Hilton Worldwide Celebrates Women

HiltonWorldwideToday I (Amy Howell) had the honor of serving on a panel with incredible women from Hilton Worldwide as well as a few women in high gear. The lovely and talented Mearl Purvis from Fox 13 Memphis was on hand to facilitate and entertain and as usual–she did a fabulous job and I promise you Mearl gets more gorgeous every time I see her! As the room filled with women from Hilton’s Women’s Team Member Resource Group, we took our seats and introductions were made. In honor of “Women in History” Hilton’s theme today was “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.”  Program leaders, Denise Carpenter and Sherry Smith made introductions and we talked about key issues women face in business. Tweets were flying, using the hashtag #HWWCelebratingWomen for the discussion. (You can see some of the tweets there.)

Key messages for the panel included the importance of finding mentors as well as avoiding the “chip on the shoulder” attitude. One of my favorite messages of the day came from Roquita Coleman, Solutions Manager, CN Railroad who said that “instead of trying to be smarter than everyone and trying to prove it…often it is better to try and get along with other co-workers in order to get things done.” She described a tough lesson she had to learn the hard way and that added so much value to the discussion. Without the problems and challenges we cannot learn and grow.

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Kathy Beiser, EVP, Hilton Worldwide Corporate Communications who is definitely in high gear and told the group that sometimes in a career you have to make hard, deliberate choices and sometimes that means really having to “gut it out and work hard” to get ahead. I loved her remark about never wanting to be the mom that baked cookies for her kids’ school. I totally relate to this and appreciate her tough-minded, high gear will and iron clad belief in herself. Another favorite comment she made was that women shouldn’t tell men things like “I have to go run the carpool but I’ll be back…we give them too much information sometimes that isn’t necessary.” Very good advice from someone in the executive suite!

Another Hilton Worldwide executive on the panel is a fellow Texan named Judy Christa-Cathey, VP Hampton & Hilton Garden Inn Brand Marketing. Judy is an inspiration and example of a woman in high gear who has been given a real red cape for her superpowers in the corporate world. Today she gave that red cape to a woman in the audience who commented on the difficulty and pressure on working women to be all to everyone and do it all. A very awesome moment and I need someone from Hilton to email me that photo so I can add it to this blog! Judy is someone I will be following up with and hope to get to know better. Plus, she’s from Texas and likes cowboy boots!

Finally, it was awesome to see my friend Felicia Suzanne Willett, chef and owner of Felicia Suzanne’s Restaurant who trained with Emeril Lagasse–a fact I had once known but forgotten! Felicia told us she knew she wanted to be a chef by the time she was 7 years old and would read food magazines and cookbooks as a teenager. Her passion for cooking and her depth of experience is reflected in her wonderful food and what I find even more exciting is her ability to continuously re-invent herself and her restaurant. She told me she has just re-vamped the patio to include farm tables in front of the fountain to accommodate family style dining or groups of 10 and 12. Not only has Felicia become a famous chef, but a savvy restaurateur. Congrats on your high gear journey Felicia!

Thank you Hilton Worldwide for supporting women, celebrating success and commitment and for hosting such an important panel discussion. I also appreciate the purchase of our book, “Women in High Gear” for those who attended and hope I have the opportunity to celebrate with you all again soon! Cheers to your high gear journey!

#BanBossy Campaign Is Not High Gear

WiHG book event NYC 2013By Anne Deeter Gallaher and Amy D. Howell

As women business owners and co-authors of Women in High Gear, we invest a lot of time and attention in writing, speaking, and encouraging women to “Find Their Voice” and “Tell Their Story.” Our own stories represent a tapestry of experiences, and that makes us each unique. We have benefited from the examples of strong men and women in business, and we challenge women to discover and reach their own high gear.

Last week the Girls Scouts teamed with LeanIn.org to launch a #BanBossy PSA campaign. Using celebrities like Beyoncé and Victoria Beckham they make the case that “bossy” is a pejorative, a disparaging term, and as such should be banned (yes, you read that correctly) in reference to girls. Their assumption: if young girls are called bossy, perhaps they will be disinclined to pursue leadership roles. We haven’t seen data or Pew Research stats to quantify this claim, and Googling the term “bossy” to see what images appear based on gender is not scientific evidence.

Women will never advance by telling others—men or women—how not to perceive them and what language to use to describe them. As children, we were both called bossy—by our siblings and classmates. Our parents probably called us bossy too. Why? Because we were. We had ideas and weren’t afraid to share them.

The idea that we women will get ahead and reach new career heights, or see new doors open, because a word is banned is disingenuous to our gender and our individual leadership capabilities. Are we that sensitive? Is our emotional resilience that tenuous and delicate?

Just because someone is considered powerful, influential, politically connected, successful, or entertaining doesn’t mean we jump on a bandwagon to sign a petition to ban a word in the English language. The idea of banning a word like “bossy” is silly and a waste of our greatest resource–time. While many have asserted that this campaign has been positive for raising awareness, we believe it further isolates women from achieving the skills and experiences necessary to reach the C-suite. We all want opportunities for women to advance at work. We need women to open doors, to mentor, to advocate, to introduce young women to CEOs, to help connect the dots for success. This campaign belies the strength of women.

In fact, it’s condescending for an influential and elite group of women to create a video telling us what to do. Words are words. Actions speak louder.

At @WomenInHighGear, we want to make sure young girls and women celebrate what we can become. We need strong women who can boss (Margaret Thatcher), women who can nurture (Ruth Bell Graham), women who can lead with courage (Marie Curie), women who can explore (Amelia Earhart), and women who can negotiate (Condoleezza Rice). We need every type of woman who can recognize her high gear potential and take action. That won’t happen by telling others what words to use.

In an interview on Fox News last week, Penny Young Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America (CWA) said, “True strength is being bossy in a way that empowers others to greatness, not to degradation.” Well stated.

In our experiences as mothers and women in business, High Gear means working hard and smart at the same time and not being afraid to tell your story, to rise to a business challenge, to recognize opportunities for professional development, and to seek support to reach goals. We believe that leadership, success, and profitability know no gender. The #BanBossy campaign diverts our attention from the more productive conversations of women in #STEM, Wall Street Journal Women in The Economy Task Force, and many other national women’s initiatives.

Being bossy can be a positive character trait. Bossy need not hold a negative connotation. We have known many men and women who are great at being bossy while leading others to success and high performance. Women in High Gear understand that our gender differences are also our strengths as we work together on teams. There are times to be assertive and there are times to be attentive. High gear means knowing the difference.

Finally, High Gear means selecting role models that possess the character, integrity, wisdom, and intelligence that young girls and women are seeking to learn from. It’s ironic that we would listen to an entertainer–who sells lyrics using profanity and intense sexuality–tell us what not to say to young girls. We do need real examples of everyday men and women leaders who work to help others, provide for their families, and care for aging parents while raising children and working.

We don’t need censorship of silly terms; we do need more high gear women and men to demonstrate confidence, courage, hard work, and emotional resilience–even to #EmbraceBossy if need be. The fortitude and productivity of future generations depends on it.

Women Progress, But Still Seek Change

By Don Wade 

This post originally appeared on The Daily News.

Amy Howell understands the assumptions. Co-author a book with the title “Women in High Gear” and it is easy, she says, to imagine a book that is “anti-male.”

Attendees of The Daily News’ Women & Business seminar network after the Thursday, Feb. 27, event. The seminar and panel highlighted the present and future of women in business. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

But as Howell delivered the keynote address at The Daily News Publishing Co.’s Women & Business Seminar, she made clear – as did others – that a woman succeeding in business is not about defeating men.

“I’m not a male-basher,” Howell said at the Thursday, Feb. 27, seminar. “I love men. I work with men. A lot of my clients are men.”

Howell is CEO of Howell Marketing Strategies. And she dreams of the day when there are more women CEOs out there. At the Fortune 500 level, only 4 percent of CEOs are women.

“We’ve got to change that,” she said.

After her speech, Howell and her fellow panelists – Robbin Hutton, a senior attorney with Jackson Lewis PC; Leslie Johnson, assistant director of Hutchison Leads at Hutchison School; and Linda Lauer, managing director at CBIZ Memphis – took questions from the audience.

Hutton said the legal field has changed greatly, noting that in the 1970s, it was only about 5 percent female. Now, she said, it is 33 percent female, and almost 50 percent of law school graduates are women. Numbers like that are encouraging at Hutchison.

“We focus on instilling confidence in the girls,” Johnson said.

There also was much discussion about the importance of steering young women into STEM fields – referring to science, technology, engineering and math. It’s in those fields, Howell said, where women’s pay is about 90 percent of men’s pay. Progress is also being made in the legal profession.

“We’re catching up,” Hutton said.

“I’m not a male-basher. I love men. I work with men. A lot of my clients are men.”

–Amy Howell
Co-author, “Women in High Gear”

One audience member asked the panel about a woman one day being president.

“I certainly think our country would be a lot better off if it was run by a woman,” Howell said, generating the loudest applause of the day from the female-majority audience. “Men aren’t doing so well.”

Johnson added, “At Hutchison, we tell (the girls) they can do anything they want to do, be anything they want to be.”

Flex time is becoming more common and acceptable for both men and women as they look to balance career and family, but Hutton said women who take time off from their careers are responsible for catching up with the technology when they return.

Howell’s hope is that more companies will realize the value of flexible schedules, saying she knows some CEOs and managers still aren’t comfortable with it because they don’t want to give up “control” over employees.

“If you’re productive,” Howell said, “what does it matter if you work 8 to 5?”

Lauer said seminars such as this can only further the cause of equal opportunity in the workplace, adding, “The fact it’s being publicized will lead to change.”

The Daily News’ Health Care Reform seminar – the second in the six-part 2014 Seminar Series – will be held April 3.

Worth More than Whac-A-Mole

WHACK-A-MOLEI’ve heard it said more than once that the twenty-something years can best be described as one long game of Whac-a-Mole. A huge fan of the game when I was eight, I’m starting to think it loses its grandeur when you’re waist deep in your twenties.

The object of the game is simple: strange, slightly creepy, animated moles pop up all over a board. Using a mallet, the player is meant to “whack” as many moles as possible, forcing them back into their holes and earning a high number of points.

For my generation, graduating college can feel a little bit like stepping into the line of a fire hose. After years of focusing only on the next test or the next project, suddenly we are faced with The Rest of Our Lives. We have opportunities, yes, but these possibilities can be paralyzing: a sea of moles, luring us in every direction and distracting us from our true passions.

All my life, I have wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first novel in fifth grade. Late at night, I labored under the glow of a flashlight, agonizing over how to write the sinking of the Titanic from the perspective of a mouse. In college, I went to career fairs and seminars, reading pamphlets about teaching, nursing, and other “sensible” careers, knowing in my heart of hearts that I wanted to write for a living.

After graduating, though, I seemed to lose my focus. I turned the tassel on my cap and found my world transformed into a life-sized game of Whac-a-Mole. I had no definite career path, and no form of income. Suddenly, less-than-perfect jobs and opportunities became more appealing simply because they were there, in big black fuzzy costumes waving their arms at me.

Two years after graduation, I found myself in a minimum-wage job, exhausted, deflated, and with little-to-no energy to write on the side. My dreams of becoming a published author were fading in the real world, where my only objective was quickly becoming to make ends meet. 

It was around this time that Anne Deeter Gallaher gave me a copy of Women in High Gear. In the book, Anne and her co-author, Amy Howell, encourage readers to define their goals, and to list the steps they need to take to get there. Anne encourages readers to get uncomfortable, saying that “to reach your high gear…you’ll need a lifetime vaccination of a healthy disregard for the impossible. Getting uncomfortable is the best thing you can do to reach your high gear!”

I thought about these words in light of my own life. I was so busy trying to get by, seizing whatever opportunity came my way, I hadn’t stopped to define my goals and think about where I really wanted to end up. I realized when I looked at my situation more closely, that I was avoiding stepping out and doing what I loved because I was afraid of failure. It was more comfortable for me to scrape by in jobs I didn’t really care about, head down and whacking at opportunities, than it was to take a step back and rethink my dreams. In reality, I was working at these part-time, minimum-wage jobs because, after stepping into the playing arena and trying to survive, I no longer knew what I was worth. 

After reading Women in High Gear, I made a list of high gear goals for the next five years. With Anne’s help, I started thinking strategically about how to attain these goals. It’s amazing how much easier it is to listen to yourself when you’re not chasing after moles. Today, I am a Master of Fine Arts candidate at Chatham University, and I’m working on a novel again–although this time, there are no mice involved. I’m stepping out into the world of freelancing–not because I’m grabbing whatever comes my way, but because writing is what I love, and I am worth pursuing something that I love.

We are all gifted with unique passions; with talents that make us come alive. We are worth more than the game of Whac-a-Mole can give us. Reaching High Gear is about realizing this, and pursuing the thing you are passionate about. It may be more uncomfortable at first, but is well worth it in the long run.

Thank you, Anne and Amy, for encouraging us to define our goals and to get uncomfortable in order to reach our own High Gear!

About Rachael Dymski

Rachael Dymski

I’m a freelance writer living in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. I love few things more than travel, interior design, running, literature, and a good cup of tea. I blog at RachaelDymski.com.

It’s Time for a Personal Board of Advisors

Building a busineBoardofAdvisorsss from scratch is hard work; and it’s even harder if you’re an On-Ramper—a person who took time off work to raise children, enjoy a sabbatical, or care for aging parents.

At the age of 40 I started my business and one of the first, and smartest, things I did was assemble a personal board of advisors. To succeed in business, it’s important to be self-aware. That includes knowing that you don’t know, as my father always said.

I didn’t have 20 years to figure out the art of doing business, so I needed to surround myself with the most successful people that I could connect with and ask if they would kindly serve as my personal board of advisors. How did I do that? I reached out and asked. Fortunately for me, each one said Yes.

What did I ask of my board? If they would be willing to be accessible, to listen, and to guide me in the best direction for success. They helped me answer the following types of questions:

  • Should I pursue a WBE certification?
  • Should I invest the time to compete for a state contract?
  • Should I volunteer service on another board?
  • How do I approach a client who is 60 days past due?
  • How should I respond to a company who wants to co-brand?
  • How do I navigate the hiring process?
  • Should I negotiate a 3-year or 5-year commercial space lease?

As an entrepreneur, I had to make good decisions the first time, and my board was critical in helping me grow.

I felt it was important to have diverse industries and ages on my board. I wanted people who could help me think of unintended consequences and bring skills that I didn’t have. One advisor is a successful family practice physician who is leading the country in electronic medical records implementation; one is a business owner who founded an institutional bond firm; one is a mother who started her IT firm after leaving IBM and ramped up to crest $5 million in revenue; one is a 30-year veteran in land development and the automotive industry leading a company with $80 million in revenue; and one is a business owner of a commercial mortgage banking firm.

All have deep experiences with growing their companies, making decisions based on the bottom line, navigating workplace challenges, and rebounding from recessions. I soon realized the value of that level of guidance—priceless. In fact, it’s probably worth more than an MBA.

Dr. Robert K. Nielsen jokes that he’s still waiting for our annual board meeting to be at The Greenbrier. That’s an aspirational goal for me, but every day I look at the picture on my desk and am thankful for how much each one has played a role in my high gear journey.

Whether you’re just thinking about your business idea or ready to launch a new service, I strongly encourage you to assemble your own personal board of advisors to capture decades of business wisdom and the objectivity to send you to the next level.