When Condoleezza Rice entered the top tier of government in 1989 as a national security adviser, she said she still often received stares as if she had just walked into the wrong meeting.
“But if you are prepared, then pretty soon others will recognize that you are ready for any room,” she told 350 attendees of the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, hosted by the accounting giant on Wednesday at the Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Rice, who served two presidents and became secretary of state under President George W. Bush, was one of several top leaders and CEOs speaking at the summit held as part of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship happening this week at the course in Chaska.
She grew up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., where a church bombing killed her childhood friend and three other black girls. “My parents said, ‘You have to be twice as good. You have to work twice as hard, and be twice as confident,’ ” she said.
The advice served her well, she said, and should be remembered by the women before her who are climbing corporate ladders — often in male-dominated fields — and into key leadership posts.
“Remember [too] that somebody along the way helped you. It’s critical to try to help others,” said the Stanford professor and classically trained pianist who speaks three languages.
A survey taken by KPMG and released at the summit found that 60% of female leaders reported needing a more motivational and morale-boosting style of leadership to encourage them to move into C-suite positions.
KPMG CEO Lynne Doughtie and Rice shared the results of KPMG’s survey of 400 female executives and told personal stories about their paths into leadership. The push for women to excel — and for organizations to accept them in top positions — is needed, Doughtie said.
Among the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, there are only 24 female CEOs. Among the 2,000 C-suite jobs in those companies, only 330 are held by women, she said.
Wednesday’s event drew 350 executives from KPMG, National Car Rental, 3M, Marriott and 150 other organizations.
Target CEO Brian Cornell said he believes the progress his company has made in gender parity and other types of diversity has broadened the thinking of the company.
Cornell said 40% of his direct reports are now women, and more than one-third of the board of directors.
While he’s proud of the progress, he said more work needs to be done. Developing female leaders sometimes “requires intentional development plans,” Cornell said.
“Sometimes you have to take big risks and stretch them and move them from one function to another,” but it’s how people grow, he said. The investment then shows those employees that the company supports them.
Hoping to learn more about how to support aspiring female executives, KMPG launched both the study and a mentorship program.
The survey found that female executives believe they must prove themselves in the workplace more than men. Four of 10 female executives said they had to adjust their leadership styles in order to advance.
At the same time, 81% surveyed said they were extremely agile and good at “situational leadership.”
Rice, a business and economics professor at Stanford University, said she knows how they feel.
Early in her academic career, she said, she could come across as too forceful, and a colleague admonished her for embarrassing one colleague in public.
Rice took the lesson to heart, learning that public criticism thwarts open dialogue and prevents subordinates from speaking openly about problems that leaders must know. She learned to listen and pick the right times to be forceful, she said.
She also learned to keep “truth tellers” and others nearby who had gone through various fires with her. “They will keep you centered,” she told the audience.
Like Rice, Doughtie said she learned from mentors and worked to help young, developing leaders.
“Our goal is to get more women into the C-suite,” she said.
Doughtie said nearly half of the 550 women participating in KPMG’s past summits since 2014 had been promoted. About 15% have become corporate executives.
Doughtie said that she didn’t start out seeking to become the CEO of a major accounting firm with thousands of employees. But she said her journey advanced in small ways, in the same manner that other women are greatly influenced by the mentoring they receive.
One of Doughtie’s mentors was her mother, who she said went the extra mile to learn the personal stories of workers and to support and broadcast their achievements.
Female executives who mentor others help develop future leaders. That work “has a cumulative effect over time” and can impact people for decades, Doughtie said.
When her mother died of cancer a few years ago, hundreds came to honor her, including some she mentored 40 and 50 years earlier, Doughtie said.
“All of you here today have this really huge platform, and so imagine what you can do with it,” she said, challenging the crowd. “The question becomes what will you do with what you have been given. How will you lead with everyday greatness?”