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Inspiring Women: Eight Leaders Share Their Best Advice

Advice from 8 Inspiring Women Leaders

Women’s History Month and International Women's Day are celebrated every March to commemorate the important contributions of women throughout history. Amanda and myself have to admit that prior to joining Workiva and getting involved with the Women in Sales employee resource group, neither of us knew this. 

For us, this realization prompted an exploration into the important role women have played throughout history and also ignited a passion within us to encourage, motivate and learn from other women.

In our roles today, we have the privilege of working with some of the most successful and inspiring women that we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. And so, in honor of Women’s History Month, we are excited to be able to share some of their stories, advice and encouragement with you.

 

Melissa Cameron Principal at Deloitte

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women’s History month is an opportunity to celebrate the many women who have paved the way for women’s rights as well as leadership in the professional world today. I hope that the many Deloitte women leaders will continue to encourage women to pursue business, technology, and related fields into the future.

Who have you looked up to?

I have looked up to the many female leaders who drive positive growth and support for our many clients including Cathy Engelbert our first female CEO and Kamala Harris our first female Vice President.

What would you tell your younger self?

That networking, sponsorship and advocacy are as important (if not more important) than the work we put our energy into. Invest in developing your network and advocates, and pay it forward into how you support those around you.

 

Michelle Hubble Partner at PwC

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

I spent most of my early career  believing gender didn't matter. But gender disparities in the workplace are real.  In today's day and age they seem to be more unconscious biases compared to what I faced in my early career, however these unconscious biases are much harder to address and change because speaking up about them is much more difficult.  So having a month dedicated to Women's History is a great way to give a greater voice to women.  

Who have you looked up to?

My grandmother was a quiet giant. She was self-taught and did not attend high school or college. She raised 6 kids – one who had special needs, managed the finances of a Grade A dairy farm, was the Treasurer of her church for many many years, studied on her own to become an LPN, worked in a nursing home for over 40 years taking care of countless patients in their last days, and always had time to teach us grandkids how to cook, clean and tend to a garden! 

What would you tell your younger self?

Have the confidence to sit at the table and speak up – your opinion may make all the difference in how problems are solved and people are inspired!

 

Nicola Davis Partner at KPMG AU

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

It is the time to openly acknowledge the contribution that women have made to society over many years. I think we have come a long way in acknowledging women’s achievements (2021 Australian of the Year Awards are a case in point – all women); however there is still much more to do. I do like the fact that the month is themed and acts as a global call to arms. I particularly like the 2021 theme: Choose to challenge  - we need to do things differently if we are going to tackle society’s biggest issues. 

Who have you looked up to?

Whilst not exactly looked up to (until maybe now that is); the main influence in my life has been my Mother. A child of World War II; growing up in the UK in a broken home; with no male influences and no money. What she did have was the will to make more of herself through hard work and an unshakable belief that she could. She went on to run two successful hairdressing businesses whilst raising 3 children, caring for her grandmother and providing pro-bono hair dressing services to the local retirement home. When I stop to reflect, my mother was a great female role model:  she showed me the strength of women; the value of hard work; the importance of backing myself and of always giving back. 

What would you tell your younger self?

I have so much to tell my younger self. With advice borne of 35 years of professional experience, I’ve learnt some the hard way. Here are three:

1. Find your purpose and know your “why.” This will be your life compass and your guide in making strategic career choices as well as support you through those tough times at work. 

2. Take time out to self-reflect. To succeed in business and to be a good leader you must be self-aware and understand the impact your words and behaviours have on others. Ask yourself the tough questions and reply honestly. 

3. Back yourself. Lean in to opportunities that come your way; do not say “no” because you haven’t done it before or do not feel as if you are the complete package. You are smart; learn quickly and ask for help when you need it.

 

Jill Sesplankis Director at PwC

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

That history doesn't happen overnight, but every day is history in the making. I think of when my Grandmother quit her job simply because she got engaged. I think of how my mom was the first in her family to get a college degree, even though she said she had to pick from only nursing and education. With each generation, a new standard is set. My generation of women have so many more choices, fields of study, careers, families – so much more is 'acceptable' and 'normal'.  I know that it wasn't easy for the women before us to ignite change. But when I think of Women's History, I am driven to blaze a new path and make a difference for my own daughter and her generation.

Who have you looked up to?

I am fortunate to have an amazing mother and to have met some badass women throughout my years! What I admire most is when a woman has a unique way to be authentic to themselves, and is strong, yet accepting of others and vulnerable. There is something so admirable when a woman can unapologetically have an opinion, but admit she doesn't have all of the answers, when she can share her struggles and still be unwavering in her determination. These women are not intimidating to me – they are incredible!

What would you tell your younger self?

That when you grow up, don't let anyone else write your own narrative. My parents taught me that I could do anything I wanted and gave me all the support and confidence I needed. I appreciated this guidance, worked hard, tried new things and set high goals. Yet, somehow in college and early in my career (okay, maybe until only a few years ago) I let the views of too many other people influence my own thoughts. This impacted my confidence, goals and frankly my happiness. "You know, most students drop out of Accounting", "You know, Big 4 firms only hire college athletes", "You know, you will have to stop working when your husband becomes Partner", "You know, you should focus on your kids and not your career."   I found myself constantly in fight mode, trying to prove people wrong or worried that I wasn't doing the right things. I would tell her to take the pen and write her own story! 

 

Susan King Partner at KPMG US

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

I appreciate the opportunity during Women’s History Month to reflect on how far women have come, and how thankful I am for all the women before me who fought valiantly for change and equal opportunities for all women.  It’s a reason to celebrate those opportunities both in the past and for the future.

Who have you looked up to?

I grew up in England, so the first two women that I looked up to are Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister, and Princess Diana. Obviously they had very different roles, but both were very visible and influential women who made their mark on history, and they were passionate about their beliefs and causes.

What would you tell your younger self?

As a young professional, I thought I needed to be able to talk about sports, golf and politics in order to network and engage in conversation. I was lucky to find mentors who encouraged me to find my own way to engage and interact with leaders. Taking that advice, I’ve found that it’s true. I’ve had many wonderful discussions about music concerts, the value of family and my love of travel and the outdoors. So, I would tell my younger self to have the confidence to be authentic and explore different ways to interact with others.

 

Jennifer Neglia Partner at PwC

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”  I spend some time during Women's History month to reflect on how far equality has come and be grateful for the strong women who came before us and provided all the opportunities we have now. It's also a time to consider what still needs to be done. I personally will consider what Ruth said and think about where I want to be spending my time to make decisions that matter – both at work, in the nonprofit world, and at home.  So Women's History Month means I will check in with my ideals and goals and see if I've been spending time in the right places.

Who have you looked up to?

Many people will influence you on your career path as well as in your personal life. Learn what you can from each, even those people you may struggle with have a lesson for you. In general, as I've aged, I've realized how little time we have, and I've made a conscious effort to surround myself with people I genuinely enjoy being with and respect. It has done wonders for the quality of my life. 

What would you tell your younger self?

Prior to any important meetings, at work or in your personal life, think critically about the goal and focus on the three things you'll want to be sure participants take away to reach your goal. Consider how you made the people in the room feel. Did you come off over assertive and aggressive, or collaborative, open and relaxed?  I often found I tried so hard to make my point, it was lost in my overzealous delivery – and people didn't 'hear' me. 

Lisa Rawls Principal at KPMG US

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

While we should be recognizing women all year long, I am grateful that there’s an entire month dedicated to celebrating women – the contributions that females have made throughout history and being able to honor the accomplishments of all women. It’s also a special month for me because in 2018 during Women’s History Month, I co-founded the KPMG Women of Risk Community. The overall mission of our Women of Risk Community is to advance women in the risk profession. While the Women of Risk Community host events throughout the year, we hold our annual signature event each March – typically in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Who have you looked up to?

The women in my family are tremendous role models for me. Both of my grandmothers were working mothers, as was my mom. They encouraged me to live with the mindset that I can be anything I want to be and that I can create my own path. Their lives focused on supporting their families and friends, giving back to others in their communities, and living life to the fullest. These are all things that I embrace and focus on daily.

What would you tell your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to take risks. Each opportunity allows you to meet new people and gives you exposure to learn new things. As you take on that new opportunity, you may suddenly realize it isn’t something you’re passionate about, and that’s okay. At a minimum, you learned something new that you can take with you to future opportunities – even if the takeaway is that that type of role is not for you!

 

Jaime Phillips Principal at PwC

 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

It's an important reminder of how necessary it is for us, as women, to speak up and act.  It's also important, now more than ever, that we recognize and support women of all backgrounds and walks of life. The trailblazers before us have fought hard to have a voice and make it easier for us to live our lives as we see fit. It's up to us to continue their work and support all women and their voices.

Who have you looked up to?

My parents, both of whom came from very humble beginnings. They learned the value of hard work from a very young age and worked relentlessly to give us a better life with the opportunities they didn't have.  At the same time, they didn't hand us anything. They taught my brother, sister and I that we CAN have what we want IF we are willing to work and sacrifice for it. I believe that's often overlooked these days – you have to put in the work.

What would you tell your younger self?

There are so many things I would love to go back and tell her. I'll share a few that I now tell my four daughters all of the time:

1. When faced with a situation, always ask yourself – "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"  It's a relatively well-known quote but often overlooked.  I think we spend so much of our time as women worrying about our decisions and actions, fearful if we look too tough, too weak, too aggressive, too passive; afraid of losing out on an opportunity, afraid of taking a step back for our families or other goals. You'd be surprised how easy it is to frame decisions when you put fear in its proper place.

2. Spend time with people. You can learn from books, classes, the internet, but I've never learned more or had my life enriched more than from the people and relationships I've built. There's no substitution for the experience and the connections we build. The impact you can have on others is also incredible. The people in your life are everything.  

3. Finally, I tell them to act. You don't have to know everything or have all the answers, but you do have to DO SOMETHING. Don't know how to solve a problem? Just take the first step. You can tackle anything, do anything, be anything if you just move one step at a time. I also think that’s important when it comes to social and political challenges.  If you don't like what you see or you want to influence change, do something! Run for office, support a charity, coach or mentor someone. Take action!  

 

 

About the Author

Amanda Montoya has been with Workiva since 2014 and currently serves as Director of Inside Sales. In this dynamic role she leads our Strategic Account Managers, while partnering closely with our marketing and sales teams to drive revenue. She also serves as a co-leader for our Women in Sales employee resource group. Amanda lives in Iowa where she enjoys spending time with family.

About the Author

Heather Mares has been with Workiva since January 2018 and currently serves as an Area Sales Director. In this role she leads a team of Strategic Regional Sales Directors in Central North America. She also serves as co-leader for our Women In Sales employee resource group.  Heather lives in Texas where she enjoys swimming, reading and time with her family. 

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