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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Willey

Fearless Leaders Profile: Erica Boothby, Wharton Professor and Wet Cement Trainer


Being a 'fearless' leader is when you are inspired by others who have walked the same path and can share their wisdom to help you on your journey. Which is why we are excited to introduce you to one of the top-rated professors at Wharton and Wet Cement workshop instructor, Erica Boothby. Erica's expertise is helping others become skilled, fearless negotiators, and has shaped countless lives and our "Win-Win Negotiations" training program." Read on to find out how she overcame her own professional challenges, the advice she would give to her 13-year-old self and her secret to building win-win relationships.


1. Self-advocacy is one of the toughest areas for women based on Wet Cement survey findings—yet if we don’t advocate for ourselves, we won’t be able to fulfill our missions. What is the biggest professional challenge you had to overcome and how did you do it?


One of the toughest battles we face in our careers is actually an internal one – the negative self-talk that prevents us from speaking up or promoting ourselves. As a naturally shy person, I have sat through many group meetings having things to say but hesitant to speak up, fearing that my contributions might be undervalued or dismissed, or that I wouldn’t sound smart or incisive enough. This self-doubt hindered my ability to fully express my thoughts and my professional growth.


What the research shows (both my own and others’) is that people are overly critical of themselves, and that this prevents people from realizing how positively others view them. After a social interaction, people often leave doubting that the other person likes them or would be interested in talking to them again. They wonder whether their joke came off as funny or offensive, or if their conversation partner was deep in thought or deeply bored.


But the truth is, others don’t have the same perspective about us – they’re much less critical of us than we are of ourselves. So, we should be wary of that inner critical voice, and try to realize that, on average, others view us just as positively as we view them.


2. We love Webster's definition of courage: "Strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." What advice would you give to others related to acting courageously in the face of fear? Please share a specific example and/or lesson learned with detail.


When it comes to acting courageously in the face of fear, my advice is to recognize that your fear (or unease, or apprehension, or nerves—however you personally experience it) is a signal that you're stepping outside of your comfort zone. That means you have new opportunities and the potential for personal growth. It might not feel comfortable, but if you can focus on the positive side too, you might be pleasantly surprised about new possibilities you might not have otherwise considered.

An example that comes to mind is when I first started teaching as a professor. Before that, I’d focused 100% of my energy on research, and although I’d run a research lab where I mentored students and done a lot of tutoring, I had never created or taught my own course from start to finish. It was a big shift in mentality and identity for me, and I felt the weight of the responsibility I now had for my students’ experiences. But it was also such an exciting moment, and the end result is more than I could have imagined – I have grown to truly love being in the classroom and the close relationships I develop with my students, and my class is now among the top rated at Wharton.


3. We believe confidence is beautiful. All of us stumble sometimes when it comes to feeling confident in our careers. What do you do to overcome self-doubt or the ‘impostor syndrome’ (feeling like a fake, fraud or that you are not as good as others may think you are and so you need to work harder and longer than others) when it starts to creep in?

It’s important to give yourself permission to do whatever it is you need to do to feel comfortable. Whether it’s going above and beyond to make sure you have a deep enough knowledge of a new topic before a big pitch meeting, or reviewing material for the 100th time ahead of a deadline. We’ve all been there, and it’s okay. But it’s also important to zoom out and put things in perspective, and be considerate of your own time and energy expenditure. How many hours should you reasonably dedicate to the project, and how does this balance out against other commitments that are important to you? Ultimately, I’ve learned that my own mental health is of paramount importance (without that, nothing else is possible!), and that I need to be kind to myself, recognizing that I am not alone in feeling like an imposter.


Here’s where social psychology can help us again: there’s a famous effect called “pluralistic ignorance”—when individuals privately hold one belief or attitude but mistakenly believe that most others hold a different belief or attitude. In other words, people might think they are alone in their thoughts or feelings, even though many others share the same view (because others don’t act like they share that view). So, while you may feel like an imposter - and the only one - other people actually feel the exact same way! But just like you don’t appear as an imposter from the outside (look at all your skills and accomplishments!), others also are often not internally as cool, calm, and effortlessly nailing it as they appear.


4. Research shows girls lose 30% of their confidence between the ages of 9-13. What advice would you give your 13-year old self?


Fill your life with the things that bring you joy and meaning. Confidence comes and goes—by the year, by the day, sometimes even by the hour. Knowing and expecting those fluctuations, try to focus on the long game. The goal is to increase and maintain your confidence over time, as a broader arc. Surround yourself with people who value and appreciate you, and want to help you realize your potential.


5. Networking is critical for career growth and success, especially for women. Yet it can feel uncomfortable and transactional. What is your secret to building win-win relationships?


Meeting people and genuinely being curious about them and what they’re working on. Show people that you appreciate them and respect what they’re doing. Find common ground, or a common goal, however big or small. Networking is really just getting to know people, and building social connections feels good to everyone–it’s fundamental to our human nature.


6. Wet Cement research shows that women are not as comfortable as men when it comes to taking control of difficult conversations and feeling empowered at work. How do you overcome any barriers—internal or external—to take control in challenging situations?


  1. Preparation: use friends as a sounding board as you’re working through your approach. Write down your gameplan if that helps keep it fresh in your mind, and gives you something concrete to refer back to as needed. Sometimes just the act of writing it down gives me a confidence boost, making me feel more organized and in control.

  2. Immediately prior to the difficult conversation, pick up the phone and talk to someone (a friend, a sister, a mentor) who makes you feel confident, articulate, in command.

  3. Take some of the pressure off yourself by engaging in active listening. Be curious about what your counterpart has to say, and make sure they feel heard too. This makes the conversation feel less adversarial helps turn it into a win-win.

7. We want to celebrate the accomplishments of Fearless Leaders. When you look back on your career, what are you most proud of?


A little over a year ago, I had my first child. After several months out of the workforce—time I felt so fortunate to have with my daughter—the return to work loomed large for me. I wasn’t sure what it would feel like to put my professional ‘hat’ back on. After 1,000 diaper changes and singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on a loop for several months, would my brain actually remember how to process adult speech? It took a tremendous effort to pick back up where I’d left off, but I did it, and I am stronger for having had the experience.


8. Research shows that the gender equity pay gap is impacted by women's hesitance to negotiate at work--when it comes to pay, equity, promotions, and partnerships. What advice do you have for women on how to adopt a negotiation mindset and critical tips for maximizing their outcome?


This is exactly why we offer our workshop on Negotiations! I want to empower people to advocate for themselves, especially women and members of underrepresented groups who disproportionately miss out on opportunities to advance in their careers. There is more to say here than space allows, but in brief, a lot of women’s hesitance to negotiate comes down to discomfort with negotiating or thinking of it as something ‘other people’ do. An important first step is shifting your mindset to viewing negotiation not as a win-lose fight (which you might fear losing), but as something that you and your counterpart are working on together, for your mutual benefit. That sounds simple but it does take practice. After that, the biggest bump in people’s negotiation outcomes comes from having a set of tools at your disposal that you can draw from when going into any negotiation. Preparation truly is king (or queen). Great negotiators aren’t born, they are made—with the proper training, anyone can become a skilled negotiator who is able to maximize their outcomes.


9. We are profiling Fearless Women but it’s important to recognize that men can be critical advocates and mentors for women throughout their professional journey. What have you learned about gender roles and inclusivity over the course of your career?

I seek out people (men and women alike) who are willing to advocate for others, and in particular who amplify women’s voices when they are otherwise less likely to be heard. There are plenty of people who are inclusive and make an effort to create an empowering environment for everyone. Keep those people around, get to know them, and help create the culture that you want to live in.


10. What is your ‘mission’ or the work you are most excited about that you are currently focused on?


My two current (and ongoing) passions are: 1) helping people feel a greater sense of belonging and well-being through my research on social connection, and 2) empowering people to advocate for themselves (and feel more comfortable doing so) in my negotiation classes and workshops.


Please contact info@wet-cement.com to find out more about Wet Cement's Win-Win Negotiations program.

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