Clients Creating Change: Female Leaders Speak out

Women’s History Month is wrapping up, and we at Blue State Digital are reflecting on the past, present, and future of gender equality. We spoke with a few women we are proud to call our friends and clients: women who have achieved enormous professional success in the nonprofit, brand, and advocacy sectors. Read on to find out what these six inspiring change-makers think about how far we’ve come and how far we need to go to increase female representation in leadership.

Women are underrepresented in leadership positions. How is your industry addressing this? How can we do better?

Alisa Norris, Chief Marketing Officer, JDRF:
Women are underrepresented across all sectors, including in non-profit as well as corporate leadership and on corporate boards. We need greater diversity and must address gender equality in all organizations. We need commitment at the top of organizations to expand pipelines and sponsorship through specific programs and initiatives. Sponsorship, in particular, is key.

Helen Carroll, Director of Co-op Brand, The Co-operative Group:
Start judging more on how well people perform rather than how much they conform.  Allowing women to be their full selves through flexible working and understanding of competing priorities will make more women see leadership as a possibility rather than a sacrifice.

Anne O’Rourke, Senior Vice President of  Federal Relations, California Hospital Association:
The hospital industry has a big focus on diversifying the hospital workforce, and the leadership workforce in general. Prominent commitments have been made by hospitals to support folks that are coming up through the ranks, including complex programs that fund internships and scholarships.

How can women in our field advocate for pay equity? How can women ask for raises and show our worth?

Bess Mayhew, Co-founder & CEO, More United:
One of the biggest myths about pay is that women don’t ask for a raise as much as men. Study after study has shown that actually women do ask as often as men but are more often denied. For so long the answer has been about getting women to change their behaviour, when in fact it should be employers and senior managers who realised what they’re doing (often subconsciously) and alter their habits. Women and men at the highest level in companies need to lead from the front and consciously work to create a better, fairer culture within their workplaces.

Helen Carroll, Co-op:
I have found that many women take the attitude that they just need to be grateful for what they are offered.  If they are driven by wanting to do a good job rather than how much they are paid, then they often put this to the bottom of the pile.  The issue that this creates is that women aren’t helping women by doing this. If you don’t get paid what you are worth, how can you make sure the women in your team are?

How can men get more involved in advocating for gender equality in the workspace?

Sheila Davis, Chief Nursing Officer, Partners in Health:
To make true change, we need everyone to step up. Fighting gender bias by recognizing female colleagues’ contributions and calling out unfair practices — even when they do not directly impact oneself — are imperative.  

Helen Carroll, Co-op:
Start by recognising [gender inequality in the workspace] is a thing.  Encourage women in their teams or in their peer groups to speak up for what they are worth.

Alisa Norris, JDRF:
Many men in leadership roles recognize that diversity improves the bottom line. So men who are motivated can make a difference through deliberate efforts to find talented and capable women and support those women as they move up the corporate ladder.

What do you think helped you get so far in your career? How can we mentor young women starting in your field to want bigger career goals?

Karri Schildmeyer, Director of Corporate Alliance Marketing, Nationwide Children’s Hospital:
Without a doubt, the number one thing that has helped me get so far in my career is other people. I feel strongly that women need to take care of other women. We need to pave the roads so our younger colleagues have better and stronger opportunities than we did. Surround yourself with extraordinarily smart people — they’re typically younger than you!

Sheila Davis, Partners in Health:
I encourage all young women to be open to learn from everyone and approach their work with humility. My earliest teachers were those impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I was a new nurse in the 1980’s and worked in marginalized communities that were the epicenters. I was continually thrust out of my comfort zone into communities that were foreign to me — the gay, injection drug, and sex worker communities — but I was wholeheartedly embraced by those who were different from me. They were my guides, my teachers, my gurus.

Alisa Norris, JDRF:
I did not just accept, but actively sought out, challenging assignments.  Young women need to seek out challenges and not the easy positions. Why climb a hill if there is a mountain nearby? You learn more by climbing and maybe even falling on a mountain than just sitting on the top of a hill.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Sheila Davis, Partners in Health:
Breathe deeply and enjoy the ride.

Anne O’Rourke, California Hospital Association:
Know yourself: Know your strengths and your weaknesses. We all have weakness and it’s important that we don’t ignore that.

Karri Schildmeyer, Nationwide Children’s Hospital:
Enjoy every moment.