It was early on in 2009. I had just been promoted to chief reporter with Czech Business Weekly, being catapulted over night from a regular reporter who loved her job to full magazine content manager and team leader in a group made mostly of women among whom I was the youngest. Saying that I was a bit out of my depth would be an understatement. That’s why when the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) in Prague sent me an invitation to join a workshop on women and leadership, followed by an interview with the trainer, Elisabet Rodriguez Dennehy, I was more than eager to take BCC on its offer.
Little did I know then where this apparently innocent interview would lead us in the future. With personal power, humor and grace, Elisabet mentioned the challenges that women faced in leadership.
I was stunned: how comes I had never come across these ideas before? How comes I’d never learnt about these challenges before, in school or otherwise? As it happens, my astonishment was not unique. As most women, as long as I stayed in my comfort zone, aka my comfortable expert position, I felt that all was good with the world. On top of that, being a journalist is somehow a bulletproof vest against bias. I mean, it’s not like there are no biases against journalists – it's just that people are simply more careful about projecting their biases out loud on journalists. At the end of the day, you never know when you might need that particular journalist in your corner.
Elisabet left no room for doubt: the road to Calvary in career management for women usually starts with a successful promotion. As recently emphasized in an article by the Harvard Business Review, the degree of job satisfaction falls by half with women following a successful promotion, as opposed to doubling in men.
Why? It’s actually quite simple. Gender bias is not so much present when occupying an expert position in a democratic country on a mature labor market. No level of democracy however protects women from bias when it comes to leading teams and organisations. As simple as that, we are not yet used to associating women in leadership with qualities such as safety, courage, daring and power which are, traditionally, qualities attributed to men. As most of our personal, corporate and societal biases are unconscious, most women are not aware of them until they land their fortunate promotion. And are they, women, in for a surprise as soon as they raise their first glass of champagne to celebrate their new achievement.
Lifting women to glory
This is where Elisabet would come into the picture. A woman who dedicated her life to lifting other women to glory, Elisabet came to the Czech Republic repeatedly in 2006 – 2015, mainly through the executive program of the University of Pittsburgh in Prague and through her collaboration in the field of women development programs with major corporate names in the Czech Republic.
Elisabet repeatedly shared her message of daring, hope and self-confidence for outstanding women. In 2014 I had the honor to assist her when she launched her book Can you afford to ignore me? on women, equality and leadership.
After the closure of executive MBA program of the KATZ Graduate School of Business with the University of Pittsburgh in Prague, Elisabet’s trips to the Czech capital that she so loved became more sporadic. We saw each other over a cup of coffee in 2015. We kept in touch via Skype though; we were simply waiting for a new opportunity for life to bring us together again, to do some more good work for our fellow sisters in Prague and elsewhere, wherever life would take us.
That’s why my heart skipped a beat on Friday, November 2nd, when I learned that Elisabet passed away. She leaves behind a family and a community of friends and fellow associates in tears. Till last moment Elisabet put her life energy to the service of uplifting others. Her last newsletter, Extraordinary, best captures her spirit.
“Remarkable, stunning, amazing!
This word is about action, breaking the norm, and thinking big. It was one of my grandfather's favorite words. He taught me that this is the word that can push you to take another step, take a risk, and never to settle for average.
This week, I pass this sentiment to all of you. Look around and challenge things as they are. Look for sensational and incredible outcomes, moments, and interactions. Brush off things as usual and bring on a supercharged spirit that shows possibility and an unending quest for more!
Have a great week!
Elisabet Rodriguez & Associates”
Dear Elisabet, I am looking around and there is an enormous empty place you leave behind. What I can do, as your student, is to pick up on your message. To challenge things as they are. To keep on looking for sensational and incredible outcomes, moments and interactions. To honor the unending quest for more, which brings us closer to our human potential. To honor the woman whom you were, the many hearts that you touched and the legacy you left behind. To pick up on your thoughts and t honor you as my role model every time I enter a training room to bring your message of dignity, courage and hope to other fellow women. You will not be forgotten.