I was honored to be part of a Minnesota PRSA panel last month at the chapter’s first-ever “Women In Leadership” event. It was an excellent discussion that could have continued well beyond the time limit. Like most lively conversations, we only covered a few of the many topics we prepared to address. So, if you weren’t at the event or you attended and wished we could have covered more territory — here’s what else is on my mind about women, leadership and equality in these challenging times.
What challenges did you face as a woman during the course of your career? I started my career at an advertising agency in the late 1980s, just as it was becoming obligatory to have a woman in the room. I was likeable enough to get in the room — and smart enough to get invited back. I could have resented knowing I was filling the gender quota, but I used it to my advantage. Before long I was in a position to invite a lot of other women into the room.
Are there any instances/feedback, possibly in previous roles, that you have encountered that have shaped your leadership style? I often wear a bracelet with a favorite Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said, and they’ll forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I had to mature into understanding this. I’m a naturally energized, passionate person, and I’m an extravert. Early in my career, all that energy powered over people and their ideas. My intentions were good, but my style was very challenging. Being a good leader is all about building trust. We do that by becoming great listeners. I listen very intentionally to our team, our clients and the marketplace. And I’m patient in allowing answers and ideas to flow in from everywhere.
What has surprised you about leadership in this industry? The evidence about balanced board rooms is clear: Companies that have boards with gender and cultural diversity perform better. Public Relations is now a female-dominated profession, and there aren’t very many of those on the planet. Sadly, less than 20 percent of boardroom roles in our industry are held by women. This must change — in our industry and across the board. It’s good for business.
I’m also surprised our industry isn’t doing all it can to keep talented women in our companies. On the agency side of the equation, I’m stunned when I hear women describe rigid work environments and impossible workload expectations. These women are genuinely concerned about their ability to raise families or care for aging parents or pursue their passions — without sacrificing compensation and professional growth. When we know better, we have to do better.
What book, author, Ted Talk or other presentation has inspired you during your journey that you would recommend to other women for professional development? Beehive is a strengths-driven company. Two of my strengths are learner and input, so I’m a sponge for content and ideas. Some of the most interesting women-centered content I’m enjoying right now are podcasts. Ellevate Network has an excellent podcast. Wrong About Everything, if you’re interested in Minnesota politics, is smart and funny.
I watch Ted Talks or listen to Ted Radio Hour every chance I get. Beehive’s “summer inspiration” series is focused on branded experiences. Our team just watched and discussed a fantastic Ted Talk on how Airbnb designs for trust. During our weekly happy hour, we all come to the table to talk about brands that are leading the world in building trust through experience.
The top of my reading pile right now is Tom Friedman’s “Thank You for Being Late.” It’s a bit of a thick read, but if you stick with it he makes some powerful connections for the future.
Talk about your use of social media and your strategy in supporting your leadership position through multiple channels. As the company owner, the Beehive channels are my primary professional social channels — Beehive’s blog, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
As a female leader, what are the key messages you strive to communicate to your team? For me, it’s about being a conscious leader who happens to be a woman. Beehive has been recognized nationally for its BeWell culture. Every member of our team is grounded in practices that create positive energy and support our people to stretch and grow professionally and personally every day.
As a leader in the community, how do you prioritize your time as you are invited to participate on boards, committees, etc. outside your company responsibilities? Focus is key. I use the rule of three. I only work three things at a time. I focus on opportunities that are meaningful to my professional life and my personal life. I’m just beginning a term on the Animal Humane Society board of directors. Beehive is developing a woman-owned business mentoring program we’ll introduce this fall, and I just finished coordinating travel and communication for my son’s Babe Ruth Tournament team, which was by far the most challenging assignment.
What is the biggest challenge facing women in the industry today? Ourselves and the idea that we’re never doing enough.
What have you done and what are you doing to combat unconscious bias? We have a unique situation at Beehive. We are 90% female. Our company is also a member of The BrandLab, an organization that’s doing the best work for our industry in the Twin Cities. We work closely with our client organizations whose workforces and customers are among the most diverse in the world.
What skills do you often see women lacking in the PR industry? What is your advice in those situations? Confidence. Everyone has fear, but you have to jump. Success is within each of us. It’s just beyond the fear.
What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess? Purpose. Beehive is a purpose-driven company. In my soul, I believe in the power of communication to create better businesses and a better world. When business strategy and the power of communication connect — amazing things are possible.
What advice would you give women looking to advance in/break into this industry? This isn’t Hollywood, so the numbers significantly favor your success. There are a lot of opportunities available. Focus on your core skills, especially writing and storytelling. Be ridiculously curious and make every connection you can between movements, big and small. Develop a high EQ and care for yourself. That’s where confidence comes from.
Looking back at your career, what is one thing you wish you would have done differently knowing what you know now? I wish I would have worked less and traveled more in my 20s. A global perspective is so valuable.