Month: April 2017

Chelsea’s Story: Scott

“I worked for my uncle Scott the summer after my freshman year of college, as his home renovation ‘apprentice’ :  a medieval word, but really there’s no better descriptor. A retired architect, Scott bought a sprawling house on the side of a ravine in Bayside, Wisconsin and committed the rest of his life to making it absolutely, painstakingly to his taste. He was — and is still — a perfectionist of the most maddening order.

My job was to do the kinds of character-building tasks you read about in fables.

One morning I showed up to his house to find six square yards of manure and a wheelbarrow in the driveway. (Imagine a four-foot tall mountain of poop filling a small bedroom.) “I’m leaving for the day,” he said, “When I return at 4pm, I want to see all that crap carefully placed into the flowerbeds down the side of the ravine. If you spill any of it along the way, I’ll know.” After precisely eight hours, he was back to criticize the twenty-five yard trail I’d inadvertently carved into his lawn. Much yard-tending ensued in my days ahead.

He had me sharpen all the pencils in the house so that when we measured and cut wood for his handcrafted window frames and baseboards, our incisions would have surgical accuracy. If he ever caught me using a blunt pencil, he’d either stuff a new one into my hand or threaten to make me clean the basement — which, despite my many efforts, never sparkled quite to his liking.

As the summer progressed, I realized that in allowing me to work on his projects, he was trusting me with his most beloved possession. His house represented his life’s work. He let me select the matting and framing for all of his artwork. He consulted my opinion on wall paint and hardware. He encouraged me to care about a project by embracing its minutia, and demanded that I raise the standards for my own work to meet his. “God is in the details,” he liked to say, though I’m pretty sure he was an atheist in everything other than home renovation. That he expected me to even come close to his level of artisan care was a high compliment — and a huge vote of confidence in me.

The most important thing he did was choose me to be his apprentice. It sounds simple. As a professional woman I can tell you it’s not. I knew that the job he expected me to do is primarily done by men. The fact that my gender never came up — not once, not even hinted at as the reason for my many, many shortcomings during my renovation learning curve — is so significant to me.

I’ve had countless bosses in the thirteen years since I worked for Scott — most of them older males, all of them a cake walk following that summer apprenticeship. Few have had such a lasting impact on my professional character. The voice of Scott’s exacting manner rings in my ears on a damn near daily basis — it motivates me to push things a little further, and to demand a little more of myself and those around me. His standards for me have since become my standards for myself. Sometimes people struggle not to judge my work through the lens of my gender. But I never question my drive or my pride in a job well done, because that’s what he taught me:  to judge my work only as a professional.

Men: you should never underestimate the influence you can have on the women you invest in,  and the positive impact of treating them as you would anyone else in the workplace. We carry your empowerment with us throughout our careers, throughout our lives. With that kind of foundation, women can just focus on doing good work. That’s as simple as it sounds.”

– Chelsea, Marketing Director
San Francisco, CA

This story was adapted from Chelsea’s article My uncle, the unconscious feminist on Medium

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Lyla’s Story: Bashir

“My family emigrated from Afghanistan to the U.S. in 1982, a few months before my third birthday. I grew up in a conservative Sunni Muslim home. When I turned 12, my father planned to take me from our home in Springfield, Virginia to Afghanistan so he could arrange my marriage to a man in his 50s.

My older brother Bashir, an enlisted U.S. Navy Corpsman in San Diego at the time, convinced my father to allow me and my mother to move in with him so I could continue my education. When my father was killed during his trip overseas, a 19-year-old Bashir legally adopted me since my mother did not speak English. In addition to working long shifts at the military hospital and making very little money as a junior enlisted sailor, he worked weekends at a civilian clinic so he could afford our spartan two-bedroom apartment. After years of us living off mainly beans and rice, he fought to get into a Bachelor’s program so he could become an officer. His commitment to taking care of me and our mother was his primary motivator to work harder and reach higher.

As an officer, he volunteered for multiple deployments to Afghanistan. I followed in his footsteps by joining the Navy but he insisted I become an officer as well. He helped me prepare for college interviews and complete my applications. He also said he would take on additional jobs in order to pay for my college education.

Thankfully, I received a Navy ROTC scholarship and graduated from Penn State in 2001. I served on active duty until 2007 as a Surface Warfare and then Intelligence officer, completing a deployment to Afghanistan as a counter-terrorism analyst. Since leaving the military, I continued to serve as a counter-insurgency analyst, instructor, and advisor.

I’m graduating in May with a Master’s from Georgetown University and will apply for Ph.D. in 2018. I’m the first woman in my family to earn a high school diploma, attend a university, join the military, and open a small business. None of these achievements would have been possible without my brother’s encouragement and support.

My brother has been my role model, my mentor, and my champion my entire life. He is, without a doubt, the most selfless man I know. He taught me to respect myself so I could demand respect from others. He’s now retired after serving 22 years and is married to a successful Naval officer. As a stay-at-home father, he makes a very conscious choice to teach his young son to respect all women (including his baby sister) and to stand up for anyone who is mistreated.

I have personally felt the effect strong male mentors and role models can make on a young woman. I recently co-founded PROMOTE, a non-profit addressing the challenges women face as aspiring leaders in a predominantly male military. We connect junior female service members with mentors — both men and women — and provide professional development education to retain talented young women.  Our mission is to transform how military leaders mentor the next generation of leaders, ensuring cross-gender mentoring becomes the norm and not the exception.

As with all my life’s endeavors, my brother is my biggest champion and I know I can count on him every step of the way.”

– Lyla, Diversity & Inclusion Strategist
Washington, D.C.

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Erin’s Story: Pat

“As Vice President at RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) and a proud member of WISE (Women in Sports and Events), the professional advancement of women is an issue close to my heart.

I have been ‘the first’ a few times in life. I was the first girl in my family; the first female to coach football at the University of Albany; and the first woman to hold my position at both the New York Giants and the National Football League. As a frequent minority, I sought allies in the majority who could offer support and direction. My father and brothers served as early guides.

Later, I was blessed to be employed by one of the best male champions in the game, New York Giants Senior Vice President of Communications Pat Hanlon.

Once dubbed the ‘Rock Star of Football PR’ by PR Week, Hanlon may seem an unlikely feminist, but he has a long history of advocating for equal rights. Husband to a former NBA executive and father to two daughters and a son, he has helped launch and guide the careers of countless young people.

While working for him I was thrilled to be considered for the same assignments as my male colleagues and held to the same high standards. When issues arose that required different perspectives — such as a player publicly comparing a bad loss to rape — he sought and valued my opinion. He modeled true leadership in times of adversity and always helped us learn from our mistakes. But what shaped me most was the way he used sports to help others. Through large and small gestures, he brightened the lives of sick children, wounded veterans and the elderly. He always goes the extra mile to pass his blessings onto others and inspired me to do the same.

Over the past 17 years, I’ve sought Hanlon’s advice on everything from switching jobs to burying my oldest brother and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. He is one of the busiest men I know, and yet he always makes time to be there.

Behind most women in sports you’ll find a male champion. I am grateful that he is mine.”

– Erin, Vice President at RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality)
New York City

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Allie’s Story: Tim

“’I’m not so sure your business is scalable. But you: you’re it.’

I distinctly remember renowned venture capitalist Tim Draper’s feedback. I was 21. It was my first pitch competition. At that moment, Tim saw something in me that investors search for in their founders. It was positivity and grit.

Tim and Melissa Draper sponsor the largest collegiate pitch competition for women. Tim’s mom, sister, and wife Melissa Draper attended Smith, making my alma mater a natural fit to plant the seed of entrepreneurship as a career path for women.

Sure, my idea wasn’t a viable business. But what I learned was far more valuable: public speaking and personability, receiving constructive criticism, and networking up among business people and investors.

A year later, I worked for Smith College to market the competition I had once participated in, and scaled the number of participants by 500%. I spotted the towering man throwing his head back in a full-belly laugh as he entered the building. For a serious investor, Tim has a wildly youthful personality. I ran up to him immediately.

“I remember you!” he said. I was offered a job on the spot. Three weeks later, I was living in San Francisco, doing marketing for Tim’s entrepreneurship program Draper University.

Giving me a position at Draper University meant Tim entrusted me with the responsibility to grow and create success for his company. He believed that though I was young and relatively inexperienced, I had what it takes to figure things out.

Tim Draper fervently believes in the value of women in business for diversity of thought and return on investment, whether he’s investing in them through venture or social capital.

I am forever grateful for having Tim as a champion at the start of my professional career, and as a lifelong mentor.”

– Allie, Marketing & Partnerships
New York City

Amy’s Story: Paul

“I have no idea where I would be today if it weren’t for my male champion, Paul Keenan.  He is a partner at a large NYC-based law firm. He also is the world’s greatest father to 3 children; I hope they realize how blessed they are! Paul hired me as his legal secretary when I was just 22.

He was the busiest person I had ever met and yet he always made time for me. He is intelligent (both book smart and street smart) but has no ego, PLUS he has a fantastic sense of humor and a good attitude. How lucky was I to have this role model and mentor right out of college? I’ve always tried to emulate him.

A year after I started working for Paul I began evening law school while continuing to work full time. I was very intimidated by how intelligent my professors were. Paul gave me confidence and perspective by telling me that my professors taught the same thing every semester, and that they were not any more intelligent than I was. With finals around the corner, my fellow students were stressing out big-time, which was causing me to also stress out. Paul noticed my demeanor and told me very simply “Amy, you’re not a serious person, so stop taking it seriously.” I followed his advice, was true to myself, and ended up making law review, getting a scholarship and graduating with honors. At the firm I was promoted to paralegal and then after graduation was hired as an associate.

Paul has given me so much (including his family’s old furniture when I moved into my own apartment!) and more importantly, lots of good advice. I still don’t make major life decisions without consulting him. He would help me with my car when it was acting up, which was often. He helped me in getting my parents out of a legal timeshare ownership mess. When I bought a condo, he was my lawyer. The list goes on.

Working in commercial real estate, which is very much a boy’s club, Paul always made me feel safe and like I belonged. He made me feel like I was home, which fostered an environment that allowed me to grow into the person I am today, and I really like and am proud of myself. Thank you, Paul, for being in the corner of my court.”

– Amy, Attorney
New York City

Alanna’s Story: Her Boss

“This is the story of my dream job, a series of after-hours meetings, and my friend in the room.

I was working late, when my boss was called into a meeting with the heads of our department. He returned and gave me the news: a role was open in a department that I’d had my eye on… there would be formalities around applying, but it was implicitly agreed by everyone in the room that evening that I would take the job.

I was elated. And I thought for a moment about who might have been the champion who had spoken on my behalf. My boss — who had given me the news — was supportive, but did not hold back in showing his frustration that I was being poached for another team: he said he was losing his star player. My new boss-to-be was still a stranger at this point; we had exchanged no more than brief glances in meetings and while passing each other on the floor. The department head, when I thanked him for the opportunity, gave me a lukewarm response: ‘We’ll see what you do with it.’

Given this environment of visible apathy and fear about my career opportunity, I wondered: Who, among this group of male leaders, HAD supported me? Who was my champion? Who was my friend in the room?

I had my hunches about who had spoken up for me in that meeting; and as I stepped into the role, my hunches were visibly confirmed: it was the global lead of my team, a prickly and influential man who knew my ambition, the quality of my work and, most importantly, was unafraid to lose me to better things. He had been the one to push me toward excellence; on multiple projects, he’d sent me back to the drawing board, two and three times over the same analysis: ‘This cell looks like an error; go back to the desk, figure out what happened, do it properly and reschedule us.’
He’d also given me a raise within ninety days of joining my first team, assuring me, ‘We love your contributions and we’re extremely happy you’re here.’

Yet his most profound impact on me was the influence he not only held, but wielded on my behalf. Once I moved into my new job, I was now a leader facing enormous opposition from just about everyone outside my new team. This was a highly political environment and no act was left unscrutinized or immune to hostile assessment, even from the man who had actively spoken up for me.

But throughout conflict, this leader was still my fierce ally. Even my new boss, who bore the brunt of the opposition, remarked that while there was disagreement and dissent running rampant, my ally would eventually and visibly concur that I had done an excellent job.

Of course, I never got to see this for myself. These meetings were after hours, on another floor, and closed to the public.

But this is the definition of allyship and sponsorship: someone with access you do not have, who will speak for you in your absence. This idea used to irk me; why couldn’t I speak for myself? I am hopeful that one day soon, management structures will better reflect the true composition of their companies. But for now, there are still all-boys clubs and after-hours meetings. And those of us outside will need a friend in the room.”

– Alanna, Financial Services
New York City

Nicole’s Story: Rory

“Over the years, Rory has been a true champion of my career; his mentorship has provided me with views far beyond the scope of what I had possibly ever envisioned for myself. During a career transition, Rory suggested that I dig deep and take a good honest look at myself to explore: What makes Nicole “attractive” to an employer? Attractive in the sense of what is my brand, who would seek to hire me, what makes me irresistible, what skills do I offer? What are the characteristics and credentials that make me appealing, and what do I bring to the table?

At first thought, these questions seemed simple in terms of the mechanics of building and marketing one’s career; however, defining these through such terms and with Rory’s added guidance, I was able to gain clarity and create my value proposition in a meaningful way.

I was then given an “assignment” by Rory, that I found particularly useful. He asked me to define my five value pillars. This entailed writing down a list of ten things that stir my soul – ten examples where I was absolutely crushing it – not necessarily in a career, but in all areas of my life, even dating way back to high school; those things that I am exceptionally proud of. The assignment required that I have several of my closest friends interview me to discuss my top ten list, and have them ask me why each was impactful; through these discussions they could write down and play back the words that I used most frequently. After these discussions, I was then to embrace the five words that absolutely define my five value pillars; Rory explained those would then be an anchor to my career objectives.

The assignment was straightforward, yet greatly helped me learn a lot about myself: my friends unanimously pointed out the words I used most frequently:

1. Leadership
2. Impact
3. Presence
4. Empowerment
5. Inspiration

Through this task and his mentorship, Rory helped give me a compass that has been instrumental in both defining and refining my career objectives. I am thankful that he continues to give me the motivation I need towards achieving my greatest potential.”

– Nicole, Membership, Development Chair for Women in Sports and Events,
New York City Metro Chapter

Ashley’s Story: Steve

“As a female engineer hailing from the east coast, entering the systems engineering division at my company in California was a significant career prospect decorated with both change and uncertainty. I was one of very few undergrads with the specialized engineering degree that I had chosen, and this would be my first job upon graduating.

Steve was head of the systems engineering division and he became my mentor very soon after I joined the company. In addition to teaching me everything he knew about the entire organization — how it functioned and the technical operations — Steve would show his sponsorship directly by taking me to meetings along with him, in front of senior-level people. He really supported me as a young, female engineer in a male-dominated industry.

I remember Steve would call me “Kiddo,” which was a special nickname that I knew spoke to how much he valued mentoring me as a promising, yet still up-and-coming engineer in my field. Steve and I stayed in touch for many years as my career progressed on. I often sought his advice at important crossroads or decision points, and he continued to open doors for me and provide insight to my path.

Steve retired 18 months ago, and has since passed away. His impact on me remains. When I am facing a professional decision, I still call upon myself to ask: ‘What would Steve say?'”

– Ashley, Systems Engineer In Charge of Modeling and Simulation

Wendy’s Story: Tim

“At age 13 I grew to love the feeling of coming home from school and finding a letter from my brother, Tim. Tim was away at college at the University of Texas, but he made a point to write letters to me — his middle-school little sister — because he believed that letter-writing was a dying form, but incredibly special.

Tim would write me about his program at UT (he was in an honors program called Plan II), reflecting on what it was like to be my age, and encouraging me to relish time doing the things I enjoyed — to embrace the days of being a kid with few responsibilities.

Above all, Tim would encourage me in every single letter, to pursue anything I wanted. ANYTHING. As a young aspiring creative, in a world full of “practical” expectations, having my brother’s encouragement meant the world to me.

And, that these words were written in letter-form for me to preserve and keep, has made Tim’s support that much more special: Whenever I feel the world is crushing me (basically every other Tuesday!) I read Tim’s old letters and feel thankful to have a brother who is patient, loving, and open to the exploration of creative learning.

It takes bold figures in one’s life to pursue an unconventional path…. I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Arts and Cultural Management; honoring my belief in the power of creative minds and artists to transform our societies. I am thankful to have had the support from my brother, Tim, for my work in the arts. And I look forward to this opportunity being afforded to everyone.”

– Wendy, Marketing & Visitor Services, Carnegie Hall
New York City

Nicole’s Story: Steve

“I had a mentor early on who was extremely supportive of me in my early career. While I was in law school, I interned in Business Affairs at the Gersh Agency under their head of Business and Legal, Steve Kravit.

Though Steve oversaw the Department and negotiated every talent deal for the agency (which had to be hundreds each month), he spent countless hours reviewing contracts with me and doing whatever he could to teach and professionally support my growth.

My then 23-year old self didn’t realize what a substantial investment he was making and that he didn’t have to do that (and probably didn’t have the time to either). I certainly don’t think anyone else in his position would have volunteered that kind of time for an intern.

Steve became like a surrogate father. He attended my law school graduation, and he helped me get a job several years later at a prestigious entertainment firm. I don’t see him as much these days, but we still get together for lunch once or twice a year.

Steve believed and saw potential in me that I couldn’t yet see in myself. I’ll always remember something very powerful he said back then: ‘Never forget who you are.’ I have to work to remind myself of that – nearly 20 years later. I don’t practice law anymore – having left it to pursue a career in publicity after five years in litigation, but the advice he gave and lessons he taught me, remain with me to this day.”

– Nicole, Co-Founder and CEO, Jones Social PR
Los Angeles, CA