor someone who reminds them of themselves—a “mini-me.”
Harrison: What is your top tip for “infiltrating the old boys network” as a woman?
Smith: Use your emotional intelligence. Leverage your ability to monitor your own emotions and perceive those of others to your advantage. Combining intelligence, empathy, and emotions will magnify your capacity for analysis and your comprehension of interpersonal dynamics. That allows you to read the men you deal with, gauge the situation strategically, choose a nuanced course of action, and use it to manipulate those men over time.
Harrison: Can you give an example?
Smith: A good starting point is to consciously adopt the attitude that you’re going to be a good sport and a team player in getting along with men. Read the social and emotional cues of the male culture around you, then situate yourself in a way that eases some of the tension men feel when dealing with women. Help men understand that they do not need to walk on eggshells around you. Establish that you can take a joke, show that you won’t take immediate offense at any critical comment or challenge (you’re not overly sensitive or “hysterical”), and feel free to give as good as you get.
Mastering the communication tactics of the old boys’ network puts men at ease by showing them that you’re not a delicate flower, and that they can communicate comfortably with you, and in front of you.
Then you can start to make your moves toward advancement.
Harrison: What is the biggest mistake you see female entrepreneurs make on a regular basis?
Smith: Not standing up for their business boldly, ruthlessly and confidently. Women are not raised to just “go for it”— to bravely take risks, seize opportunities, self-promote, put pressure on their competition, cast aside self-sabotaging doubts, stop worrying about likeability, and push hard for funding, discounts, product placements, or whatever their businesses needs to thrive. To not be afraid to be called The Meanest Woman Alive!
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