Confronting the Superwoman Myth: a Conversation with Dr. Ann Gatty
Apr 27, 2020 08:07PM
By Hilary Daninhirsch
Dr. Ann Gatty has a passion for helping businesses succeed—in particular, women-owned businesses. The co-owner of Strategic People Solutions with her husband, Gene, she has provided coaching services for all sorts of organizations from nonprofits to solopreneurs to large corporations. Gatty is also active with the Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber, having initiated a Women’s Roundtable monthly meeting on a variety of topics affecting women in business. She recently talked to North Hills Monthly about why she is motivated to help women succeed.
North Hills Monthly (NHM): How does one become a business strategist?
Dr. Ann Gatty (Gatty): Actually, I graduated with a degree in history and education; my masters is in museum education. I started my career working at Colonial Williamsburg designing education programs for schoolchildren. I came to Pennsylvania to work with Old Economy Village and taught schoolchildren using different curriculum I had designed. When I left that position to go back to earn my Ph.D., I realized my main interest is in how people learn, not just what they learn. I love to go into a work space and assist individuals with learning how to better organize, better lead, and better set goals; I enjoy partnering with people to build their businesses.
NHM: What does your job require?
Gatty: It entails being able to make decisions—identifying where you want to go and how to get there. I work on leadership development and organizational management. We try to make certain that leaders know how to design their goals, establish their businesses, put the right people in the job, and are able to move the business forward so they can accomplish what they want to accomplish.
Some people want to build a business and sell it; some want to build a business that they can leave to their children; some people want to be in business and establish other people who can work with them, and some want to be solopreneurs. It’s up to that individual how they want to have their business intersect with their lifestyle. All paths are different, but we try to figure out the best path for where they want to go.
NHM: What are some issues specific to women and business?
Gatty: About one-third of my clients are women businesses owners, and I can relate very distinctly with women who are making some hard choices between home and work. I’ve been there. You’re stretched thin, trying to be good at everything, and often confidence can take a hit. When I work with women, a lot of the decisions focus on time management and deciding if they are going to stay in the corporate world or become entrepreneurs, and on finding the support network they need so they can build a career and family.
NHM: Tell us about the women’s leadership research project that you initiated.
Gatty: In the “Me Too” era, I was concerned that women would begin to fall into the trap of being seen as victims. I wanted to move beyond that, so I set out to do a research project that I started in 2018. I really was looking to determine if the superwoman status is still relevant today. As women face decisions about their career journeys, are they still trying to have it all? I fell into that when I was working prior to this business. It was very difficult, traveling and trying to raise two young boys.
After interviewing 50 women in leadership roles, I was able to identify certain barriers or challenges that they still want to be able to overcome as they move forward in the 21st century. Advice they have for the next generation of women also became very interesting to me.
NHM: Can you share some of your findings?
Gatty: Some of the initial findings are that these informants know that they have to solve the time trap, and two recommendations came from that. First was the need to delegate more, and the second is to develop a strong networking strategy.
Another finding is about building self-confidence. Women often have negative head chatter, so one of the things they’re saying is important is having what I term ‘allyship’—that is, women working together and speaking up for one another. Oftentimes, a recommendation will not be valued unless a man says it. Allies will have your back. I’ve seen that in organizations, in nonprofits, and in board meetings, because until you get to about one-third of your group being a particular diversity, you’re an outlier.
NHM: You presented a paper at Harvard University about this.
Gatty: It was based on the research I did. Harvard has a coaching conference that they offer once a year. They asked for presentations, so I submitted my research, and I was able to present my findings about whether women business leaders are still pursing superwomen status and show them how women are trying to solve the time trap, and how they’re building confidence. My conclusions were that women have to work together to stop ourselves from trying to think we have to be superwomen—we don’t. We are good enough as we are; that is an important takeaway for all women. We have to find and utilize our talents and share those talents and be confident that we are good enough as we are.
I think women who are working now have to be willing to ask what they want in their career. Ask for certain assignments to build on skillsets they already have. That is part of that self- confidence.
NHM: Tell me about the Women’s Leadership Roundtable that you host.
Gatty: Last June, we started the Women’s Leadership Roundtable, and I did that because I thought it was a nice, comfortable way to have conversations with women focusing on issues they particularly wanted to address. We’ve talked about everything from the art of leadership, to communicating more effectively in an organization, to building credibility, stress management, balancing work and home, and the whole idea of putting ourselves under too much pressure trying to be superwomen. Who said we have to do it all? Why can’t we pick and choose?
Many women think we have to have this fabulous career and a home that looks like Martha Stewart’s and have perfect children and be doing volunteer work. That’s a myth, so one of the things I do is help women realize that they can make choices.
We meet monthly, and we share our successes, our challenges, and then we tackle one particular topic, such as stress management, for example. It is interesting to hear the different responses from people across different generations and industries, which is a great way to enrich our perspectives.
NHM: What is the most rewarding part of coaching women business leaders?
Gatty: It’s finding the hidden talent; it’s showing them that they are very good at what they do, that they have the leadership capabilities that a lot of times they don’t realize they have. It’s confirming for them the talents that they possess.