Category: Stories

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 unevenly 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.

Nerissa’s Story: Alan and Nilesh

“A woman needs an advocate in her corner in every phase of her life, to champion her dreams and shape her livelihood. I have had strong male allies in my corner throughout my life and the cumulative impact has been significant. I chose two wonderful men who have shaped my past and continue to shape my future.

I grew up in the residues of Apartheid South Africa, where people of color were taught to blend in rather than shine, and that success was not reserved for people like me. I grew up in a community and went to school where everyone looked like me, talked like me or was ethnically similar. I had the added stereotype of small town mentality, where girls’ lives seemed incomplete until they found a husband and became a good wife. It is still hard to believe that this was in the early 1990’s!

My dad, Alan, was my first advocate. He relentlessly stood up for me and pushed me to do whatever interested me as opposed to what society expected me to do. He was in the principal’s office fighting for me to do technical “male” subjects when I was told I was not allowed to. He coached me to achieve more than he ever did, to strive to reach for the stars. I could be whatever I wanted, regardless of my race or gender.  With my dad in my corner, I learned to dream big.

Throughout my career, I have had male (and female) sponsors who have challenged my thinking, pushed my professional ambition and fostered an environment that allowed me to succeed.

However… as I became more senior, I became accustomed to the critique from nay-sayers, who assumed the trade-offs that I must have made, in order to be successful. It is a challenge most successful women face, and one that I almost always dreaded every time I walked into a boardroom.

For this type of mental angst, I needed a new champion – my husband, Nilesh.

I always assumed that my success would be a threat to a partner. I thought there would be arguments about our careers and life changing sacrifices to make our relationship work. Thankfully I was wrong.

My husband has nurtured me to embrace the best (and worst) qualities of myself at work and home. He has taught me that a life partner does not compete individually for promotions, duties at home or ambitions. We are a team and the only way that we enjoy our livelihood is by supporting each other. He supports all of me. With my husband in my corner, I now understand my own self-worth. I am comfortable and confident being me.”

– Nerissa Naidu, Global Head of Strategy and Board Member
London, UK

As a native South African, Nerissa has been a proponent of equality and strived to break the mould of stereotypes in gender, race and professional norms. She started her career as an engineer and transitioned to management consulting in financial services. Nerissa is currently the Global Head of Strategy at AIG, a large multinational insurance company and has executive board responsibility in the US and Asia. Her career has afforded her to work and live in the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Southern Africa. Nerissa serves as an independent board member to two technology companies in the UK and is a global mentor, coach to underprivileged scholars and an executive lead in diversity groups for women, minorities and young professionals.

Julie’s Story: Mike

Image courtesy of Julie Kantor

“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants.”
-Sir Isaac Newton

“ ‘Mike, I will come work with you and be your assistant.’

‘You can come Julie, but as my associate and friend.’

My heart fills with gratitude when I remembers those words from a great leader, Mike Caslin, who mentored me and sponsored me professionally. Mike believes in servant leadership and felt that when the best leaders leave, people have full confidence they can do it themselves.

At a time when we want to advance more women and minorities in STEM careers, I ponder in hopes of replicating what did Mike do for me and so many others.

In 1992, I was having a bumpy transition from one of my first jobs at 21. At a conference, I learned of a growing movement to teach low-income children how to build their own businesses. Mike was a key consultant at the time to an organization called Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).

His office was over 65 miles from where I lived.

On our first meeting, Mike asked me to drive out to his office and stop on the way at the Boston Globe to secure three newspapers with a headline article on NFTE. The next day, he invited me to a meeting with him and four high level government officials 70 miles in the other direction.

I wanted to volunteer two days a week, but reflecting back, I cancelled interviews and never looked for another job, not for 20 more years. Initially there was no budget to hire me, I just knew this was the right mentor and the right course.

‘Trust in Your Mission, Trust in Your Team,’ Mike would say.

Later in advising on management he taught me the Ronald Reagan adage, ‘Trust and Verify,’ and we discussed Joseph Campbell’s hero path often.

My self-esteem was a bit low from some missteps I made in a corporate hierarchy, but Mike was oblivious to that, he wanted me to see myself as a leader. ‘Leaders lead, so lead,’ he would challenge. He had high expectations and sat with me at a shared computer to write proposals to start youth entrepreneurship programs in New Bedford.

Once funded, Mike selected our pilot to be the toughest alternative school in the region and me to be the teacher, he said ‘Great, now let’s train you to teach,’ and sent me through a week long certification training in NY. He also encouraged me to go to a student’s home and talk to her parents when she stopped coming to school.

I didn’t know where the path was taking me, but I followed my mentor and was open to where he led. Each day there was intensity, challenge, joy in the journey, and faith.

A few years later Mike had me training teachers in India and I became the youngest Executive Director at the age off 22 when Mike got a big national promotion. My salary was good and I felt we could change the world. I set up a new office closer to my home in Boston, no Mike there, now I had to fend for myself and grab coffees and inspiration with Mike when I could.

Mike and the Founder sent me to take over Washington, DC to build in 1995 and I started bringing in interns working to replicate Mike’s ‘belief in me’ style of management with sprinkles of high expectations and challenge to leave my professional comfort zone.

There were times in my career when I was at a crossroad or felt like drowning and Mike was always the one who showed me how to get back to shore.

Mike became our Executive Vice President and when Mike left after 20 years, he came to me in Washington and told me he wanted me to go for his job. He championed me and it led to some intense work with the Aspen Institute and to lead national leaders looking at scalability of youth entrepreneurship education in America. My heart soared in this great opportunity and growth.

So how do I thank Mike Caslin for the dozens of chapters in my book of life and the direction? For the belief in me (way before I believed in myself) and belief in the youth of our country?

I thank him with a challenge and a pledge to mentor five to ten women and men annually plus take on a few sponsees.”

– Julie, Founder and CEO, Twomentor
Washington, DC

Julie Silard Kantor helps leaders build their living legacies through mentorship and sponsorship. She and her team at Twomentor, LLC are helping to build a much-needed mentoring revolution through thought living-legacy leadership work, mentor training, mentor culture building, Mentor Road Trip™ flash mentoring web sessions and more in many sectors. Two adages that drive her work are: 1] The people who mentor at your company are the people who drive retention at your company and 2] If you want more diversity (i.e. women in STEM), mentor and sponsor more diversely.

Kelly’s Story: Paul

Photo Courtesy of Kelly Pallanti

“You know someone has a positive impact on you when you can’t stop telling others about them. When I describe him to friends, colleagues, and even clients that I’m coaching, I start by saying, ‘Let me tell you about my favorite CEO to work with, Paul Cramer from the Lafayette Family YMCA’.

One might ask what makes him special, why do I go out of my way to tell others about him? Well not only does he have a refreshingly positive outlook on life, he also does something I rarely see in my part of the world, he treats everyone with respect. He acknowledges people in a way that makes them feel that they have purpose and he truly wants those around him to be their best selves.

As a woman, and even more so since I’ve become an entrepreneur, I find it difficult to find male allies that support me. This is what makes Paul’s approach unique.

He’s my client and I am as his HR Business Partner, which means we often must discuss challenging situations inside the organization. But no matter how much time we spend on solving important work-related issues, I have never left the conversation without him asking, ‘Kelly how’s the business going. How can I help support you? Are there any potential clients you would like me to reach and speak with the CEO?’ And sometimes he’ll even get out his pencil and pad of paper and start mapping out a plan for me.

In my opinion, this is a male ally. But I’m not the only one. I’ve watched him provide mentorship, coaching, and educational opportunities to the women that help lead his organization. I would like to say he does this because he understands the benefit of investing in his staff, and that is part of it, but as man who successfully embodies the YMCA’s culture of respect, responsibility, honesty, and caring, he knows that to lead an innovative and growing organization those values must be applied to all people.

I feel lucky to have connected with Paul and I will continue to sing his praises, so others know that male allies like him really do exist.”

– Kelly Pallanti, CEO and Founder, HR Nonprofit Consulting
Chicago, IL

Kelly Pallanti is a mission-driven HR consultant. She believes that people (humans) are the invaluable driver that advance the mission and values of an organization, and that HR should be there to support them. Her extensive work with YMCA has led her to work with over 500 Cause-Driven leaders by sharing her ‘Y Story.’ Kelly is Founder and CEO of HR Nonprofit Consulting.