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Fantastic Leaders Offer Advice in Honor of International Women’s Day

Inspirational women leaders share insights, challenges, and offer advice to help other women crush business goals.

three women of diverse backgrounds looking to the right: women leaders, women who lead, inspirational women
Ensure your women leaders have equal opportunity to share their ideas and give them credit for good ideas when credit is due. [Ponomariova_Maria/Getty Images]

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a chance to reflect on the significant gains women have achieved in our global community. While full equality remains a daily struggle, more women than ever are holding office, starting their own businesses, earning college degreesreceiving their due credit, and pushing for equal pay.

I’m so thankful for all the strong and wonderful women leaders I’ve known over the years — women that remind me to dream big, never compromise, and stay committed to my values. So in honor of International Women’s Day, we asked four inspirational small business leaders to share their experiences and offer advice to help other women achieve their business goals.

I’ve been in situations where my opinion and authority weren’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts.

Kelsey Cohen, a revenue operations leader at PetDesk

Below you’ll hear from women leaders:

kelsey cohen: women who lead

Kelsey Cohen, a revenue operations leader at PetDesk revolutionizing technology for veterinary practices.

stephanie neale: inspirational women

Stephanie Neale, CEO at Blind Zebra, a sales and client success coaching firm helping salespeople grow personally and professionally.

jodi cachey: women leaders

Jodi Cachey, vice president of content strategy and growth marketing at Mediafly. She leads content marketing initiatives to drive traffic and demand for this growing technology company.

lydia flocchini: inspirational women, women leaders

Lydia Flocchini, CMO at Surepoint. She leads the strategy development and execution of customer-centric marketing for a legal tech company that transforms the way law firms run their businesses.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a leader? How do you overcome it?

Cohen: One of the biggest challenges I face as a (woman) leader in tech is establishing confidence. I’ve been in situations where my opinion and authority weren’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts. It’s taken me many years to find the confidence to keep voicing concerns, bringing ideas, and asking questions, despite the fact I may have to say it much louder or more often than someone else. One thing that has helped me overcome that, especially when I think back to the early days in my career, is deciding I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could. That way I know I can do things correctly and can trust my own numbers and ideas.

I’ve learned to hire people I trust. And, I’m working on identifying when I need to step away and do something for myself.

Jodi Cachey, vice president of content strategy and growth marketing at Mediafly

Neale: My career started in a male-dominated industry, selling almost exclusively to men who were 20 years older than I was. I felt in over my head and feared they thought I was “less than” because of my gender and age. Two things helped me through this. First, I had to let go of assuming I knew what they were thinking. And second, I “went to school” on the industry and became a thought leader, collecting unique ideas, and best practices from clients and prospects, and sharing them across the country.

Cachey: My biggest challenge is achieving balance, or more specifically, avoiding burnout. My work is fast-paced, I have two small children, and we are two years into a global pandemic. Life is always busy, but right now things feel chaotic. There is a reason women, especially mothers, are leaving the workforce in disproportionate numbers.

After giving everyone – my employer, my kids, my team, my husband – my best effort each day, it’s easier to collapse on the couch with Netflix and takeout than to give myself the care I need. But over the last year, I’ve made it a point to be more intentional with my time. I’ve gotten better at accepting help. I’ve learned to hire people I trust. And, I’m working on identifying when I need to step away and do something for myself.

Flocchini: As a first-generation Latina who has earned a law degree and has had the opportunity to be in executive leadership positions, I have a deep sense of responsibility to inspire and help women rise to positions of leadership. For many years, I was often the only woman in the room and knew this needed to change. It was clear to me I needed to do more to uplift women and build community. The challenge I face now is how to ensure my efforts are making an impact and having lasting results. I overcome this challenge by using my leadership roles as a platform to drive change; by mentoring, sponsoring, referring, and amplifying women; and participating in communities where women support each other.

What’s one thing we can all do to support women as leaders?

Cohen: Invite them to the table. Women need to know that their ideas and presence add value and are needed. I constantly see young women who are brought into meetings sit quietly without contributing; I was fortunate to have someone tell me that if you’re in the room, it’s because you’re valued and we want to hear your thoughts. If they hadn’t said that to me, I probably wouldn’t have spoken up.

We can make intentional efforts to find emerging female leaders and help them succeed. All professionals have to do the work to identify their strengths and gaps. 

Stephanie Neale, CEO at Blind Zebra

Neale: First, we can continue to normalize that women can be great leaders, partners, and moms, all at the same time (just like our male counterparts!). Second, we can make intentional efforts to find emerging female leaders and help them succeed. All professionals have to do the work to identify their strengths and gaps. Women also have to learn, usually more than men, how to be more assertive, ask for what they want, and champion themselves and each other. Those lessons come more quickly when you’re blessed with female mentors who have gone before you.

Cachey: Listen to them. Research shows both men and women are more likely to interrupt someone if they’re female. There are still fewer women at the leadership table. Ensure your female leaders have equal opportunity to share their ideas and give them credit for good ideas when credit is due.

Flocchini: Mentor and coach women on how to articulate and show their impact through data. Throughout my career, I’ve mentored women that are hesitant to share their success because it might be construed as self-promotion, but the reality is it’s about demonstrating your impact, which is a GREAT thing! Early on, I learned data serves as a proof point. During performance reviews, I would have a list of my accomplishments backed by data. I have coached women on how to keep stats and metrics that highlight their contributions. As women we need to feel comfortable evangelizing our own success and the success of other women. This leads to promotions, equalizing the pay gap, and increasing diversity. Use data to tell your story.

What career advice do you have for girls growing up today?

Cohen: Don’t be afraid to take the opportunities in front of you. I know it can feel scary or risky, or may feel that you’re taking two steps backward to get one step forward, but what served me is making sure to say yes to the things that will help me develop new skills. Sometimes that doesn’t align with my career trajectory or current role. Sometimes that means I have to let go of a bunch of stuff I enjoy doing in order to learn more and grow. But I’ve never regretted taking the opportunity to learn. It has always added to my suite of professional tools I could bring to the table.

Create opportunities, don’t wait for them. Develop a network of mentors and sponsors. Be a platform for change and to help others. 

Lydia Flocchini, CMO at Surepoint

Neale: There is no handbook and no timeline. The expectation that you should know what you want to be “when you grow up” at 18, 22, or even 30 years old can be limiting. Follow your joy. Determine the feelings you want to chase and the steps that will get you living those feelings most of the time. The world has a way of putting the right opportunities in front of us. Additionally, one of our beliefs at Blind Zebra is you should never chase titles or money (something I learned the hard way).

Cachey: Raise your hand early and often. Find a way to get involved in projects that interest you, even if they’re outside of what you were hired to do. When I first started my career, I volunteered to help with everything, especially things I didn’t quite understand. I learned so much about different areas of the business, which opened a lot of opportunities for growth and allowed me to find what I was most passionate about.

Flocchini: Some advice I recently shared in The Epic Mentor Guide: always be true to yourself. Create opportunities, don’t wait for them. Develop a network of mentors and sponsors. Be a platform for change and to help others. Reading epic advice from women I admire made me stronger with each page. Imagine the impact on girls and young women figuring out whom they want to be or starting out; this is the kind of wisdom women need to be sharing with each other, always.

Who inspires you?

Cohen: The women who’ve been in my life. I’ve been fortunate to be the daughter of a mother who was a trailblazer in the law profession. My stepmother has had a lot of success in research. And I have had a multitude of mentors and women leaders along the way.

Neale: It may sound cliché, but I believe early influence is so important and my first role model was my mom. She raised three kids and was always side-hustling to help ease financial stress for our family. My mom did everything from working part-time as a florist to drafting plans for homes under a desk lamp late at night at home. In her 40s she went back to school for her second degree and became a teacher. She somehow managed to keep a comfy and cozy home, raise some pretty decent kids (if I do say so myself), build a wonderful relationship with my dad, and chase her dreams. My more mainstream guru is Danielle Laporte.

Cachey: First and foremost, my mom. She raised five kids, including four strong-willed, independent women. Plus, she’s a jack of all trades. She sews her grandkids’ Halloween costumes, has helped me paint and wallpaper my house, bakes my kids’ birthday cakes, and frequently hosts our 20-person family for homemade dinners. I’ve never seen the woman break a sweat. I hope to have half the grace and creativity she does.

I also admire and appreciate female leaders like Sheryl Sandberg who use their platforms to advocate for and mentor women in the workplace.

Flocchini: My hero is Ruth Bader Ginsburg; I often reflect on her life, her strength, and her courage. I’m constantly inspired by the women in my family who immigrated from Nicaragua and El Salvador in search of a better life in the United States, especially my mother. I think about their experiences adjusting to a new place, the language barriers they faced, how they overcame adversities, their courage, strength, and resiliency. They have been my role models and I couldn’t be more grateful for their determination, passion, and the sacrifices they made to pave the way for me. Lastly, I’m always inspired by mentors (a.k.a. my personal board of advisors) who are always there to listen, guide, and support me. They make me a better leader and human being.

Honor the inspirational women in your life for International Women’s Day

This Tuesday, March 8, in honor of International Women’s Day, practice kindness, confidence, and bravery — but also remember those wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

Salesforce helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can grow faster than ever. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on Twitter at @SalesforceSMB, LinkedIn at Salesforce for Small Business, and Instagram at @SalesforceSMB.

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