We’re excited to share a collaborative interview today with three of our clients at IWCO, a strategic marketing partner who delivers innovative, creative, and data-driven solutions that drive measurable performance improvement across appropriate 1:1 channels.

Read more in the conversation below on supportive, equitable workplace cultures and mentorship with our clients Siri Prax, Diana Hvistendahl and Missy Smutny.

What advice or support has been most valuable for you in your career?

Diana: Early in my career, I was complimented for my work but typically responded with “Thank you but” answers – pointing out a few challenges I was experiencing. I felt like if I were to share my successes, it would be perceived as bragging. One day, a senior female leader told me not to be so hard on myself. She told me there was no need to discredit my work or to make myself smaller in fear of being perceived as egotistical. I think it’s incredibly important that women listen, share experiences and advice – be proud of each other when we achieve hard things! I also love the quote from Susan Jeffers, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” After many opportunities to practice, I find it a thrill now to conquer my fears.

Siri: Attending an all-women’s college helped me to feel empowered and allowed me to find my voice early in my career. I’ve worked mainly in the entertainment and advertising/marketing industries where I predominantly had male mentors as I progressed on my career path. My college experience empowered me to network and develop a support system in the workplace. Many of those relationships I have retained over the years.

Missy: Growing up, I was lucky to be raised by a strong woman. I listened to stories of how my mom, a registered nurse, made sure the right things were happening in the surgical unit she worked in for many years. She was often challenging and pushing back on (at the time) male-dominated surgeons. She didn’t realize it at the time, but she was demonstrating how my sister and I could and should stand up for people that can’t always stand up for themselves. It’s been a life lesson I carry with me still today. As appreciative as I am of that life lesson, I learned an even more important one that I didn’t realize until after I left the U.S. Army and started my civilian career. I didn’t understand the importance of showing vulnerability. Throughout my life, I’d been taught that vulnerability is a weakness and admitting to mistakes would make people think less of my abilities. I’ve learned that vulnerability is one of the most important aspects of life that builds trust and brings people closer together.


What is needed to create equitable workplace cultures?

Siri: First and foremost is education and understanding. It is imperative we get the workplace culture to a position where we can have open dialogue. It’s important to have these conversations and elevate issues or situations that need to be addressed. As an organization, we have an obligation to make sure things are seen and reported, and then pivot behaviors. Mentoring and using the voice you have to help others to find their voice is extremely powerful.

Missy: A psychologically safe place where people can thrive. Creating an equitable workplace is a huge opportunity for any business. As a woman and a leader, I feel an obligation to further equity even if it is little by little. Teaching women to advocate for themselves in the workplace is so important to advancing equity. It is an acquired skill that takes practice. As a young person in the workplace, I didn’t know how to navigate office politics or company culture. A mentor helped me identify my own “personal board of directors.” Each person on my board of directors guided my career choices to help me get to where I am now – personally and professionally.

Diana: Sometimes, I find that women may need the tools and skills to confront a situation they see or experience. It’s critical that we all learn tactics and ways to have conversations in a safe space. When we see something that’s inappropriate or we hear something, it’s our responsibility to say something. Employees should feel safe bringing situations and scenarios up because sometimes people may not even catch something that has happened. You need to feel comfortable and to know who you can go to in order to advance equity in your workplace.


How can others be a mentor or resource to their networks?

Missy: We’re lucky to be at an organization like IWCO with so many women in leadership roles. We work hard to listen well and develop actionable advice and resources when any issues are brought our way.

Siri: Be open! I always try to make sure I am approachable and that I start by listening with an empathetic ear, providing guidance on challenges.

Diana: I’ve worked with women in many senior leadership roles, and I’ve watched what they do and how they lead by example. I came to learn that if they can do it, I can do it. I think an important callout is to watch out for labels. This includes using words like dramatic, overbearing, emotional, etc. When I hear people use these terms, I work with them to re-label with words like passionate or thoughtful to be more affirming.

Missy: Mentorship has been life-changing for me. I’ve come to realize you can have multiple mentors for different things. It is important to have people you trust outside of your direct leadership that can provide a different perspective. Mentoring can be both formal and informal. It’s a great opportunity for everyone, regardless of level, title, or area of expertise. Mentorship is about caring and paying it forward. Maintaining connections is critical. You never know when someone can help you, or you can lend a hand.

Siri: I haven’t had a number of strong female mentors in the workplace. But I have had some male mentors throughout my career who have challenged me to think broader and who identified things in me that I didn’t see myself. Helping others see their value is critically important.


Why do you think equity in the workplace is so important?

Diana: Talent is equally distributed, but equity isn’t – and by not counting yourself out, you can expose yourself to an increasing number of opportunities, and organizations can have access to a broader talent pool.

Missy: There are so many other layers to equity that it can be hard to know where to start. As humans, we still have so far to go. As a leader, it is my responsibility to create a safe and equitable place for our employees so they can grow personally and professionally.


We’re honored to work alongside women like Siri, Diana and Missy every day. Watch for our next blog celebrating Women’s History Month soon.



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