Bhavana Bartholf: Empowering Change and Shattering Gender Norms in Leadership

Bhavana Bartholf - Shattering Gender Norms in Leadership | CIO Women Magazine

The rise of women in leadership across various industries signals a drastic shift. They bring fresh perspectives and valuable experiences, enriching decision-making. Despite challenges like systemic biases and limited opportunities, women persevere. Breaking through, they showcase exceptional leadership and an inclusive future. They are shattering the proverbial glass ceiling, redefining the norms of leadership, and paving the way for a more equitable future.

One such exemplary leader is Bhavana Bartholf, a multi-industry expert in operations, business transformation, sales, and marketing. Her story defies norms, revealing resilience while balancing motherhood and personal goals. Bhavana’s journey inspired countless women, a lighthouse guiding them to break barriers and surpass limitations.

Start of a Professional Legacy

Bhavana Bartholf was raised with ideologies like curiosity and the importance of self-belief. Who knew they’d come in handy years later as she started her professional journey at Microsoft Corporation? However, it was not without overcoming an early hurdle: the belief that lacking prior experience signified an inability to succeed. Microsoft, in her first interview, defied this notion. Recognizing her potential and passion, they offered her a chance, laying the foundation for her growth.

She embraced the outlook to seize opportunities that others perceived as risky or undefined. Bhavana took on challenging roles, turning difficulties into achievements. It was a testament to her self-belief and capability.

Over 22 years at Microsoft, Bhavana thrived in diverse roles across numerous disciplines. From leadership positions across professional services, customer success, operations, sales, and marketing, she tackled complex challenges head-on. Recognizing existing issues, she proactively proposed solutions and often led their implementation. Known for her ability to turn around any situation, she had a knack for breaking down complex tasks and inspiring others to collaborate and achieve shared goals.

Fundamentals Strengthening the Tower of Leadership 

Curiosity, humility, and empathy served as Bhavana Bartholf’s guiding principles throughout her career. These “soft” qualities, often overlooked in business, fueled her adaptability and success as she transitioned across diverse organizations.

During the initial phase of her career, she admits to having little experience in the technology field given her educational background in manufacturing. “However, I was good at understanding and taking the time to listen and learn quickly. In addition, I was able to help figure out how to take the collective knowledge. As I like to say, the collective genius, and connect it, integrate, and amplify it to accomplish things deemed “impossible” or “tough/risky,” she adds. 

  1. Understanding: Bhavana actively seeks to comprehend the priorities, motivations, and experiences of leaders/partners and her organization fostering trust and connection.
  1. Active Listening: Beyond immediate surroundings, she engages with individuals across the organization, virtually and in person, building trust and transparency.
  1. Waste Elimination: Recognizing organizational inertia, Bhavana Bartholf identifies and removes unnecessary processes, streamlining operations and refocusing effort on core priorities.
  1. Rewarding Talents: She recognizes both efforts and outcomes when acknowledging individual contributions. This fuels motivation and engagement, ultimately contributing to a thriving organizational culture.

These actions lay a strong foundation for scaling, sustaining, and achieving organizational goals. These soft values quickly became the foundation of a towering leadership and paved the way for Bhavana’s professional achievements.

Success through Empowering People 

Bhavana Bartholf - Shattering Gender Norms in Leadership | CIO Women Magazine

“The greatest satisfaction in my career comes from knowing I’ve positively impacted the lives and careers of others,”

Bhavana Bartholf

Bhavana’s achievements lie in building empowered teams, achieving personal growth within a supportive environment, and driving cultural change through self-advocacy.

Recent Awards:

  • Charlotte Business Journal’s Women in Business Achievement Award: 25 Outstanding Women (2022)
  • National Diversity Council’s Top 100 Women in Technology (2021) 
  • National Diversity Council’s “Power 50” Women in Leadership (2021)
  • Profiles in Diversity Journal’s Women Worth Watching (2021)

A Success Story: Leading Through Adversity

In a chapter of my professional journey, I found myself at a place facing an extraordinary challenge in an organization. Earlier in my career, I was entrusted with leading a group in professional services, focusing on a specific client type. The organization underwent a significant reorganization, with 85% of the team reporting to new leaders and 90% of our clients transitioning to new account and sales managers.

Amidst this shakeup, due to an unforeseen issue, we were informed that we lost 75% of our sales team. Compounding the issue, no replacements could be hired for a year. As the newly appointed leader, I faced the daunting task of steering a delivery organization with sales targets to meet but no sales team in place. It was a dire situation, and the clock was ticking.

However, undeterred by these challenges, I focused on foundational Leadership Principles:

Transparency: Openly communicating the situation and task ahead to the leadership team and the broader organization, building trust and understanding, and not leaving room for speculation and fear.

Collaboration: Working collectively and leading the team in defining short-term goals and action plans. Promoting a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.

Empowerment: Encouraging individuals to step outside their job descriptions, actively contributing their unique skills and perspectives to where we had needs/gaps

The key to our success was fostering an environment where every team member feels ownership of the solution. We encouraged open dialogue and made everyone aware of the daunting task ahead. Team members, irrespective of their roles, volunteered to contribute beyond their job descriptions. The response was remarkable – a surge of creativity, innovation, and focused effort that surpassed expectations.

In the first two weeks of this collective effort, the team accomplished feats that seemed impossible. Transparent communication extended beyond our leadership team, reaching the entire organization. We outlined the challenges, identified gaps, and sought support from every individual. This resulted in a remarkable display of teamwork, with people volunteering for tasks beyond their regular responsibilities.

The results were not just meeting our sales targets but exceeding them. By the fourth quarter, the success resonated beyond our immediate team. Other divisions within the professional services organization sought our assistance to bridge their gaps. It was a success story that echoed throughout the organization, highlighting the art of the possible in seemingly unconquerable situations.

“As I reflect on this experience, I recognize that true success is collective. It’s a story that goes beyond my journey as it encapsulates the resilience, creativity, and determination of every individual in the organization. What initially appeared as an impossible task became a shared achievement, demonstrating the incredible heights a team can reach when faced with adversity.”

Women’s Corner

Here is a glimpse from a candid interview of Bhavana Bartholf with CIO Women Magazine, where she addresses issues like gender-related barriers and gender discrimination. Her years of experience in various fields validate her advice to overcome such issues and achieve greatness.

  1. What is the overarching goal you aspire to achieve, and what transformative change do you envision making in the world through your efforts?

As a mother of three, my overarching goal is to shape a future for my children marked by inclusivity and opportunities. I envision a transformed workforce environment where differences are celebrated, fostering a more evolved and inclusive space when my children enter the professional domain. I firmly believe in the potential for systemic change, recognizing that each individual, keynote, and conversation contributes to the collective effort in creating the world we aspire to see. 

  1. As a woman leader, have you faced any gender-related barriers? If yes, how did you tackle and make your way through it?

In my journey, I’ve encountered gender-related challenges in several situations. An example I would say is common was around discussions of promotions/compensation increases. 

When I would have these conversations, instead of just getting a straightforward answer around yes or no and actionable things. They would always tell me how they expected me to feel. Like saying you should be “grateful” or “you are lucky” to have moved up so fast already or “your job is so important” etc. And this then makes having the conversation on compensation tougher the next time around. 

Over time, I’ve learned to be comfortable with my value and worth. It’s crucial for women to navigate these challenges by being clear about expectations, doing thorough research on what the market pays, and embracing self-belief. As one progresses, the need for external validation diminishes, and comfort in asking for what is rightfully deserved becomes paramount. The journey may be arduous, but every woman deserves a seat at every table, and recognizing one’s worth is the key to overcoming persistent gender-related barriers.

  1. If there’s one piece of advice that you would like to give to budding aspiring women entrepreneurs, what would it be?

To budding women entrepreneurs, my advice is simple: Get comfortable asking for what you want. Embrace fear, hone in on your strengths, and know what you’re good at. Self-advocacy is hard for everyone, especially women, but the gains outweigh the risks. When you don’t ask, you have much to lose and nothing to gain. So, just imagine what is possible if you do.

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