Even in this post-everything time in history with women and men doing equal work, the narrowing (still too wide) of the gender gap, it can seem boggling that we are still discussing the dearth of women in executive roles. With all the bad news that abounds, we are proud that equality, fair compensation and a safe and fun work environment are paramount to our company culture. For International Women’s Day, we are proud to feature an executive in our company, Betsey White, who happens to be a woman, our COO and also an excellent coffee drinker.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became COO of this particular marketing company.
I've been in marketing for most of my career now and worked my way up from project manager, learning about the different facets of the business along the way. I’ve had the great fortune of working for and with people who have believed in me and have trusted my vision. I can think of very special female leaders on the path ahead of me whose encouragement and commitment helped me trust in myself and my abilities.
2. We’ve all heard about the glass ceiling – but what do you think about the “glass cliff.” Do you think it’s important for women to take risks in leadership or to play it safe?
[The glass cliff is the phenomenon of women in leadership roles, such as executives in the corporate world and female political election candidates, being likelier than men to achieve leadership roles during periods of crisis or the downturn, when the chance of failure is highest.]
Stepping outside of your comfort zone, regardless of your personal level of risk tolerance, is critical in business (and arguably in snowboarding, travel, and culinary adventures—yes, next time, try the octopus!). It’s interesting that when we’re placed in positions when things get risky, many women find the support and confidence to turn things around. Arguably, you could say this is because there are men or those who have options who don’t have to take on the risky, looks-like-it’s-sure-to-fail position, but how empowering that so many of us take that precarious job and prove our mettle. What’s difficult is when you’re presented with a challenging situation and are given a very short leash or impossible parameters in which to succeed. We’re still in a climate where there are groups of us that have something to prove. Sometimes these glass cliff moments provide that opportunity.
3. What are the main obstacles that women face in higher up positions?
For many of us, those unspoken intangibles, seemingly imperceptible to others but glaring to us. The impression that others are surprised at your accomplishments, your success, or worse, waiting for you to fail. Waiting for consensus instead of charging ahead is a generality I've seen play out. You may not get permission for that next move but the important thing is asking yourself why you feel like you need permission. Permission to feel you can own your ambition, your accomplishments, your leadership and management style. Own it and press on!
4. Do you experience resistance when you are leading?
I certainly have before. There is a particular breed of old guard man, thankfully an endangered species in my parts, who will expect me to prove myself or level doubt at me because I am in a leadership position as a woman. We’re post-MeToo but that doesn’t mean everyone’s on a level playing field. We’re moving in the right direction and still have ground to cover. What’s wonderful about being able to build your own team, is you don’t have to hire tools. One of the best pieces of business advice is to hire well, hire ethical people. Nothing hurts a healthy ecosystem more that introducing someone that works against your vision and culture.
5. What advice can you offer to young women who eventually want to be in high-intensity leadership roles?
I think approaching life as a student, where you’re always open to learning is huge. Equally as critical is owning that you are enough and more. There was a day when, as women, we were told to deepen our voices and act more stereotypically ‘male,’ but not too male, in order to be taken seriously at the workplace. I can’t even believe how recent this was. Don't be afraid of visibility, ask what you can do for your company, and don’t feel like you need to buy into stereotypes about who you are to make it. Show up, work hard and expect greatness for yourself and your team.
6. Have you ever felt challenged in your role?
I have definitely felt challenged in my role. At many junctures, we haven’t had all the answers. No one does, but at a certain level, people expect you, rightly, to show up having some opinion about how to proceed. As our company has grown we’ve been confronted with new situations where we’ve had to stretch, pivot and reinvent. One of the things I love about my role is that I get to exercise a lot of different muscles. In those instances where we’re in terra incognito I study, take counsel, and decide on which course is likely to work for our organization. Our diverse team is a huge benefit. Many different voices lead to solid outcomes in my experience. Trusting your team is vital in those times.
7. What woman inspires you and why?
I am often inspired by the many smart, hard-working women I’ve come across personally, and those I’ve never met, like Rosalind Brewer, COO for Starbucks. She is my own personal bad-a superhero executive. She is talented, courageous and very good at her job. She also comes across as a whole person where she isn’t just her very high-profile job. I also love the author Anna Quindlen, who penned, “I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.” Those words may seem anathema to business but they remind me to be a better person.
8. Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?
Presently, at my youngest daughter’s basketball games, travel coffee cup in hand. If she doesn’t have a game in the morning, making breakfast. These days, Crimini, spinach and onion scramble, cottage cakes or homemade waffles.
9. What are your favorite books for women in business?
Grace Bonney’s In the Company of Women is a book that’s a few years old now that I recently looked at again. I love that when you think of executives, or even ‘female executives,’ many of the women featured aren’t necessarily ones who might come to mind. It’s an inspiring book filled with great women and great photography.
Conscious Business by Fred Kofman because we bring our ethics and values with us to the local coffee shop, grocery store and to our workplaces.
Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership, which reminds us what makes us effective as leaders.