Celebrating Women in Leadership with Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning

As part of Women’s History Month, OpenSesame is celebrating our women colleagues. Hear from Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning and publisher of our EleventureⓇ of TorranceLearning series of courses, on what being a woman in leadership means to her. 

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? How do you recognize it?

Women’s History Month gives me an opportunity to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of so many women before me who have had to fight so hard for rights and respect. As frustrating as the persistent gender-based pay and opportunity gaps are today, things have come so far because of the hard work of women before me.

I wish we didn’t need a Women’s History Month, but it’s a good reminder to all of us that history and much of western society today are based on male-normed structures.

I participate in a number of women’s leadership events throughout Women’s History Month each year. This gives me the opportunity to engage with other leaders, as well as to share my story with as much authenticity and vulnerability as I can. I feel that senior women leaders like me have an opportunity and a responsibility to use our voices, share our stories, and open the doors for others.

This month is also an opportunity to take in the celebrations of women’s successes in business, education, science, and the arts. It allows us to intentionally have this celebration and acknowledge these contributions.

What successes and challenges have you faced as a woman and business owner?

This is such a hard question to answer! It’s all mixed in together.

I have to say that growing up and throughout high school and university, I didn’t feel like I bumped up against gender bias regularly. So it was interesting when I started my own business that I was not fully taken seriously. Many of the slights came in small ways that don’t seem significant on their own, but added up to a pattern over time. 

The family member who considered my business a short-term curiosity that would look good on my resume. The bank that didn’t reach out to me with business banking services, despite setting up a business account with them. The dozens of people along the way who have assumed that the business was founded by my husband. 

It was going to a business accelerator conference and seeing panel discussions full of white men talking about what it takes to be successful – with none of them addressing their privilege as part of their success. All these messages say, “You don’t belong here. We don’t expect you to do this. This isn’t what women do.”

At the same time, I’ve had such amazing support from leaders – both male and female – along the way who believed in me and what our team was doing. 

I’ve had the opportunity to work with mentors and be a mentor to others. I’ve seen the community of support that inclusive leaders can create and the innovation and creativity that can come from that. One of the things I love about my work so much is the opportunity to meet people, hear their story, and help them believe they can reach their goals.

I’ve also had the opportunity to coach girls’ ice hockey. I love seeing them explore their strength, their physical toughness, and their competitive edge, and watch them balance those with their support and friendship for each other.

And I facilitate courses in eCornell’s executive leadership program. That is such a gift to have the opportunity to work with women at a critical period in their careers as they advance into senior leadership positions.

What has surprised you along the course of your career?

The power of community and building a network is something that was not covered much in my university experience, yet it’s been so important in my career. 

Often girls and women are told to put our heads down and work hard in order to get ahead. But there’s a point at which simply working hard is not enough. That’s where the network that you create can be so powerful.

Years ago, a business owner friend of mine and I were lamenting the lack of a women’s leadership experience in which we could explore and reflect on a number of societal changes that we were seeing. We decided to create for ourselves the learning and networking experience that we were seeking. 

Over the next three months, we pulled together a dozen women from a variety of industries, walks of life, and career stages. We created topics, generated discussions, and held space for the group to discuss and learn together. Nearly a decade later, I still have connections to many of the women in that group, and it’s been so amazing to see their careers flourish! We draw on each other and give back to the network when we can.

Despite advances, men still dominate CEO and other leadership roles in business. What advancement have you seen for women in leadership? Where do we still need to improve, and how do we get there? 

While the number of women in the upper levels of leadership has grown, it’s still far less than 50%. What’s more, often women in senior leadership positions are in support functions, not the line functions that have the true decision making and budget power in most organizations.

What cannot be missed in any discussion of women in leadership is the intersection of gender race, age, LGBTQ status, ethnicity, and disability. When considering these dimensions of our identities, the fullness of women’s experience is not being realized.

As organizations grapple with a demand for talent, the ones who can tap into the intellect and expertise of the widest variety of humanity will succeed.

EleventureⓇ by TorranceLearning offers elearning courses that focus on racial equity and diversity in the workplace. How do these courses (and the work you do in general) help empower women and other underrepresented populations?

Our goal with our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging courses within the Eleventure® series has always been to give people very practical tools in order to work with each other in collaborative and professional supportive ways every day. It’s one thing to have the best intentions in mind when interacting with others; it’s another to have the tools at your disposal to actually do so.

For example, while we may define microaggressions and discuss why they can be so harmful, we also offer strategies for preventing them and dealing with them in the moment they occur.

I’m a firm believer that to make advances in our equitable treatment of each other at work, we need to not only provide skills to women and other underrepresented populations, but we must also provide skills for the historically centered populations so that they can make the types of changes that build a more inclusive workplace.

A diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce has been shown to improve innovation, productivity, and wellbeing. To learn more about how you can incorporate DEI courses into your organization, book a demo.