Connecting Career Education, Women, and TESOL Leadership

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

How do you prepare your female students for success in the workplace? A Ted Talk that addresses gender inequality in workplace training recently inspired me. That TED Talk, titled “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get,” provides ESPers with training material. Further, the video applies to the leadership development issue in TESOL International Association. In this TESOL Blog post, I will explain these connections.

As an ESPer, I work with the unemployed in Hello Work programs in Japan, which are government-sponsored training programs. Although my classes are concerned with business English, I am asked specifically to prepare students for interviews in English as well. In addition to providing interview training, I adapt the business English textbook contents to provide interview practice and skills.

In my classes, there are usually more women than men. Accordingly, I was very pleased to come across the TED Talk by Susan Colantuono, who is the CEO and founder of Leading Women. In her talk, she explains how women (and men) can move up the corporate ladder.

In order to move up in organizations, you have to be known for your leadership skills, and this would apply to any of you, women or men. It means that you have to be recognized for using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others. Put in other language, it means you have to use your skills and talents and abilities to help the organization achieve its strategic financial goals and do that by working effectively with others inside of the organization and outside. And although all three of these elements of leadership are important, when it comes to moving up in organizations, they aren’t equally important.

What is most important? Colantuono goes on to say that “business, strategic, and financial acumen” is the key.

In seeking and identifying employees with high potential, the potential to go to the top of organizations, [specific] skills and competencies . . . are rated twice as heavily as those in the other two elements of leadership. These skills and competencies can be summarized as business, strategic, and financial acumen. In other words, this skill set has to do with understanding where the organization is going, what its strategy is, what financial targets it has in place, and understanding your role in moving the organization forward.

The problem for women is that the advice they are usually given for career success does not lead to the acquisition of “business, strategic, and financial acumen.” In other words, many (according to Colantuono, 33%) of the competencies needed for women to be promoted to the highest level of an organization are missing. The burden for women is to acquire such “business, strategic, and financial acumen.” Further, they have to show that they have acquired such skills and knowledge. In this connection, Colantuono states that “[one] young scientist that works in a biotech firm used her insight about the missing 33 percent to weave financial impact data into a project update she did and got tremendous positive feedback from the managers in the room.”

How is Colantuono’s TED talk related to my Hello Work students? In one of my previous TESOL Blog posts, I mentioned the following organizational patterns for answering behavioral interview questions.

  • S.T.A.R. (Situation/Task or Problem/Action/Result)
  • C.A.R. (Challenge/Action/Result)
  • P.A.R. (Problem/Action/Result)

In my Hello Work classes, and in view of Colantuono’s TED Talk, I encouraged students to include in their portfolio of S.T.A.R./C.A.R./P.A.R. stories, some stories that displayed their business, strategic, and financial acumen. In addition, I advised the students to make the effort to acquire such business, strategic, and financial acumen in their future jobs.

Finally, I recognized how the missing 33% can be applied to leadership development at TESOL International Association. One issue addressed by the TESOL Governance Review Task Force (of which I was a member) was how midlevel TESOL leaders (e.g., interest section chairs, etc.) could acquire the business, strategic, and financial acumen necessary for TESOL groups to be in strategic alignment (i.e., everyone is rowing in the same way, as illustrated in Colantuono’s TED Talk).

What do you think? How can TESOL International Association members acquire the business, strategic, and financial acumen needed to move up in the association? How can we all have the same shared vision and understand our roles in moving the association forward?

All the best,



About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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