Philly CEO: Women leaders need to claim credit, not just accept blame

TrishWellenbach
Patricia "Trish" Wellenbach, chief executive, Please Touch Museum, with Curious George.

Good leaders own up when things go badly, but they also can claim it when it goes well. But, for some reason, women leaders are reluctant to do that, said Patricia "Trish" Wellenbach, chief executive of the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. Later this month, it be all about women in leadership in Philadelphia when Hillary Clinton becomes the official Democratic party nominee for U.S. president. 

In our Executive Q& A published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Wellenbach talked about women in leadership.

"I think you do good work with integrity and focus and a willingness to take some risks and make informed decisions. That's what helps you get to the top, and you've got to own it. You've got to own it when it goes badly. You've got to own it when it goes well. I think women in general, don't like to own it when it goes well. We don't really want to tell people that we did this really great job.

Question: Any advice for women trying to advance?

Answer: I think you never say no. 

I think if you're asked to do a job, somebody sees something in you that they believe you're going to be able to do it well. And you say, `Okay, I'll take it on.'

I've been very fortunate. I've had people push me in those ways before. Now, I feel a responsibility to push, particularly women, but also emerging new professionals who are either gender. I have a colleague who has done a terrific job. I find it amazing that she thinks I'm her mentor because she's extraordinary, and she tells people, she's my mentor. She was approached by the very top leadership in her organization to put her name in the hat for a very important job. She asked to have a breakfast meeting. We were chatting, and she told me about all the reasons why she shouldn't [apply for the job]. I said to her that is the girliest (sic) thing you have ever said. The person who asked you to consider this job has such a high bar for excellence that they're not going to ask you if they don't think that you can do the job. 

Q: On a much less profound level, I have to ask you what I've asked many other female executives. Are high heels a must?

A: Well, I was born tall. So there are days where I put them on. I have a little bit of a heel on today.

Q:  But why do you? Is it important? If you're a woman CEO, are high-heels a must? That's my question.

A:  I do not think they're a must. Yu have to decide your comfort zone. You will do your best work when you are most comfortable. 

Q:  Physically comfortable?

A:  Physically, intellectually, emotionally. If you not comfortable in any of those areas it's just not going to happen. You're not going to make good decisions. You're going to be reactive when you shouldn't be reactive. It is interesting. I remember one day being at my prior job in a tough negotiating meeting, and I happened to have worn a red suit that day. It was a dress with a jacket. I was the only woman in the room, which typically I am a lot, which is okay. At the end one of the guys commented on the color of my dress. I said, `I like your tie. It's a shame it's the color it is.' Then I walked away.'

Q: Wow! What was that about?

A:  Because I thought, `You just saw what I did in this meeting. This was not an easy meeting. This was a very tough negotiation session, and I didn't flinch. Then, all you can say is I wore red.' It's fascinating. 

Next: Patricia "Trish" Wellenbach talks about how she got her job at the Please Touch Museum.