This Girl Scout Alum Isn’t ‘Bossy’ — But She Is a Boss
Andrea Stevenson Conner makes no apologies for her fierce advocacy for women leadership in the workplace.
Echoing an observation made by others, such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, she notes that, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’ ”
One way to sure-handedly stamp out this cultural inaccuracy is to find more seats at the table for women — to normalize female leadership roles. And that is why Conner — a business consultant and strategist who is CEO of Stevenson-Conner Global Strategies, LLC, in North Carolina — is such an impassioned champion of the gender “multiplier effect,” which outlines that the presence of women in key leadership positions can create ripples of advantage.
"When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’"
“In California, there is a law that there must be at least one woman on corporate boards,” notes Conner. “As a result, companies are more profitable, employees are happier, and customer satisfaction is higher … just by making that one tweak.”
Growing up as an only child in Erie, Pennsylvania, Conner utilized her experience as a Girl Scout to lay a foundation for critical skills that would prove to be instrumental in her work in cultivating women leaders. “Developing interpersonal skills, living authentically, and learning constantly are core values ingrained in you as a Girl Scout,” she says. “There is so much alignment with the skills that make women leaders successful."
Conner is formerly the president of Athena International, a nonprofit with a mission to “support, develop, and honor women leaders.” Supporting women — and supporting each other — is a key component of Conner’s personal ethos, as well. “It doesn’t matter how big or small the gesture is,” she notes. “Finding ways to uplift the next generation of emerging women leaders can make a difference.”
Those are the kinds of values she originally picked up in the Girl Scouts. “As a Girl Scout,” she recalls, “that was the first opportunity I had to be a leader in action outside of home or school. And it teaches you how to collaborate with other girls in order to move things forward. Society pushes a competitive spirit on girls from a lens of scarcity — there’s usually just one seat, if any, at the table for women.”
“Girls need to have more of an opportunity to focus on the ‘we’ and to be able to try out different methods. There can be great learnings from working with others. A little competition can be healthy, but it can become destructive when it does not serve women’s leadership or empowerment.”
Getting a Passport — and Life Lessons
Conner’s perspective is not simply U.S.-centric — she has lived many years overseas. “We moved eight times in 13 years,” she notes of her family. “Malaysia, Germany, China: I didn’t have a passport before we moved to Malaysia, and since then I have seen more of the rest of the world than I have the United States.”
China, in particular, had a deep-seated impact on her mission to support women.
“I have seen poverty at the greatest depth,” recalls Conner of her time in China, “and I have seen the resiliency of women in those settings, which has been fascinating. I loved being in China. One of the reasons I loved it so much was to be able to stretch myself outside my comfort zone and see the world through a different lens and to get to know so many different people — particularly to make an impact on the lives of women from rural China when I was living in Shanghai. When I would travel out to the rural communities that students came from, I would bring them back to Shanghai, give them their first exposure to city life, and give them the confidence to make differences in theirs and others' lives. My husband, Ed, and I ended up hosting 40 of those students in our Shanghai apartment — and that totally changed their lives, and ours!”
Pivoting in the Pandemic
Lives are also changing globally because of the coronavirus, with the key word being “pivoting.”
“Right now,” she notes, “because of the pandemic, so many people — men and women — are pivoting. And I am in pivot mode myself. Leading Athena for the last four years, I made the decision to pivot in January just before this crazy COVID stuff started happening. One, I was tired. Traveling all the time — I loved it, lifting up and advocating for women leaders and the Athena principles. But I knew that when I stepped into the role, it was going to need to shift to someone else who had the next set of skills. I’m the change agent — how are we going to fix this?”
"I didn’t have a passport before we moved to Malaysia, and since then I have seen more of the rest of the world than I have the United States."
Now, in her new role as consultant, she regularly offers this advice to women and girls who want to refine their leadership skills: “Be authentic to who you are. Take risks and be courageous. You do not have to have a title to be a leader. Leadership comes from within.”
But it can’t stop there — there has to be a bridge to the next generation. “If women are successful in life — however you define success — money, happiness, marriage — it is our responsibility to lift up the next generation of women,” she stresses. “It is so important. I feel that to my core. I had people that did that for me, and that made all the difference in my life.”