Charlene Thomas, UPS’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, is an avid learner. As a leader in logistics she’s constantly seeking advice from industry experts, peers and thought leaders.
Her most recent read, “No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven't been told about leadership from career-start to the corporate boardroom” by Susan Colantuono, has key business takeaways for all professionals, not just women.
In the interview below Charlene shares why she hopes UPSers will explore the challenges women face when climbing the corporate ladder, and how men can become advocates for women in the workplace.
Author Susan Colantuono writes women don’t always get credit for their ideas or achievements. How have you learned to find your voice as an executive?
Even the most senior women leaders have a story to tell about feeling invisible at times. I’ve been in meetings where I had a particular point of view on a topic and felt as though I couldn’t share it because I worried that my voice wasn’t going to be heard, or that a male colleague might reframe my perspective. In a meeting a few years ago, for example, I let someone else present an idea that really should have come from me. This book forced me to take a serious look at my actions and speak up more.
Why can it be hard for women to advocate for themselves?
Many women tend to believe, often unconsciously, they need someone else to co-sign on their idea for it to be valued. We have to turn that around and ask ourselves, how do we own the room? How do you build your business case? You can’t wait for a man to affirm your ideas before voicing them. If you’ve been doing a job for 15 years, you know what you’re talking about … demonstrate it. A lot of this is unconscious. It’s not easy and takes practice.
What is one action women can start practicing early in their careers to build credibility?
Take certain words out of your vocabulary. Saying “um” in meetings can be very detrimental to women leaders. It makes you sound less powerful. In business, try to be intentional and direct. Instead of “probably,” you can say, “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.”
Why is this book as valuable for men as it is for women?
“No Ceilings, No Walls” can help men understand the issues women tend to face in the workplace. They will be better able to spot inequities, such as noticing when a colleague is talking over a woman in a meeting. Men who understand these struggles can be stronger advocates and sponsors.
When do you find time to read?
I like to listen to audio books in the car. And back when I was traveling more often, during a long flight, I’d lock in on a book and write notes in the margins. It becomes a notebook of thoughts and ideas.
What’s up next on your reading list?
I’m reading “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein. It’s about how federal, state and local governments have historically reinforced segregation in neighborhoods.
This article is the first in a new series featuring UPS leaders’ favorite books, films, podcasts and art to spark conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion.