For much of her career, former Kinetic Concepts CEO Catherine Burzik has had on her desk a plaque that reads, "Women must work twice as hard as men to be thought of half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult," she told an audience at MassDevice.com’s Big 100 East 2013 conference in Waltham, Mass., last night.
Burzik said she believes that less now than she did when she was starting out, but still holds that women and other minorities have to make strides to get ahead.
"You have to take the tough assignments, you have to stick your neck out," she told an audience of nearly 300 medical device industry leaders. "You can’t be afraid, you have to be courageous. That’s true of all leaders."
Women make up about 47% of the total U.S. working population, but only occupy only about 27% of chief executive roles, according to 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," in some ways re-ignited the national conversation about the opportunities and the challenges that women face in the business, and it sparked some discussion during last night’s presentation.
MassDevice publisher Brian Johnson sat down with Burzik and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) Global Medical Solutions Group worldwide chairman Karen Licitra to talk about some of the unique obstacles facing women and ways that both men and women can overcome hurdles and success in their careers.
It’s no secret that women remain under-represented in high-level positions. A December 2012 report found that women held less than 15% of the executive positions at Fortune 500 companies and less than 17% of board appointments. At least 1 in 4 companies had no women at all in the C-suite, Bloomberg reported.
Being a minority in the workplace was a double-edged sword for Licitra, who benefited by standing out but also felt the scrutiny of the spotlight, she said.
"I had the advantage of visibility. When there’s not that many of you, people notice, and that’s good and bad," she said. "You still have to be able to prove who you are."
Both Burzik and Licitra agreed that they worked hard, took risks and relied on support from both men and women as they climbed the ranks in the medical device world. Neither felt they were held to a different standard than the men in their fields.
"You go for it. Just be clear about what you want to do and don’t be afraid to go for it," Licitra said. "Don’t underestimate your own abilities because you can do whatever you put your mind to."
"All of us need support at work, whether it’s friends, family, whatever," Burzik added. "I think it’s important if you want to be successful leader, whether its men or women, that you build that kind of support network."