I Wish I’d Known: Advice for the Next Generation of Leaders

We asked executives in our Leader Program for a piece of advice they wish they had received at the start of their career and we’re thrilled to be passing on the knowledge in this bi-weekly series, I Wish I’d Known.

  New York AWE Leader, Katharine Gill, COO, Financial Services Company  says, “Always do your best; don’t be afraid to take chances and make mistakes - as long as you learn from them!”
New York AWE Leader, Katharine Gill, COO, Financial Services Company says, “Always do your best; don’t be afraid to take chances and make mistakes – as long as you learn from them!”

6 Habits to Adopt if You Want More Respect at Work

By: Danielle Wood via Fairygodboss

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Being good at your job means more than mastering a set of skills. It’s not just about what you do, but  how you do it. Getting things done by blunt force may work in the short term, but in the long term, you’ll exert much more influence and have much more organizational impact if you have the respect of your colleagues. Respect accelerates your professional growth, your personal brand, and your career.

A recent study published in Harvard Business Review by Kristie Rogers of Marquette University, found that when it comes to the workplace, there are two major categories of respect: owed respect and earned respect.

In a healthy organization, “Owed respect is accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organization…It’s signaled by civility and an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the group is inherently valuable,” says Rogers. Whereas “earned respect recognizes individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviors. It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations.”

Earned respect, in other words, is inherently about distinguishing yourself from others. It’s about the habits and behaviors you display that make people sit up and take notice. Here are six habits displayed by people who earn respect at work.

1. They listen, even when it feels irrelevant.

People who are respected at work garner that respect because “they understand the value and power of relationships,” says Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, author of the workbook for women “Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last.” They listen without always having to or without having an answer, says Booker-Drew. And when they listen, they’re all in. Research supports leaving cellphones outside the meeting room to ensure you’re listening closely. A recent study linked a clear correlation between decreased cognitive abilities and the presence of a nearby cell phone—even if the phone had notifications and sounds turned off. So, turn your phones off and your ears on. Your professional reputation will thank you. 

2. They know when to practice quiet.

If you want to work in an environment of trust and respect, you need to contribute to that culture. And one of the greatest enemies of a healthy culture is backtalk.

 “As a general rule, highly respected and trusted people do not gossip in the workplace,” says Val Grub, who has held senior roles at NBC Universal and Rolls-Royce, and is now Workplace Coach at TONE Networks. “While gossip may feel like idol chitchat, it’s actually bullying dressed up as information sharing.” 

As a baseline, “If you wouldn’t say the comments to the person directly, there’s a really strong possibility you’re engaging in gossip.” 

Many leadership experts agree that gossiping is a key indicator of an unhealthy organization, because all that negativity contributes to a serious lack of trust.

 “Employee morale takes a major hit as well,” Grub says, “along with creativity and productivity. I tell my clients: if you hear gossip, shut it down. People will know they can trust you and your working life will be so much better for it.

3. They look out for others in meetings. 

People who are respected at work often garner quite a bit of political capital. But they use that capital to help others, says Jeff Skipper, a consultant who works with many Fortune 500 companies. 

“They draw others into the conversation that have been silent or don’t have the social strength to break into the discussion,” Skipper continues. “Or they strengthen another’s voice, lending instant credibility to a diverse thinker, which is often just what a team needs to break out of the box.” 

The best thinking comes from the most diverse organizations. Support diverse points of view so you don’t reinforce the echo-chamber.

4. They see mistakes as a chance to get better. 

Most respected people at work don’t kill precious time pointing fingers. When they commit a mistake, they own up to it. And if their team falters, they take collective responsibility. 

“They spend time analyzing the root of the mistake, doing the required course corrections and learning from what happened,” says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and Co-Founder of Mettl.com, a talent measurement firm. 

The most respected people are the ones who invest the time to become masters of their domain, and the only way to do that is to practice… a lot. Thomas Edison is reported to have once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

5. They hunt down solutions. 

Every organization has problems, and most do not have a lack of people eager to point them out. A great way to build respect at work is to be a solution starter, says Shefali Raina, a New York City- based Executive coach. 

“When you see a problem in your domain, collaborate with others to build a practical, workable solution, and then rally everybody and give energy to get it done,” Raina says. Getting things done by rallying others and energizing projects helps other people to see you as positive, credible and action oriented. 

6. They respect their workplace as contributing to their career journey.

Millennials switch jobs more frequently than previous generations, says Raysha Clark, a licensed therapist and career coach who specializes in clients new to the workforce. While they may see this as no problem, the employers investing big bucks in their professional development can see things differently. 

“New hires often have an amazing advantage in getting the latest and most up-to-date training in the organization,” she says. “Take the training with a sense of gratitude and find ways to use it to contribute to the greater good of your organization.” 

Even if you see this job as merely a stepping stone, bring your entire self while you’re there. Just like any relationship, it takes two. 

“Go into each position ready to be an asset, because a resume full of previous training means nothing if you don’t exercise what you’ve learned,” says Clark.

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.


Hey Corporations! What are you doing to help solve the national childcare crisis?

By: Meiko Takayama, Founder and CEO of Advancing Women Executives

 Photo by  Sai De Silva  on  Unsplash
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

After 17 years as the primary caregiver in our home, my husband went ‘back to work’ this summer. When he accepted the offer, we sat down and, among the many conversations, had to discuss the logistics of after-school pick-up for our kids. We’re lucky, though. If necessary, our teenagers can take a Lyft or Uber and fend for themselves until we get home. If they were younger and, if we didn’t live in an urban, rideshare happy city, we would have to confront the reality that school gets out at 3 and our work days don’t end until much later.

Then I came across this article, and as I read it, my blood began to boil. It begins by setting the scene in a small town in Connecticut, where parents camped out overnight to secure their child’s name on a waiting list for a town-sponsored after-school program. The article explains that the program can’t meet the demand for after-school care because of space and budget limitations and further indicates that this is a problem across the country; “this mismatch between school and workday, a relic of a bygone era and outdated family norms, has left parents and school districts scrambling to find a solution.”

And while there has certainly been progress in getting more women to the top, many companies still have no female senior executives – this is large in part due to a lack of affordable and convenient childcare options. A recent analysis from Childcare Aware America showed that in 28 U.S. states, childcare costs more than college tuition. And because mothers are 5.5 times more likely to handle household obligations than men, when childcare is too expensive, women end up being the parent who leaves the workforce to take care of the kids.

And we wonder why it’s taking so long to get more women CEOs.

Why are we looking to the already underfunded school systems, community resources, and stressed parents who are trying to make ends meet scramble to find a solution when companies may hold the key? It’s time for companies, especially large corporations with the budgets and size, to set an example and offer childcare options and more flexibility for in-person hours.  

What if companies were to provide:

  • Onsite, subsidized childcare for newborns and toddlers (these 24 Fortune 100 companies are already doing this. Congratulations to our AWE client companies Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, Prudential Financial, and Cisco Systems for making the list!);

  • Transportation for school-aged children to the parent’s office and onsite care options including tutoring and recreational activities;

  • Summer calendars that coincide with the school calendar, that give parents the option to work from home or work remotely so they can spend more time with their family while their kids are out of school;

  • Budgets for breastfeeding mothers to travel with their newborn babies (including travel costs for a support person) so they can still travel for business, and in turn, continue to accelerate their career. Or at least pay for the mother to overnight ship her breastmilk home;

  • Benefits that cover the cost for an employee’s family to join them on business travel if the employee is going to be gone for more than a few days. (Including airfare, hotels, meals, childcare). Shout out to AWE client company, McMaster-Carr for already doing this!

  • A Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) – companies incentivize and base performance reviews on results rather than monitoring the number of hours or days in the office that the employee works. If goals are met, no questions are asked about when or how employees work.;

    • We actually implement ROWE at AWE, and it’s the workplace policy that I am most proud of because it allows employees like our Managing Director, Yael Utt, to walk her boys to school every day and stay home with her toddler on the day she doesn’t utilize a nanny share, or our Executive Coach, Brandon Maslan to be actively involved in raising his daughter, which allows his wife to have the space she needs to focus on her career and be an incredible mother.  

  • If not ROWE, then work from home options for mothers transitioning back after maternity leave who may not want to leave a new baby with a caretaker or who may not have the financial means to do so; and

  • Half-day options so parents can pick their kids up from school and finish their workday from home. To take it a step further, imagine if companies incentivized parents who utilize flex-work to participate in programs at their child’s school?

You may be thinking, but companies aren’t in the business of helping employees become more involved parents, and you’re right, they’re not. But it benefits companies – and in many cases even contributes to increased productivity and profits – to support and encourage work-life balance. Not only are worry free parents more focused, but one of the biggest struggles they face (working mothers in particular)  is not being able to “do it all.” And while companies certainly can’t turn parents into superheroes, they can give them an extra hand by way of childcare options and more flexibility for in-person hours.

Just a couple of days ago, The Wing – the women’s focused co-working and community space – announced that they are expanding the SoHo location to include, The Little Wing, an affordable and convenient child care program for moms who use the space. “If a company in just its second year of existence can begin to tackle the problem, it would seem logical that larger businesses could look harder at solutions they offer parents too.”

It’s amazing to think about where we can take modern workplaces, if only we have enough creativity to think outside the template we’ve followed for decades and more confidence to trust that the “risk” will be worth the reward. We already know that when employees feel valued, they work harder. In a market where even basic parental support sets a company apart, imagine the competitive edge employers can gain by offering comprehensive support such as flexible in-person hours or on-site childcare. It’s not just the key to solving the after-school problem, it’s the key to attracting and retaining top talent. C’mon corporate America – it’s time to step up your game!


AWE’s CEO and Founder, Meiko Takayama on Being A Boss

In light of #NationalBossDay we sat down with our boss, Meiko Takayama, Founder and CEO of AWE to talk to her about her journey to the top.

Did you always want to be a boss?

I became a boss because I saw a need in the market and very naively said to myself, “If I don’t do this, who will?”

In 2011, I was an executive recruiter and I was hosting events for local-based, senior executive women to connect and to share best practices. At these events, women repeatedly said to me, “I didn’t realize there were so many of us out there.”

I thought it was a strange comment because we represent 50% of the population – but then I began to understand that we aren’t physically ‘out there’ because we aren’t networking and we aren’t ‘out there’ in numbers because there are few of us in senior positions at companies. The number of women at the top hasn’t changed dramatically in over a decade and I knew I had to do something. I could remain in executive recruiting to try and influence clients with diverse candidates but I realized that I could never achieve great scale with that model. That’s when I realized that I could expand upon the events that I had been hosting and a business was born. (Having gone to a women’s college and working previously in non-profit didn’t hurt the fact that I was creating a mission-focused company supporting the advancement of women!)

A few months after creating the business plan, I learned that my father had cancer and he died three weeks later. I was able to spend almost the entire three weeks with him, my mother and my sister, and during this time, he told me that, at this point in life, he was the happiest that he’d ever been.

These words stuck with me after he passed, and I realized that he was able to say this to me because he had lived such a fulfilled life and was able to let go. My father’s final act was very zen and I believe that it was a gift to my family. I then realized that if I were to share this gift with my family, I, too, would need to be able to say to myself that I’d done everything that I wanted to do in this life. With that fire beneath me, I realized that I better really get started in creating AWE. One month later AWE was officially up and running.

You asked if I always wanted to be a boss and the answer is no. However, I was born with rebel genes – from a banker turned artist paternal grandfather, to an unconventional thinking father, to an independent mother who left her native country at the age of 25 and never looked back.

An amalgamation of life events led me here and I am incredibly grateful they did because I know that my team and I are changing the world for the better

 Meiko Takayama moderating an AWE panel discussion in spring of 2018, in New York City. The panel was titled,  Beyond the Hashtags: Real Dialogue Between Female Executives and Male Allies.
Meiko Takayama moderating an AWE panel discussion in spring of 2018, in New York City. The panel was titled, Beyond the Hashtags: Real Dialogue Between Female Executives and Male Allies.

What is your favorite part about being a boss?

We regularly get emails and messages from women and men who tell us that we’ve changed their lives – from a woman who got the promotion, to a man who better understands the challenges that his wife faces each day, to a former employee who has learned how to better manage and influence within her new work environment. That’s really fantastic and it’s so rewarding to be part of a great team that generates that kind of positive response.

I also love watching the relationships that have been built amongst the AWE team. When I started the company, I never thought that I would create a place that would be the genesis of lifelong friendships.

What has been the biggest challenge?

There are so many! My biggest challenge is also related to the people I lead. My true strengths are in business and sales. I am a visionary and I love strategy, but a great boss needs to be able to flex her leadership to adapt to the diverse perspectives, interests, behavioral patterns, and learning styles of the people she works with. This is no easy task – and as a founder it’s especially difficult because you feel personally responsible for the lives of the people that you employ. There’s so much more to being a great boss than simply knowing how to run a business or make sales. I am fortunate to have surrounded myself with trusted partners who push me to flex into the spaces of leadership that are more challenging for me.

You mentioned that there’s so much more to being a great boss, than simply knowing how to run a business. What are 5 top qualities that you’ve noticed great bosses have?

In the thousands of executives I’ve talked to in my career and in my own experience – these are the areas that I like to improve for myself each day:

  1. Know when and how to let go. This is something that I am still working on, but it’s so important. Great bosses acknowledge that they can’t do everything. They delegate where they can and trust the talent they hired. By relinquishing control they create space to strategize on a macro scale. Which brings me to my next point…

  2. Think big picture – on everything from operations, to people management, to how to stay relevant in the marketplace. The world is changing faster than we can keep up, the most effective leaders that I’ve met keep their heads up.

  3. Be an effective communicator. Great bosses grow their network and build strong relationships before they need something. Additionally, they value and can deliver smooth, concise, and compelling stories.

  4. Roll up your sleeves. While delegation is crucial, teams trust and respect a leader that is willing to get in the trenches with them.

  5. Have the WOW factor. Everyone has had a smart boss, but being led by someone who you admire and are inspired by, that’s something special. Great bosses have a keen ability to inspire and unite a team around the vision.

 Arianna Huffington with Meiko Takayama at an AWE gathering in 2017, where Arianna spoke on mindfulness in the workplace.
Arianna Huffington with Meiko Takayama at an AWE gathering in 2017, where Arianna spoke on mindfulness in the workplace.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to the aspiring bosses out there?

If you are ruminating on an idea, a title change, or a raise, go for it! Don’t wait until you feel ready. That’s the biggest mistake that many people (especially women) make. They think that they need to be 100% prepared before taking that leap, when men often take the leap knowing that they are only partially qualified. Let go of the fear of failing and of everything that tells you that you’re not good enough because you are. Imagine what the world would be like if all women had the same confidence of an average white man.

Last, remember that just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean you can’t be it.

Connect with Meiko here.


AWE Leader, Denise Hartmann: The Magic of an Honest OOO Message, Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Owning Your Power

By: Jasmine Pierik

 Denise (left) and her colleague (right) at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro holding the BASF placard.

Denise (left) and her colleague (right) at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro holding the BASF placard.

This past July, our Managing Director, East Coast, Yael Utt sent an email to Detroit-based New York AWE Leader, Denise Hartmann, Vice President, Business Management, Dispersions, Resins, and Additives, North America at BASF and received this response:

Thank you for your email. I am out of the office Wednesday August 15 through Friday August 31 climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to support and benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Emails responses will be delayed.

Yael immediately forwarded the message to our team to not only celebrate Denise and her incredible feat, but to bring attention to her honest OOO message, something we not only preach, but practice at AWE.

It’s not everyday that you meet a senior executive who has a thriving family and career and who is brave enough to step away from work for 2 weeks to climb one of the world’s highest peaks. I decided to call Denise and ask a few questions about her experience. What was meant to be a 30 minute interview turned into over an hour long conversation about family, loss, leadership, simplifying, perseverance, and doing what you set out to do.

We caught wind of your climb because of your OOO message. I heard that you got a major and unexpected response from it. Can you tell me more about that and also about where you got the idea for an honest OOO?

My inbox nearly doubled from this message! Almost everyone that sent me a legitimate email, got the vacation response and immediately sent a follow up email to send words of encouragement, curiosity, and support. I have to thank AWE and Meiko for challenging AWE Leaders in a recent email to be more honest with our OOO messages – I really took her challenge to heart and was very specific about what I was going to be doing and why.

What did it mean to you to get responses from people that you work with in support of and interested in what you were doing? Did this enhance any of your work relationships?

It did a couple of things. First, it connected me with people at BASF who I had never even talked to before. A lot of people responded and wanted to understand my motivation. Second, when BASF caught wind, they asked me and a colleague who were both doing the climb to carry these placards that had BASF’s # for a new campaign. We carried those placs all the way to the summit and took a picture. Corporate HQ ended up sharing that photo on BASF’s socials and made us their #WCW! Individuals from my team commented on the photo saying things like “my boss is a badass!” and that made me feel really good. It feels great to know that people are proud to work with you.

Did this positive response to taking time off change the way you think about vacation?

I have always been a big believer of time off and I take as many vacations a year as I possibly can. I really love this piece from the Netflix culture deck, “We encourage our leaders to take big trips and come back with big ideas.” I certainly have bigger thoughts after coming back from a trip and this last one is no exception.

I heard that you shared the “honest OOO” with your team at a recent dinner. What was their response? Have you seen any creative messages since?

I did! And since one of my direct reports took some time to go to a family wedding in HI. He and his wife have 2 small kids, and they rented a house. His message was something like:

I am out of the office for a wedding in HI. My wife and I rented a house for us and our 2 young children. We are essentially just chasing kids around like we do at home, but this time we have a nicer view of the ocean.

By stepping away, you empower the people on your team to rise to the occasion and even though their decisions may not be exactly what you would do – and you have to own the decisions when you return – it’s a great opportunity to build trust and develop your team. Plus you get time to recharge your batteries which is so important!

You were raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, who you’ve been volunteering with since 2014. Can you tell me about your motivation and how this opportunity presented itself?

I got involved with this group after a move to North Carolina. I was encouraged by a friend who had been involved in Team in Training in a different state. I was looking for a social network but also was seeking a network that would help keep me healthy. Closer to home, I lost my dad to prostate cancer in 2004 – I was 28. The night before he passed away I went to the hospital. I had a moment alone with him and he was getting really frail –  it was obvious the end was near. It was just the two of us, I was sitting on his bed, holding his hand, and I told him I would do anything I could to fight this disease. His said, “I know you will kiddo.” Almost 15 years later, I have raised well into 6 figures for different organizations, ran 6 full marathons, and 16 ½ marathons.

Do you and your husband always do these events together?

No. My husband has always been an amazing supporter during every marathon, with a sign for me in one hand and a beer in the other. However Kilimanjaro had always been a bucket list item for us. This was his first major go at fundraising and his first time doing an endurance sport. I have always enjoyed running and he loves fly fishing – the mountains are where we can meet, so this was perfect. Beyond the personal accomplishment and money raised, this was a great moment for us to find something that was ours and will be ours forever.

 Denise (right) and her husband (left) at the summit.

Denise (right) and her husband (left) at the summit.

What was keeping you up at night in the months before you left?

My husband is a cancer survivor himself and was born with a condition that forces him to get surgery about every 13 months – he’s had 30 some odd surgeries in his lifetime. I was so worried about what we would do if one of us couldn’t keep going. I knew that if something happened to him I would lose my mental game quickly and I knew this climb would be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I also knew that if something happened to me, I’d want him to keep going. We were actually out on a day hike when this conversation came up and we both agreed that we didn’t want to act emotionally in the moment so we decided to make a plan just in case. We came up with a two-tiered program, which I realize sounds so logical as I say it, but we really wanted something logical to turn to if need be! Tier one was that if one of us was struggling to the point of not being able to continue and the guides told us that it was only related to altitude and going back down to lower level would solve the issue, we would separate. We would trust the guides as they had done this trip over 700 times. However, if there was any uncertainty as to what was wrong with either him or I, we would go back together, no questions asked.

Fortunately, we never had to put the plan into play. However, there was a moment right near the end when we were about to summit, that I did actually have to grab my husband’s hand and drag him the rest of the way. We were about 40 minutes shy of the summit and he looked at me and said, “This is enough.” And I said, “No way! We didn’t come this far to stop before reaching the top. Our best Christmas card photo ever is only 40 minutes away!”

At any point did you want to give up? If so, what made you keep going?

Are you kidding? I’m way too stubborn and competitive with myself. Sure, there were moments where I couldn’t believe I was doing it, but my own story and the stories of the people around me kept me going. The longest day of my life was not summiting Kilimanjaro it was trying to get back to my sister after she called me and said our mom had an aneurysm and passed instantly. I was in my 30s, single, and living in Brussels at the time. After losing both my parents as a young adult, people would say things like, “you’re so strong” and I would just think what other option was there? I had to keep going and pick myself back up. I guess because this climb was something I chose to do, I simply chose to keep going. This wasn’t something happening to me. It was hard, but I chose to keep going. That really raised my confidence and gave strength a new and different face. I realize I can handle more than I thought and also that you don’t have to make big problems out of small things.

I had this picture of my mom and dad dancing that I laminated and affixed it to the back of my pack. If you got to a point where you were too tired to carry your bag, one of the guides would actually take it for you. I was one of the only one of us in our group who carried my pack the entire time and it’s because I’d made up my mind that there was no way anyone would carry my parents up there, but me. I have a pretty deep faith and I knew this was the closest I would ever be to heaven with my feet still on the ground. When I got to the top, I balled my eyes out – those tears needed to come. I never doubted that we’d summit. We had the right team, the right gear, and we had prepared. I knew we’d make it.  

I think it’s safe to say that goes for most things in life, if you’ve got the right people, the right tools and you’ve done the prep work, you can do just about anything.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Although I have long unpacked from this trip, there’s so much mental and emotional unpacking that I am still doing.

Let’s keep unpacking then. Was there a moment that really surprised you?

I had no idea how close I would get to the 7 guides and the climbing team. There was 65 of us in total. When we left Africa I felt like I was leaving my family behind. I didn’t know how connected I would feel to everyone, especially the guides. They shared themselves, their mountain, their country, their love. Saying goodbye was one of the most difficult parts. There is so much personal satisfaction out of the physical feat, but what I will remember most is everyone’s story – who they were remembering, who they were celebrating. We all were doing that climb for reasons so much bigger than ourselves. This experience really taught me so much and reminded me of that saying, if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. One person isn’t going to make it alone, but a lot of individuals, when working together, can do a really huge thing.

Speaking of, have you had any other major takeaways even in your post-climb reflection?

Many things. In looking at our guides, their lives are simple in comparison, but, wow, they are so rich! It made me realize that we get worked up about such silly things. Humans are goldfish – we grow to fit our bowl. After this trip, my husband and I have definitely been thinking about how we can simplify our life, lessen our possessions, be more thoughtful in terms of how we spend our money. Imagine how much more we could do for a greater good if we focused less on material things.

On a more professional note, watching the guides taught me a lot about flexing in your leadership – something we talk a lot about in the professional space. The guides would rotate between the front, side, back. They continued to take turns in these different positions over the course of the 8 days. Each day we watched as someone new carried the physical or mental load. Some days the head guide didn’t speak at all, and he would simply pull up the back. I witnessed leadership flexing in real time. Of course I know that a good leader has to be able to adapt based on the situation and who they are working with, but to see it in such a literal sense reminded me how working in teams requires so much flexibility and adaptation. It was such a great analogy to bring back to the leadership in my own organization.

Personally, I realized that I am a hell of a lot stronger than I give myself credit for! I knew that I survived a lot and I definitely think of myself as a survivor, but the difference is now I can say it out loud! I am finally owning my strength and my power and it feels so good. I’ve always let others give me compliments on my strength or determination and I’ve sheepishly said, “thank you,” but not anymore. I’m owning it from here on out and I am so excited to see what that means for my team.

Yes – own it, Denise! How incredible to come into a new sense of power. I’m curious, now that you’ve climbed one of the highest mountains in the world, what’s the next summit on your horizon?

I am definitely already feeling the “what’s next” itch. The band of us who climbed together ranging in ages from the 20s to 50s are already planning a reunion hike in one of the U.S. national parks. We had such a strong connection and we don’t want to lose that. But in terms of a big summit, I don’t feel the need to top anything. Certainly, the bar has been raised, but the next real challenge is to use this new-found power! 

Tomorrow marks a month and half since we summited and I am thinking about how to sustain this sense of accomplishment and continue to own that I am so much stronger than I ever imagined. I am so glad that I did this at this stage in my life, because the combination being 40 and completing this climb really made for something magical. I am realizing it isn’t about what’s bigger it’s about continuing to channel my strength as new things come and using my confidence in new ways, not just for myself but for my team. This is the first time that I feel confident saying I am strong and I feel badass and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.  

Visit Denise’s LinkedIn to learn more about her career at BASF.


Diversity Panel Featuring 3 AWE Leaders!

On July 12th, AWE New York Leader, Judy Jackson, Global Chief Talent Officer at Wunderman, moderated a fantastic panel, called Achieving Liftoff: Leveraging the Power of Diversity and Inclusion to Boost Your Brand at the Ace Hotel New York. Among the four panelists was AWE Emeritus Leader Cathy Gutierrez, Senior Human Resources Executive and AWE Emeritus Leader, Agnes Chapski, Senior GM and Sales Executive.

The goal of the discussion was to dig into tangible ways to leverage inclusion and diversity for positive business development, relationship management, and customer retention. The panelists represented varying client/customer focused brands from Glossier to Audible, and varied industries from PR to publishing companies. The panelists eloquently spoke on the intersection of successful branding and D&I – from the company’s origin to bringing the vision to fruition and how the people you hire, the priorities you set, the customers you target, and the stories you weave with the communities in which you serve are integral.

The panel attracted close to 100 guests from senior executives and company leaders to junior folks and people pivoting in their careers. The women on the panel brought a truly complementary mix of insights and communication styles from the genuine, warm, even-keeled, matter-of-fact, and witty, to the anecdotal, tangible and cautionary. They focused on truly actionable items challenging attendees to bring back to their own companies. There were many profound moments (especially as race was a key focus) and a perfect sprinkling of wit and humor.

The evening’s takeaways included:

1. Diversity programs have a higher likelihood of succeeding when driven by C-suite leaders, not human resources.

2. Steering committees to lead on diversity may create a lack of ownership and unintentionally diffuse impact.

3. There are tools to assist in “blind” interviewing but training in unconscious bias is a crucial part of the hiring and evaluation process.

4. Companies can follow the great examples of organizations like Starbucks and Salesforce to be more publicly open in acknowledging what they want to achieve around D&I (i.e. admitting when there are setbacks).

5. While sexism and racism are fully in the ether as biases to confront, there still exist more “accepted” biases like ageism, which should also be a focus of the work of organizations.

Judy Jackson provided a strikingly beautiful metaphor for D&I: Diversity is being asked to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to actually dance once there, and True Inclusion is when you know the steps to the dance that everyone is doing and you feel comfortable joining in and like you belong.

Diversity and inclusion is not just about getting under-represented folks in the room, it’s about creating a culture where diverse perspectives are sought after. Folks need to be valued enough to be taught the dance.


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