My first mentor was my Mom.
She was a great advocate for my sisters and me growing up. She always told us that we could be anything we wanted to be – and I believed her. Because she didn’t make us feel different, it never occurred to me that being a woman would be a limitation.
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by both men and women alike who were all very supportive and encouraging. When I worked at US WEST, there were many women who held leadership roles – directors, executive directors. I never saw an issue where being a woman was limiting.
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Even in my first VP-level role, the CEO at the time was (and continues to be) a big proponent of diversity – gender, race, sexual orientation, perspectives, thought processes – in the workplace. As a result of him championing this, our company and work environment thrived.
However, I have one very specific memory at an employer where I had to speak up. My boss took me with him to a meeting. Out of 12 people, I was the only woman. During the meeting, one of the men was discussing the survival of the company – it was a startup at the time – and he used the phrase “if we go tits up”.
I was in shock. I had never heard anything like that before. After he said it a second time, I knew I had to say something. So, I asked if we could use any other phrase to describe that situation. The CEO of the company looked at me and said, “Noted and agreed.” After the meeting, three men thanked me for speaking up.
From that day forward, nothing like that ever happened at the company again.
In August 2015, I was getting ready to board a plane for a long flight home. I had nothing to read, so I finally picked up Lean In. I’ll be honest, I had been hesitant to read it. I had a preconceived notion that it would be either whiny or too much “girl power”. I’m happy to say I was completely wrong. In reading the first three chapters, Sheryl Sandberg wrote about many things I had experienced in my career.
My biggest takeaway on how we can better support women in the workplace I’ll credit to reading Lean In. I recognized that, as a woman, I wasn’t doing enough to support other women in the workplace. The way I decided to make a difference was starting a women’s network at my employer at the time. My goal was to gather information from the women I worked with about their needs and experiences and, additionally, I arrange for women CEOs to come in and speak about the journey to leadership.
There was a lot of positive momentum with the women’s network I developed. The next step was to move towards a mentorship program.
-Teresa Kotwis CFO Gravity Payments
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