Women make up over 50 percent of the regional population in Southwest Michigan.
Though workforce participation has skyrocketed, challenges still exist for women in the workplace, such as unequal pay, under-representation in managerial roles, and fewer degrees earned in university subjects such as engineering and computer science.
To address these issues head-on, Southwest Michigan First recently hosted an all-star panel of female leaders for a candid discussion as part of its First Leaders event series. Four women from very different industries spoke about the challenges they faced at the start of their careers and gave informed advice to emerging leaders starting out in today’s evolving corporate culture.
DANIELLE MASON ANDERSON
KATHY BEAUREGARD ATHLETIC DIRECTOR OF WESTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
I was born and raised in this community and had established myself here as a gymnastics coach for nine years before interviewing for the role of athletic director.
However, there were only six other female athletic directors in the country at the time, so I was still a risky hire. I have to say, the best part about being one of the only women in the department was not having to share the bathroom when the men’s room had a line!
Because I studied to be a teacher and started my profession in the coaching, I learned that leaders are always team building. No matter how great I think I am, it’s those around me who make the department truly great. It can never be all about me. I also learned leaders should not try to be someone they aren’t from within—people can smell it a mile away.
“Leaders should not try to be someone they aren’t from within—people can smell it a mile away.”
DANIELLE MASON ANDERSON PRINCIPAL AT MILLER CANFIELD
When I first started practicing law, I would show up for depositions and people would assume that, because I was a woman, I must be the court reporter.
In the office, people would also expect me to be
the one to get coffee or make copies. I had to
have private conversations with those individuals later, but having thick skin was still very important at the time.
I would warn leaders away from perfectionism. It can be paralyzing. You can’t be afraid to make a decision for fear that it’s going to be the wrong one. You have to be willing to make mistakes to move forward. You are going to learn more from an error than you would have by just getting by with a safe decision. If you wait until you feel like something is perfect, you have missed your opportunity.
“You can’t be afraid to make a decision for fear that it’s going to be the wrong one. You have to be willing to make mistakes to move forward.”
AMY MCCLAIN VICE PRESIDENT OF CLIENT AND COMMUNITY SERVICES AT PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP
When I used to walk into a boardroom full of men and present, sometimes, I would be so nervous—I felt I wasn’t strong enough.
I had to reach the realization that it was time for me to own my own happiness. Once I was confident about who I was and my value, I could walk into any room, no matter who was in there, without fear.
I would advise leaders not to seek success but seek value instead. Value is a level of importance. Change happens, so if you’re not grounded in yourself, with a strong foundation within you, it will be very hard to build yourself up. Instead of focusing on any one task or role, focus more on you and the value you can bring.
“Once I was confident about who I was and my value, I could walk into any room, no matter who was in there, without fear.”
ANITA MEHTA DIRECTOR OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AT STRYKER
During the first decade of my career, whether I was dealing with our surgeon customers, management team, or sales force, I was typically the only woman in the room.
When my daughter was born, we decided that my husband was going to be the stay-at-home parent, but I still wanted to go to her doctor’s appointments and drop her off for her first day of daycare. I can tell you that when she was a toddler, I used to make excuses because I felt guilty about taking time off to be there for those important moments. Since then, I have learned to permit myself to block out time for personal things.
I think we have made a ton of progress for women in the workplace. If I were to give advice to my 12-year-old daughter, what I would tell her today
is very different from the advice I would have given at the beginning of my career. I would tell her to own her own career. Don’t wait for somebody else to lay that path for you. If there is something you want, whether it be an international assignment
or a job in a new field, be fearless and go for it!
“If I were to give advice to my 12-year-old daughter… I would tell her to own her own career.”