Neha’s Story: Surhud

Only 1% of Indian girls have played any kind of organized sport in their lives.

This story, an excerpt from Wonder Girls, highlights Neha’s journey to becoming the captain of the Indian rugby team.

Along the way she found a visionary coach who embodies the values of the sport and taught her how to play the game.

“During my stint in athletics, I accidentally got introduced to rugby via a local club in Pune. Coach Surhud Khare from the Khare Football and Rugby Academy, Pune, visited our school and invited us to attend the women’s rugby match that he was organizing over the weekend. One of my friends and I went to watch the match, just for fun. We enjoyed the game so much that we wanted to give it a try. Surhud encouraged us to attend a practice session. He had grown up in Africa and had played rugby all through his childhood. When he came back to India he made a commitment to introduce and grow rugby in India.

Surhud is the reason why people play rugby in Pune today. He introduced the local football players to rugby, and they passionately took to the new sport. Surhud later confessed to me that he didn’t think I had it in me to be a rugby player. ‘You are so small. I never thought you could play this sport. I changed my mind after I saw you run. Any doubts I had were wiped out after I saw you tackle your opponents.’

That one practice session changed my life forever. I had played nearly every sport there was, but had never enjoyed any of them as much as I did rugby. There was no looking back after that evening. I was fifteen at the time. Since then I have been showing up for my rugby practice session from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. every single day. I played rugby in the scorching heat and during the harsh monsoon. I made no excuses. The only days I skip are when I am out of Pune for a tournament.

What draws me to rugby are the core values the sport inculcates in its players. I can tell you that my life after rugby has been very different from my life before it. The sport of rugby revolves around solidarity, respect, integrity, discipline and fairness. Coach Surhud taught me how to inculcate these core values in my game. I have seen men who are seven feet tall and weighing over 100kg play the sport like beasts, but off the field they are true gentlemen.

My commitment to and consistency with rugby paid off . In early 2016, I was made captain of the Indian rugby team. I cried when I heard the news. I called up my father, crying, and he thought I was in trouble. He began to freak out. ‘Beta, kya hua? Kya hua?’ he kept asking.

When I was finally able to stop crying I told him I had been made captain of the Indian rugby team and didn’t know what to do.

My father burst out laughing. He told me I fully deserved the title.

The future of rugby is bright. Today rugby is the fastest growing sport in India, and that is because of passionate leaders like Suhrud who go from school to school introducing rugby to young people. It takes an immense amount of passion to show up every morning for ten years at 6 a.m. to coach beginners. Players like me owe everything to coaches like him.”

– Neha Pardeshi, Captain, Indian Women’s National Rugby Team

Shared in partnership with Wonder Girls: Success Stories of Millenials who Fought to Do It Their Way (Juggernaut Books, Varsha Adusumilli)

Don’t miss Neha’s full story in the print book, now out in India and selected parts of the U.S.

You can also access the book digitally here on Juggernaut.

Kelly’s Story: Harvey

A successful athlete and innovator, Kelly, shares her second story about her mentor, Harvey.  

Harvey takes time to understand Kelly’s values — a sense of belonging coming from a shared military background — and finds meaningful ways to provide networking and career opportunities. 

“I wrote about my dad in the previous post, as one of my earliest and strongest male allies. In 2012, my dad introduced me to Harvey Floyd II. At the time, Harvey was working for the Center for Creative Leadership and my dad encouraged me to attend one of their sessions. We immediately connected over a shared history of our respective childhoods in military families.

Harvey became my sounding board as I was navigating my next move. At Misericordia, my graduate assistant stint was coming to a close and I was grappling with what was next for me. I received a job offer in January that I had declined, in order to finish my degree. I received another to be an academic advisor, and declined for no specific reason other than uncertainty about it as the next best move. What seemed to be the logical next step, was to take charge of my own collegiate program; but that didn’t feel right either. Harvey’s wisdom helped me come to my own conclusion that leaving higher education was the right choice and embracing the challenge of a new city and new industry was what would likely make me jump out of bed every morning.

When I came to Under Armour, I was working in the office of our brand’s Founder and CEO; Kevin Plank. I learned a lot, very quickly and demonstrated that I was unflappable, loyal and an asset to the team. In that office I met President Clinton, opened mail from Jay-Z and sent a swag bag to Bill Gates. I was responsible for accomplishing tasks for which I had no prior experience, with little to no room for error and I crushed it.

I was swiftly promoted to the Innovation team, tasked to create and execute a brand for Open Innovation. Our site Idea House receives thousands of submissions and resulted in some great innovations for athletes. For Kevin Plank’s 2017 Cupid’s Cup the charge was to take the program national and get top talent. I was heavily involved in all aspects of that program, and at the time it was my passion project. I hand-selected and successfully recruited four of the five finalists; two of which were later named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, including our winner.

Harvey knows that I have a passion for learning and will send me a text to check out a podcast (HBR Women at Work) or a new book (How Women Rise); but the most meaningful thing Harvey has done for me, is introduce me to other like-minded, ambitious young women. He knows how important the sense of belonging is to me (military childhood) and he has helped me find professional ‘teammates.’ These women have great energy, big dreams and are wicked smart; and I’ve been so grateful for each and every introduction Harvey has made, because they always reinvigorate me!

Through these professional experiences and with monthly conversations with Harvey, I learned that I have a passion for the entrepreneurial spirit and am bolstering it however I can.

One of the things that Harvey has said to me that helps center me, is that I am ‘poised for change.’  He’s right. I am always ready for the next challenge.”

Kelly Becker, Innovation Partnerships, Under Armour
Baltimore, MD

Kelly’s Story: Her Father

In this two-part story, Kelly Becker, athlete and innovator, shares the important impact of two male allies.  Both stories are an example of male allies being present and critical in different areas of one’s life; today, Kelly talks about her father.

“I grew up the daughter of an officer in the United States Marine Corps. The life of a military child is unique; change is constant and relentless. I moved six times before the 5th grade and we continued to move after. It was common Becker protocol for my dad to sign me up for a sport or activity upon arrival and when he could, be my coach. We share a passion for basketball that I believe started when my dad was my basketball coach. Through sport, I learned valuable lessons of selflessness, confidence, and hard work, that doesn’t always result in victory.

I was in a sport or activity all year round. From fencing, to being the only girl on the baseball team, to ballet, the school chorus, and to my ultimate passion: field hockey. By participating in these different activities as a military child, I learned I’m a reliable and trustworthy teammate, I work hard no matter the challenges ahead, I’m a great communicator to a variety of different audiences, and an effective, active listener.

When I found my ultimate passion, the game of field hockey, it too taught me a lot. I started playing in middle school because two gym teachers identified my talent and encouraged me to try out. I competed for a state championship, and in college won an NCAA National Championship and coached at the collegiate level. All of these experience allowed me to take risks and continually learn about my strengths as an individual.

I spent most of my childhood envisioning I’d be the female Marine lawyer on JAG. She was smart and powerful. My father was a Marine, and I admire him greatly – so she embodied everything I wanted to be – at that time.

But as I grew older, I recognized that there was no pressure to mirror my father’s life exactly. So I followed my passion for field hockey — there was no field hockey at his alma-mater, the US Naval Academy — and instead I attended a small liberal arts school, Ursinus College, and studied history. And history is another passion my father and I share. We both love that there are patterns in humanity, and that if you study theme  – you can anticipate change, and ultimately change history for good.

While I was at college, my dad wrote me a hand-written letter nearly every single week I was away and each was signed with love and that he was proud of me (even while I was studying abroad in London!). I’ll be honest, I was not confident I could make it at Ursinus. Being a part of a nationally-ranked team was hard, but the schoolwork was harder. My dad was the first person in his family to attend and graduate college and I was the first woman from both sides of the family to attend college. His seemingly casual letters made a huge impact. Not only did I graduate from Ursinus College, but like him I’ve gone on to earn two master’s degrees.

The day I graduated with my master’s from Misericordia was the exact day my father became Dr./Col.; officially Col. Mo Becker, Ph.D. It is easily said that we share a strong bond; but his constant coaching and support continue to have a tremendous impact in shaping the professional I am today.”

– Kelly Becker, Innovation Partnerships, Under Armour
Baltimore, Maryland

 

Stephanie’s Story: Daron Roberts

Her allies taught her to “always come prepared to the table,” she says. “Not because I am a woman and need to prove my worth, but because that is how you create a respectable personal brand — and they wanted to help me create mine.”

“I first met Daron during a retreat hosted by Black44, President Obama’s black political appointee association, in October 2016. Starting at 9:00am sharp, he met with a number of political appointees looking to transition out of the Administration into roles where their skill sets and experience could thrive. I was one of those appointees. Many internships in government and think tanks had led me to the opportunity of a lifetime: to serve as the Confidential Assistant to the Deputy Director of the White House, Office of Management and Budget but this experience also came with a clear end date.

My post-administration goal was to join a big tech company and immerse myself in the world of innovation. Although my end goal was clear, I wasn’t quite sure how I would achieve it or the type of role that would be a good fit. Two minutes into my career coaching meeting with Daron I realized that I hand’t created my personal brand. I didn’t think I could have a ‘brand’ given the fact that I was a 22-year-old who got extremely lucky and landed a job at the White House post graduation, but Daron thought the opposite.

Daron made it clear that my age didn’t matter nor did my years of work experience, and that I should use my skills and experiences to sell myself to future employers. He started by giving me ‘homework’: 1. Research the three top players in the industry and take notes of any biographical trends 2. Translate your CV into a private sector document 3. Review your LinkedIn. Although Daron was only hired to provide career coaching for one day, his support did not end there.

Daron’s consistent investment in my career growth gave me the ability to strategize next steps and navigate difficult situations with confidence. After receiving several job rejections via email, he sent me a copy of his book Call an Audible — which I devoured while waiting for my flight at JFK. Contrary to what many books on success read, his book focused on the many rejections he received throughout his career and how he used them as motivation.

After many interviews, I finally landed a great opportunity to work with Airbnb’s public policy team. During the first few months on the job, Daron would actively reach out to check in and help me navigate this new world. A year later, I found myself transitioning again, this time out of Airbnb and on the search for an opportunity that would be both impactful and challenging. Because of his amazing mentorship, I accepted the second transition with much more confidence.

One of the best feelings a young professional can have is knowing that there is someone out there who will actively take the time to help you achieve your goals. I am so fortunate that Daron, along with Jonathan Lachman, Michael Deich, Anthony Webb, and Justin Tanner were always willing to give me their time and honest feedback. They took a chance on me and believed in my abilities even when I didn’t. They taught me that I should always come prepared to the table, not because I am a woman and need to prove my worth, but because that is how you create a respectable personal brand — and they wanted to help me create mine.”

– Stephanie Gaither, Former Obama White House and Airbnb Public Policy Staff
Brooklyn, NY

Oksana’s Story: Geoffrey Frost

‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ 

“I hear a lot these days about gender imbalance in male dominated industries, Venture Capital being one of them. You’d also have to live on Mars or have the compassion of a cyborg not to be touched and outraged by the #MeToo experiences that many women have faced in the workplace. If you are a feminist like I am, it is easy and convenient to smear this different ‘male species’ because of the few rotten ones amongst them.

However, failing to recognize great men who help women rise up is not only unfair, but is also hurts women’s advancement. As such I want to offer my story:

My lifelong love of science and discovery and problem solving, led me to pursue a PhD in physics at UPenn.

This happens to be a completely male-dominated field; most of my classmates and professors and advisors and colleagues were guys. The ratio of men to women was somewhere around 20:1. Shocking, right? Yet I found that, despite the gender imbalance, my world was never hostile. It was actually quite the opposite. At no point in time did anyone suggest that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. I was simultaneously challenged and supported by both my peers and mentors. Even when I decided to pivot into the business world, ( I found the solitary life of a physicist a bit taxing on my extreme extroverted nature), I had a lot of support and encouragement from my PhD advisor even as I was entering the field that was completely foreign to him.

My next chapter was with McKinsey in New York. It combined the thrill of problem solving for some of top global companies with the even bigger thrill of always being part of a high performing team that tackled those problems shoulder to shoulder. Mentorship and feedback were part of the McKinsey DNA, and I loved every minute of it. While not as imbalanced as physics, there were still more men then women that advanced to the partner track. Again, I had great men and women mentor me, and invest in my development.

A few years after, I found myself in Chicago working at Motorola’s marketing department. This is where I met my most impactful male ally, my late mentor and friend Geoffrey Frost, a legendary CMO of Motorola.

Geoffrey used to quote William Gibson: ‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ With the passing of a few years, it is more clear to me now than ever that he lived this model in many ways, but the most unheralded one was promoting and supporting talent and diversity regardless of where it was coming from.

I was the most unusual fit for the marketing strategy position at Motorola. I was later told that Geoffrey was pushed to interview me, and he very reluctantly agreed. Everything on my resume — analytical and science-based — was the antithesis of what Geoffrey believed in and embodied. I was, after all, a physicist-turned-consultant, interviewing for a position in marketing.

What I remember from that interview is the most thrilling vision of how technology would become an extension of your personal potential, and how Motorola would become a leader in that charge. I knew when I walked out that I must be part of this transformation. I later learned that Geoffrey canceled his afternoon meetings, staying an extra 2 hours to continue interviewing me. He wanted to have me on the team despite striking differences in our backgrounds, and so I joined an international team of rebels, comprised mostly of women. We were on a mission to challenge how the personal technology /cell phone technology would integrate into peoples’ lives. Our big win was the legendary RAZR phone.

On this journey I learned a great deal from Geoffrey — his relentless pursuit to ‘outsmart, not outspend’ the competition, unending creativity, constant focus on putting humanity ahead of technology in engineering culture, and his unshaken belief that a small group of rebels can tackle the giant – all the while without preaching.

Here’s a personal example of Geoffrey’s forward-thinking leadership: three weeks after my daughter was born, I received a phone call from Geoffrey. He right away launched into the project he wanted me to lead, and the promotion that came with it. I was excited but honest with him about my need to be with my daughter.

His answer?

‘No problem, go home every day at 5, be with your daughter. Then come back online and finish what needs to be done, and spend more time with your team in China when they wake up. It will work out great.’ He instinctively knew that with a little flexibility and autonomy the right women would manage a baby and a promotion just fine. No big deal. I wish people would remember this simple lesson as they think about how to retain and promote women, as they become parents. We are not looking to work less, or less effectively. This flexibility and autonomy would do wonders in many corporations, but you have to have a level of trust.

Geoffrey is legendary in the world of advertising, and we could write a small book on what can be learned from him in that field. That is for another day.

Here are three defining lessons Geoffrey taught me in his support of working women: 1) Take a chance on a person that shares your vision but comes from a background dramatically different from your own 2) pursue talent without consideration of borders, gender or sexual orientation. “Casting is not the most important thing, it is the only thing” he used to say. Like Geoffrey, be willing to set the bar high, empower your team and let them fly 3) See opportunity where other people see walls, and uncover it. Where someone could have seen a barrier of me needing to leave at 5 pm, he saw the opportunity to spend more time with the China team.

Geoffrey passed away on November 17, 2005, but to this day I use the lessons and inspirations from him daily. Today I am the managing partner of two VC funds, and I always think of Geoffrey as forever the example of a true male ally.

‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed,’ he used to quote a lot and embodied it in many ways. He pushed for excellence but in the process promoted equity and balance, as he gave talented women a chance to succeed.  Geoffrey was pivotal in shaping me as a professional. Who is your male ally?”

Dr. Oksana Malysheva – CEO/Managing Partner Sputnik ATX
Austin, TX

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Dr. Oksana Malysheva is an investor, entrepreneur and business executive based in Austin, TX. She is the Managing Partner/CEO of Sputnik ATX, an accelerator that funds maker-founders with ideas to create positive change. She is also the Managing Partner/President of Linden Venture Fund.

Dr. Oksana Malysheva was born and raised in Soviet Union, Ukraine. Seeking educational opportunities, she moved to the United States with her husband and only $100 to their name. She earned her PhD in physics from the University of Pennsylvania, and soon after, pivoted her focus to business and marketing.

Dr. Malysheva previously held top strategic roles at McKinsey and Motorola. Trained as a PhD physicist, Dr. Malysheva brings scientific inquisitiveness, lateral thinking and mastery of insight through data to all of her business endeavors.

Ivy’s Story: Her Father

Reared on Baseball
By Ivy Cohen

“You hear that sports does a lot to build one’s character and abilities. Reflecting on my childhood, active participation in sports and enthusiastically rooting for teams had a major impact on me.
This is a bit of a story about my dad. He died when he was just nearing his 52nd birthday and I was 17. From as early as I can remember, he tossed a ball to me. He taught me to swing a baseball bat, to run and field bases, to properly throw a football with my finger tips on the laces, and to catch a long ball.

During elementary school we lived on a block in Brooklyn where all the kids around my age were boys. That meant if I wanted to have playmates, I’d better know how to play what mattered to the boys. I played SPUD, freeze tag, stick ball, dodge ball, handball, baseball, football…you get the idea. Thanks to my dad’s periodic sports clinics, as a petite girl, I was never picked last for a team and always managed to hold my own. I was not a super star athlete. But, I was able enough to fit in and be welcome.

Watching baseball was a regular activity in our household. From April through October my dad was glued to the television several days a week to watch the Mets play. And so was I. We occasionally went to the stadium, and that was a thrill. My brother and I built an impressive collection of baseball cards, and I “flipped” them on the bus to school, growing my treasure trove.

When I was in 4th grade at the age of 9 I played in the Brooklyn girls little league. We later moved to California, where there were no public sports leagues for girls, so my competitive sports days ended.
During high school I scored wrestling matches and in high school and college I was an enthusiastic school football and basketball fan. In college I was captain of the UC Berkeley intramural co-ed football team and played for a couple of seasons.

As I entered the workforce from college, I found that my comfort with and knowledge of sports had been a wonderful asset. While it certainly helped me learn to play, collaborate with and assert myself with boys, it contributed to my capabilities with strategy, team building and sizing up competition. It has also been helpful over the years to be able to weigh in on discussions about sports, teams and athletes, and to participate in water cooler and cocktail conversations.

While it may seem odd to suddenly focus this attention on sports of my growing up years, it is clear to me that this world that my dad and neighborhood boys introduced me to had a big impact on my life. I don’t think that being grounded in sports is a requirement for everyone, but I’m grateful for the life gift my dad gave me.”

– Ivy Cohen, President, Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications
New York, NY

Ivy Cohen has spent more than 20 years advising companies and executives how to build their reputations across the U.S. and around the globe.

A visionary leader who helps clients problem-solve and create big ideas through thought leadership, public education, issues management and content creation, she is an accomplished executive and small business owner, a result-oriented civic leader and a consummate juggler of professional and family demands.

Story courtesy of © Ivy Cohen 2018

Inga’s Story: Ron

An award-winning researcher and educator shares how her colleague and mentor used specific behaviors to support the journey of her first book.

“‘You should write a book.’

I remember what Ron Sims, my esteemed colleague and fellow faculty said to me after calling me into his office one day. I had recently achieved tenure, a highly significant milestone and achievement in the world of academia.

My career up to that point had taken me to many places — including a great lecture and research post in Austria as a Fulbright scholar. Academic research was of the highest importance and yet, I now wanted to enhance my work with something more practical.
Having hit tenure, suddenly everything had become open in new ways — I had plenty of opportunities to decide where I wanted to my career to go next.

It was Ron who suggested — actually, he insisted — that I write a book.  Ron knew that I had been frustrated by the way networking is often perceived and taught, as a way to manipulate others into giving you something. The most successful networkers I knew approached networking as an opportunity to build real relationships. Even though I often spoke and lectured on networking, I wanted to reach more people.

Over the next weeks, Ron pushed me.  ‘What would a book like this look like?’ he would ask. ‘By next week, send me bullet points of an outline.’

I had always held Ron in extremely high regard… He’s not only a prolific author of articles in top academic journals, he has also published well over 20 books.  Ron was a mentor to many, and when it came to my book, he took focused time to help me as well.

Bit by bit, I worked until Ron one day said, ‘Great, you’re ready, now I’ll introduce you to my publisher.’

Once I met his publisher, the real work began… I had to write it!  And, Ron continued to coach me:  ‘Send me Chapter 2 by end of month.’ ‘Don’t get too into the weeds… remember your audience.’  ‘It’s OK even if it’s not perfect. Just write.’

Ron’s coaching pushed me in a way that I had a ton of fun with, though was admittedly hard for me. When I’d bump into him in the hall, he’d say things like, ‘So, I’m your cattle prod here… how’s it going?’

But Ron didn’t simply push; rather, he did it in a way that he knew would keep me moving, help me find structure and eventually reach my goal. And he opened doors for me with his publisher and others.  He continues to be a mentor and ally through his tireless support.

It took me a long time to find my voice, but I finally found it. My book is coming out this fall and it never would have happened without Ron’s encouragement. It probably won’t surprise you that I’ve already begun writing my next book: Networking Women!”

– Inga Carboni, Associate Professor at the College of William & Mary
Williamsburg, VA

Dr. Inga Carboni has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years through executive education, classroom and online graduate and undergraduate courses, and academic writings. Dr. Carboni’s scholarly work has appeared in numerous journals and books; grants from the National Institute for Health and the William T. Grant Foundation have supported her scholarship.

Connect the Dots: How to Build, Nurture and Leverage Your Network to Achieve Your Personal and Professional Goals” comes out in the fall. It is a fast-paced, fact-based, practical guide with stories, self-assessments, and tips for working professionals seeking to take the next step in their careers.

Danielle’s Story: David

Mentors and allies can make a lasting impact even from an early start — this male ally used his influence and knowledge to support a young woman’s career journey; starting at their company, into business school, and beyond.

“David Tobiczyk, Vice President of Marketing and Development, is my former supervisor and was a male ally from an early point in my career. David was quite intimidating when I met him during the interview process. For what was an entry-level position, David’s questions had felt very technical and compounding. Even after being offered the position by David, I remained intimidated as I started the role.

David didn’t let my trepidation last very long. The once stern and focused interviewer, as a supervisor was very approachable; he jumped into mentorship immediately. Early on, David took the time to lay out the ‘hierarchy of power’ within the organization, describing personalities and work styles along the way. He also scheduled me to meet with members of the leadership team to discuss how my role, a new position, would impact their departments.

Knowledge and Exposure

David’s early mentorship provided me strong knowledge sharing and exposure. He significantly decreased the learning curve associated with learning a new office culture, ultimately helping to shield my reputation at a vulnerable time and prevent bad first impressions. Additionally, by setting up meetings with members of the leadership team, he made sure that powerful people were looking at me and my work.

Once I’d settled into my role, David made sure I was included in all stakeholder meetings. I was given the opportunity to ideate new business strategies and challenged to develop those ideas for presentation to senior leadership. Meanwhile, he continued to offer one-on-one support, teaching me the fundamentals of marketing and providing budget funds for external professional development opportunities.

Instilling Confidence

David’s mentorship continued through educational opportunities, whether a formal professional development training, a meeting-turned-training session, or being assigned complex, challenging, highly visible projects; he continually pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to pursue growth, despite fear. These efforts built a confidence that continues to benefit me in my career. Additionally, the autonomy and leadership opportunities afforded to me, have significantly enhanced my resume and clearly communicate my potential.

After my first year with the organization, David acknowledged my contributions to the team by advocating my nomination for the organization’s “Rookie of the Year” award. The award is given to the employee who exceeded expectations and had a major impact on the organization within the first 12 months of employment.

Influence

As a person of power within the organization, having him publicly champion me and my work was invaluable to my reputation within the organization. His opinion carried much weight and his advocacy validated my position.

And when I was considering my next career move, David happily provided advice and assistance when asked. He encouraged me to consider getting a MBA, wrote a glowing recommendation, and offered to reach out to colleagues on my behalf. Even when it had nothing to do with him or his organization, David continued to support my professional development.

David’s mentorship has been critical to my success. To the men out there eager to ‘#MentorHer’ — and to those who are hesitant — I encourage you to take that step toward supporting and mentoring a female colleague; in turn you can be someone’s David Tobiczyk.”

Danielle Hardy, Associate, MBA Leadership Development Program, Zappos.com
Las Vegas, Nevada

A recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business, Danielle balanced the roles of student, employee, mother, and wife in her 2-year pursuit of a graduate degree. Post-MBA, she’s committed to contributing to the advancement of women and people of color in corporate America.

Set to launch in August 2018, “The Dani Life” blog will serve as a platform to advance the conversation in regards to diversity in corporate leadership; featuring Danielle’s experiences as a professional, millennial mom, and woman of color exploring the impossible and achieving “unattainable” goals.

Jaime’s Story: Darren

A founder and CEO talks about creating a “Base Camp,” the 3-legged race of parenting, and #MeToo’s impact on building safe workplaces.

“Inspire HR, the company I founded, was launched 11 years ago from a desk in our living room. Our one-year old twins were crawling around while I built the business, so I could manage a career while raising my children.

Recently Best 50 Women in Business by NJBIZ honored my work, which helped me think back to the unconventional career journey I’ve taken. Busy pursuing Inspire’s goals and milestones, it was unexpected that the awards committee saw something special in the way my ‘one-woman show’ grew to employ 28 part-time employees, allowing each to take care of their families’ needs.

As we waited for the program to begin, I was struck by the physical format of the room. Every honoree had an empty seat next to them, a seat for a critical support person, who had helped make these accomplishments possible.

For me it was my husband, Darren, who I asked to sit beside me. I loved the symbolism of a space for that person beside you.

Darren is a male ally because he helps create a ‘Base Camp’ feeling in our home where our 2 children feel a sense of family unity and routine, so Mama J (as I refer to myself) has a clear mind to pour energy into career.

Over our 15 years of marriage, and 13 years raising our kids, I realized parenting is one heck of a 3-legged race. That means I can dial up my work when Darren and I together co-manage the joyful chaos of raising our kids. Daily examples include: providing routine, being their sounding board, pulling together a nutritious gluten-free dinner, quizzing for math test, essentially being a suburban parent version of an Uber driver for Hebrew school and soccer practice.

A great example of Darren being my ally was in November 2017 with the era of #MeToo upon us, Inspire HR became incredibly busy. HR’s key role in creating safer workplaces became a clear priority for companies, and my email’s inbox was lighting up with requests from companies needing our expertise creating Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, and fast. Demand was through the roof.

*(See footnote for a metaphor on just how busy we were!)

I felt driven to not just help this onslaught of companies, but felt driven to take a stand and get involved in creating lasting change. I wanted to create a call to action for the HR community to lead the charge and change their cultures so women — and all marginalized groups — from boxstore to boardroom felt safer at work.

Meanwhile, back at Base Camp, things were the normal busy with 2 working parents and 2 seventh graders. But this was a special season of busy, as our twins were 5 months away from their B’nai Mitzvah. After 8 years of Hebrew school, their big day of April 14, 2018 was soon upon us. Darren and I had a long conversation about how to handle this unique moment for my career, and he encouraged me to go for it. He committed to help more to keep our Base Camp on track so I could dial up my career at this unique moment for my firm.

So Darren leaned in, and leaned in big time which allowed me to work longer days, and train leaders and HR teams to create more inclusive workplaces. Fast forward, Ben and Anna shined on April 14 leading a beautiful service and partying up a storm at their reception. The weekend was a love fest of multiple generations coming together to celebrate these 2 fine young adults. Darren and my 3-legged race got us to the finish line, once again.

The reality is that most female leaders I know are supported by a literal village: spouses, partners, babysitters, kind neighbors, supportive family, etc. — to help her create the space for playing multiple roles as partner, parent and professional. The more this village provides support, the more these female leaders can dial up their careers. Darren as my male ally has shown acceptance of my ambition and drive, and encouraged me to grow Inspire HR from the start. Not only does he lean in at Base Camp, but is willing to put his MBA to good use by reviewing financial statements.

(P.S. Darren earned his MBA at night while working full time during the day, while our kids were 0-3.5 years, but this was another course of this 3-legged race of ours!)”

– Jaime Klein, Founder, Inspire Human Resources
New York City, NY

Jaime Klein’s company, Inspire Human Resources, is a network of agile HR experts who help companies navigate the changing world of work.

* I joked that I felt like Birkenstocks, which was founded back in 1774. This is a shoe that has always been around, but their appeal was not as prevalent until fashionistas started wearing their Birks a few years back. Nowadays Zappos has a 2-week wait on certain styles of Berks, due to the high demand.  Well, in November Inspire felt like Birkenstocks!

View Jaime’s blog that inspired this post.

Amy’s Story: Scott

Photo courtesy of Amy C. Waninger

A founder and CEO fulfills a longstanding dream — to write a book — and nurtures her longstanding relationships along the journey.

“When Scott Woolgar was my manager 15 years ago, he pushed me to look at things differently. He simultaneously saw the big picture, the minutest details, and everything in between. He taught me how to look in different directions, how to see things I hadn’t previously noticed. He kept me on my toes with his ability to see me as I could be and to hold me accountable to a higher standard. He believed in me before I did, and he told me so.

He empowered me to fire on all cylinders, despite the dysfunctional company around us. He gave me ‘permission’ to take initiative, to point out problems, to try something completely new, to lead others, to travel around the world, and to stand up for myself. And he did all of this from within the most toxic work environment I’ve ever experienced. Had I gone through that time with anyone else, it would have left me broken. But I came out of it strong and ready for everything that has happened since. Because of him.

Last year, I consulted Scott about wanting to take my career in an entirely new direction. He has once again become my mentor: encouraging, sincere, and helpful. He nudges me in the right direction without making me feel like I’ve made a mistake. He takes the time to tell me specifically what I’m doing right so I can keep doing it. And because of the respect I have for him, I always take his words to heart.

Once again, I’m forced to believe in myself because HE believes in me. Because of his support, I have the courage to put myself and my ideas out into the brutality of cyberspace. Because of his support, I have the confidence to write the book(s) I’ve been thinking about for over a decade, and to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was twelve years old. He’s made me better – in big ways and small ways – every single time I’ve talked with him.

I want to be clear to those reading this: my husband’s first name is also Scott, and he, too, is my ally and champion. My husband, Scott Waninger, is an amazing father, husband, and friend. His support is critical, and the example he sets for our daughter and two sons is beyond compare. I am grateful every day for his support, and I want to be everything he tells me I can be.”

– Amy C. Waninger, Founder and CEO, Lead at Any Level, LLC
Indianapolis, IN

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder and CEO of Lead at Any Level LLC, which helps busy professionals develop skills in leadership, diversity and inclusion, and career management. She is the author of Network Beyond Bias: Making Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career.  

As a leader, speaker, author, and coach, Amy is passionate about helping others achieve their full potential at work.