Holly Dowling is an expert in strengths-based leadership and corporate women’s empowerment, as well as the founder of the ‘Extraordinary Leader’ program and host of ‘A Celebration Of You’ podcast series.
Having started her career as a vice president of an international brokerage firm, Holly Dowling used her 20+ years of consulting experience to become an award-winning global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader. Dowling’s clientele includes Fortune 500 companies such as Disney, Mercedes, Home Depot, Wells Fargo and many more. Holly transforms tech domain leadership and corporate culture by inspiring people to live a better life. Read her insights below on how to become an inclusive leader, common challenges tech companies’ employees face and why self-confidence is important.
You are an expert in leadership and corporate empowerment. How do you think corporations should balance diversity in leading positions?
We are no longer focusing on diversity and inclusion, we are now focusing on inclusion. I am doing extensive engagements around inclusive leadership with the ultimate goal of our leaders and every person to think about how anyone can create a more inclusive environment.
In addition, our culture is struggling with unconscious biases. Right now, according to neuroscience, there is a minimum of 150 unconscious biases that we are living with daily. Most adults are making 35,000 decisions a day on average, and we make those decisions in 7-9 seconds. These decisions are coming from our own years of experience, and from society, which feeds into unconscious biases.
One of the most important elements corporations can implement is educating people, beginning with leaders and then cascade down the corporate ladder. The result is creating an inclusive environment where there is an awareness of our unconscious biases so we can start seeing people who are different than us for what they bring versus what they lack. It is our differences that make us brilliant!
You have guided employees at IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Deloitte; all are well-known tech companies. Which problems do their employees usually face?
I am the furthest tech-savvy person you would ever meet! However, tech companies keep inviting me as an expert because I tell them ‘it’s time to go from the point into your head to the point into your heart’. It is about common sense which we are not using as a common practice. Creating the right corporate culture is treating people as human beings and not as knowledge banks.
With all companies and organizations, it is my goal to inspire people. I consider myself to not be known as a motivational but an inspirational speaker as you can not motivate people. Motivation is intrinsic. I believe others can inspire you to want to be motivated. If one person’s life can be impacted, then that is why I am there.
Did you face some prejudices or biases when starting your business?
No matter what I was doing, whether I was the VP of a global company or in business for myself as a consultant, the more I was told women can’t succeed in this industry, the more I made it happen. My mantra became “Tell Me No, Watch Me Go.” What everyone can gain is to figure out what you really want, know your dreams and desires and put on the blinders. I didn’t allow any biases and broke all the traditional rules in this business.
Do you consider yourself a ‘woman in tech’?
That is where I am spending almost all of my time. But I don’t think of myself as a technological woman, but rather as a person coming into the technology space and shaking things up by making it really simple as well as giving people an opportunity to rekindle their mission.
How do you think the perception of the tech industry as being ‘male-dominated’ impacts the market?
I am a speaker for technology companies from all over the world. Once, during my presentation, I asked the women in the audience to stand up. There were only three in the room with nearly one hundred and fifty CEO’s and C-suite executives. More and more people wonder about what is happening with STEM. There are a lot of women getting into technology and engineering but why don’t we see them progressing into leadership roles?
In speaking with CEO’s, I discovered they are trying diligently to get more women employed but there is a lack of women applying. Do you know that famous study by Harvard Business Review? It shows, when women see a posting of any type of future opportunity they are dreaming about, they do not apply unless they feel they satisfy at least 8 requirements out of 10. The study also reveals that if a man looks at the same opportunity and fits 1-2 of the job requirements, he applies anyway.
This is a matter of building self-confidence. As we want to get more high-performing individuals of any gender into the technology space, we have got to be willing to apply for that opportunity. Don’t step back, step forward.
Do you have something you wish you had been told before starting your career?
I wish somebody would have said ‘just follow your heart and remember you can’t sell everyone’. Those who get it will get it, if not, then move on. When I finally realized that, it changed my entire way of showing up to serve and support.