As the former VP of IT Shared Services at Medtronic, Steve Arsenault was an early adopter of our In HER Element program. Recognizing the ongoing challenges women professionals continue to face in the workforce, Steve took the opportunity to promote differentiated development for his team’s sustained growth and potential. As he witnessed its impact, In HER Element became a trusted program for his female leaders.
We caught up with Steve to glance back at his journey with In HER Element and its lasting impression through mindfulness, neuroscience, coaching, and community.
What piqued your interest in In HER Element?
Paula Winkler (The Disruptive Element’s Continued Momentum Officer) was one of the most influential people in my career. We go way back — she used to be at a consulting company that I worked with. In one of my leadership positions, my team wasn’t working well together, and Paula stepped in to help.
Fast forward: Paula approached me asking, "We're starting a new program. Can you spare a few people? Can they audit it?", and I was happy to have my team try it out. At the time, I didn't put a lot of thought into why a program like this might be helpful. Now, after In HER Element has matured, I understand why it's so important.
What made you feel In HER Element would be a good fit for your female leaders?
For us, there was a gap in what I would consider differentiated leadership development, not just for our female employees, but in general. In a large company, you have training opportunities for high-potential participants; most training is valuable to the employee but tries to develop people in a certain way to reach a certain outcome.
We made some early discoveries with my team on some of the neuroscience pieces and that went off like gangbusters. This helped me realize that this program would continue to be a good fit.
In HER Element is science-based and as an engineering company, our people gravitate towards data. I was intrigued by the idea of helping people understand that aspect, giving the opportunity to go deeper than a Myers-Briggs analysis, learning why people behave in certain ways and how to work with that.
Do you think engineering companies pose more challenges for women leaders?
I've had this debate many times. There are challenges for women in leadership and engineering, no question. Though over the past 10 years, if you look at our diversity goals and women in leadership, there have been many strides. In my opinion, it's more about the environment in which they work, not necessarily about the team.
If we use IT as an example, there are huge challenges. I've talked to some of our leaders over the years that are just not treated fairly. Challenges for female leaders in this industry still exist.
Several women on your team participated in In HER Element, what was something that surprised you about the program or progress you may have seen?
The commentary was more about the holistic approach to their development, not just "How do I become a better leader ". That professional and personal development side is something you don't normally get in a corporate training setting. Everyone commented on it to the point where I’d hear "This is some of the best development I've ever had." It was the individualized coaching aspect and being a part of a group that brought peer support and understanding.
Did you notice any major shifts in your team’s dynamic or performance after In HER Element?
I'd put it between confidence and boldness. There was a greater willingness to speak up. When I say bold, I don't mean above and beyond everyone else, it's more, "I’m part of the team and I should have a voice." At times, some of our female leaders weren’t necessarily quiet, but they'd sit back and listen more than I would want them to.
In HER Element helped them realize how to approach both personal and professional environments more confidently to a point where at least two of the participants left the company to find a better cultural fit. I worked directly with one of the participants who was considering how she could advance her career. She took a long, hard look at where she wanted to be, eventually leaving the company and finding another great job. I'm not saying the program did that for her, but I think that it's kind of a spark. You're just getting them over the goal line to celebrate the touchdown, and I think that’s hard to do as a leader for somebody in the environment in which they're having challenges.
My leadership approach is if you're not happy, I understand. I even see it on LinkedIn when people leave companies now, former leaders will thank them for their service, even if they're going to a competitor. Fifteen years ago, you would've never seen that. My thought process then was the same as it is now, but it just didn't match the corporate culture at that time. It's just the right way to treat people.
As a leader, how was it managing while team members were participating in a nine-month program with multiple hours of commitment?
Most of the participants were high potential and the burden and benefit of being of high potential is that you’ll be asked to do things outside of your scope. But typically, you're not high potential unless you have the drive, motivation, interest, and curiosity. If you want more, you understand you must do things differently to get ahead.
For my team, I never really saw it as a burden, and I can't remember a time where I thought, "Where's Susan? Oh, shoot she's got training.” Maybe it's just my style or the company culture, but we would talk to each person before beginning In HER Element, and we used it as part of their development opportunities.
Fast forward, we'd do development and talent reviews twice a year. In HER Element was one of the opportunities that we would offer our people in a high potential pocket, it was a very natural thing. If people felt they couldn’t commit, they would ask to be kept in mind for next time.
When you talk with others about In HER Element, what do you typically say?
I would say, give it a chance. Put your people through it. It's a differentiated learning opportunity that you typically would not get internally. Fully utilize your internal development opportunities, but this is a unique program for women in leadership that I have not seen anywhere else. If you have people that are open to learning and discovering new ways to develop their leadership and personal skills, this is a great program for them.
About the In HER Element program:
The In HER Element Program is a transformative leadership development cohort program for women that combines mindfulness and neuroscience with one-on-one coaching and community. Our goal for this program to build upon women’s leadership skills and empower them to be their best self. Click here to learn more.