Women Progress, But Still Seek Change

Daily News/Andrew J. Breig

Daily News/Andrew J. Breig

By Don Wade – This post originally appeared on memphisdailynews.com.

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.

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.

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.

Telling Her Own Story: Amy Howell blazes path as business owner, leader, author

By Don Wade – This post originally appeared on memphisdailynews.com.

Long before she was running her own business and co-writing a book, “Women in High Gear,” Amy Howell was a little girl in overdrive.

“I was a tomboy,” Howell, CEO of Memphis-based Howell Marketing Strategies, said of her earliest days in Austin, Texas. “I’d tell the neighborhood what we were going to do, whose house we were going to go to. They kind of looked to me to figure out what we were doing.”

In a way, those neighborhoods kids – especially the boys – were her first clients. Not that it was a straight shot from organizing the kids on the block to running a business. It wasn’t.

Howell will share her story – and the larger story of women attaining new heights in the working world – when she delivers the keynote address at the Women & Business Seminar Feb. 27 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The 2014 Seminar Series is presented by The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc. The Women & Business seminar will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. To register, go to seminars.memphisdailynews.com. A wine-and-cheese reception will follow the event.

In the book, “Women in High Gear: A Guide for Entrepreneurs, On-Rampers, and Aspiring Executives,” Howell wrote: “High gear for me is the point where you attain confidence that comes from staying power in the business world. It’s that voice deep down that calls you to action and keeps you focused on your goals. Some people have tried to define me, but I refuse to allow others to define my journey.”

Her mother, of course, would be the exception to that rule.

“I was a lifeguard in high school and a swimming teacher,” Howell said. “My parents teased me about always having a clipboard and a whistle. And I say in the book, somebody had to be in charge, it might as well be me. My mom told me, ‘you don’t need to be following; you need to be leading.’”

That’s more easily accomplished in the neighborhood than in a corporate setting. Howell, 49, who came to Memphis to attend Rhodes College, knew early on she would have to meet men where they were to better understand them and the business world.

She says in the book, which she co-wrote with Anne Deeter Gallaher, who is CEO of her own marketing firm in Harrisburg, Pa., that she used the acceptable role of “note-taker” to sit in on board meetings and strategy sessions.

She also stretched herself.

“I learned to play golf,” Howell said. “I didn’t like it. But in the ’80s, that was the only way to meet men in influential positions and figure out what was going on in the business world. Even if I just drove the cart and passed out beer, I was meeting people.”

Frank Ricks, one of the founding principals of LRK Inc. architectural firm, employed a young Howell. Today, his firm is one of her longtime clients.

“She’s clearly an extrovert,” Ricks said. “She has a knack of making connections which, in my mind, is different than making introductions.”

Howell introduced Ricks and Dr. Scott Morris, CEO of the Church Health Center in Memphis.

“We hit it off,” Ricks said, and that connection has led to LRK doing some pro bono work for the Church Health Center.

Howell is simultaneously intuitive and bold, which might seem like a contradiction, but really isn’t. She is, after all, a CEO, a wife, a daughter, a mother, a sister and a friend.

“You have to wear different hats when you have different tasks in front of you,” she said.

Howell tells a story in the book of being in a meeting – 12 men and her. The meeting bogged down over minor details. It was late in the day. Her instincts told her to order coffee and cookies and so she did – without asking.

“The negotiations had come down to something so ridiculously small I felt like they were little boys arguing over about who got to ride in the front seat,” Howell wrote. “I wanted to yell, ‘I call shotgun!’ Instead, I fed them.”

And in a short while, all was resolved.

Danis Fuelling, CEO of Phoenix Unequaled Home Entertainment in Memphis, who is a client and a friend of Howell, said: “Amy just kind of puts it all out there. If you know her, you know.”

So it should come as no surprise that Howell and her co-author decided to self-publish their book, which is available through amazon.com and locally at The Stovall Collection and The Booksellers at Laurelwood.

“We didn’t want anybody telling us what to say and how to say it,” Howell said.

Or as she wrote in the book: “I have a saying in my firm: ‘Tell your own story or someone else will.’”

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.