The Two Qualities Female Leaders Need to Get Ahead

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As of 2015, women are more likely to hold a college degree than men, but men are still filling the boardrooms, making the decisions, and running our country. After interviewing more than 50 trailblazing executive women for her book Earning It, Joann Lublin says there are two traits that set apart the women who do make it to the top: resilience and persistence.

Lublin, who is also The Wall Street Journal's management news editor, says she has had many experiences similar to the women she interviewed for the book, which was why she was motivated to write it in the first place. When she made interview calls early in her career, she says, she was often mistaken for a subscription saleswoman rather than a journalist. But now, at the top of her career, she’s able to share ways other women can make it to the top, too.


If you've run to the bathroom in tears after receiving a talking down from your boss, you've got some work to do. But the great thing about resilience is it's a learned quality—and you can fake it until you make it. “Resilience is the persistence to bounce back in the face of setbacks [in your] career and and personal [life],” Lublin says. “If you can’t have resilience, you can’t make any headway.”

Lublin shares CEO and former Charles Schwab CIO Dawn Lepore's story by way of example. In 2010, two years after Lepore beat a rare cancer of the appendix, her husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. This made Lepore the sole breadwinner for her family. She would work all day and then stay in the hospital until 2 a.m. “Her co-workers didn’t think she should keep working, and she considered giving up her board seats,” Lublin says. “She considered giving it all up to be with her husband." But Lepore's husband convinced her not to quit—neither of them wanted the cancer to win.

In 2013, Lepore told SUCCESS of her climb to the top, "I do think you need a lot of resilience and commitment, and I’ve always been a sucker for a challenge. There must be something innate to my personality—if you tell me I can’t do something, I want to prove I can.”


“It’s the idea that it doesn’t matter what life throws at you—you turn it into lemonade and you keep pushing,” Lublin says.

As a 29-year-old high school English teacher, Abbe Raven was desperate to break into the television industry, Lublin says. So she joined dozens of other women at the lingerie department of Macy’s, where A&E TV executives were hosting a recruiting event. But when she saw all of her competition, Raven headed toward the door. With no applicable experience, she thought she'd never get a television job.

But as the event wound down, Raven told herself, “No, this is your shot,” Lublin says. So she turned around and introduced herself to the head of programming, who recommended that she call the vice president of the television studio. And that’s where Raven’s persistence finally kicked in. “She called him five times a day,” Lublin says. On the 10th day, she said she'd do anything to get a job, even if it was just photocopying scripts. Raven was hired as an entry level employee and worked her way up through the ranks of the company. In 2005, she was named A&E Networks's second CEO, and in 2013 she became its Chairman (she retired in early 2015 after 33 years with the company).

In the retirement memo she sent to her employees, Raven perfectly encapsulated her persistence:

When I started out xeroxing scripts and answering phones as a few dollars an hour assistant in 1982—I would never have imagined I would become a manager, director, and senior executive—not to mention the President and CEO and then Chairman of a major media company. That was never my goal. My goal was to find something I would love to do, something I could contribute to in my own way—something to be part of.

Raven's and Lepore's stories are obviously extreme examples of persistence and resilience. But if you've ever negotiated a raise you deserved, applied for a competitive job, or leaned in to a new challenge, you already have a bit of their grit.