Women in Blogging: Sydney Carver, Summer Wind

Sydney Carver

Sydney Carver

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA. In 2008, I attended school at James Madison University. During my 4 years at school, I studied Public Relations, Communication and Writing. I also joined Zeta Tau Alpha and was Historian on the Executive Council. I worked hard and made both Dean’s List and President’s List. I graduated in 2012 and moved back to Pittsburgh where I started a career with a luxury event planning company. I am an event coordinator and also handle all of the social media for the company. We do everything from nonprofit to corporate, private parties to weddings and everything in between. I really enjoy what I do!

As for Summer Wind, I started blogging in 2009 after my freshman year of college had ended and I had a lot of time on my hand for the summer. When I started, I had no idea I would still be going at it in 2014! But blogging is truly my passion and I am so proud to call Summer Wind ‘mine’.

How has your life experience made you the individual you are today?

I like to think I have lived an incredible life thus far. I’ve had my fair share of trials and tribulations, but I feel very blessed in that I have great friends, a supporting family, a career that I truly enjoy and Summer Wind, a creative outlet where I find passion.

Why did you become a blogger?

I started off reading blogs for about 6 months before I started my own. Once my classes had ended and I had some free time, I thought ‘why not’. I was majoring in PR and writing and I thought this would not only give me a chance to write everyday but it would also be a creative outlet for me.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your time as a blogger?

Hmm…this is SUCH a hard question. I think overall, the people I have met and formed friendships with and the people who I may not have met in person, but have created a relationship with through social media/e-mails is truly invaluable. It is a really amazing feeling when someone e-mails me and lets me know they enjoy reading Summer Wind and that we have something in common.

I also really enjoy getting to attend events and parties. Going to New York Fashion Week was definitely something amazing. Not only was the entire experience fun, but I am proud that I got myself there on my own, with my hard work and dedication.

As for challenges… I hate to talk about them because I never want to seem whiney, but there are definitely a lot. I think the #1 challenge for me is trying to find a balance. Working a high stress, intense job that requires long hours every week plus blogging 5-7 times a week is a lot. I often find myself a little bit sleep deprived and stressed, but when I seen the results of my projects both at work and with my blog, I know it was all worth it.

I also think that as a blogger, it’s really neat because I get to wear so many different hats. One minute I am a PR person pitching ideas and sending out media kits, and the next I am a graphic designer laying out all of my favorite shopping finds of the week. Then, you’ll find me as a photographer taking some photos for my blog and then a ‘model’ (I use that term VERY loosely) in front of the camera where I show off some outfits I put together. The challenge comes in when I really only went to school for PR and writing– not graphic design nor photography and I’m most definitely not very good in front of a camera. But, not knowing pushes me to teach myself. I YouTube, Google and read lots of books on photography and graphic design and a lot of other things I need to know. It’s a lot of work and time and effort but it’s fun, too!

What advice can you offer those looking to start their own blog?

I get asked for advice on starting a blog all of the time. When I started in 2009, the market of fashion and lifestyle blogs wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. I think now, it is really tough to break through the market. But, with that said, I would never discourage someone not start a blog. I always tell people who ask me for advice: start a blog, but not for the money or the ‘fame’ or the praise or the free stuff, but start it for yourself. If you start it for yourself and keep going, your true self will shine throughout your blog and people will be interested and will come back for more!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

In the previous question I kind of touched on how hard it is to maintain balance. At times, I truly get overwhelmed. When I am sitting at work and I see my blog e-mail count getting higher and higher, it stresses me out. It’s hard to go from being on a computer all day at work, to getting home and being on a computer until I go to sleep. Not to mention, it’s even harder to add in a social life between work and blogging!! Somehow, though, I make it all work. I stay up late, I don’t go out one night a weekend… etc. As tough as it is, I enjoy it and wouldn’t have it any other way. I am a busy body. If you asked any of my friends, they would tell you I am always on the go!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I think overall, women are fighting a tough battle in the workplace. With unequal pay still an issue in 2014, and women trying to start a family, I just think it’s all around tough.

My friends and I are always chatting about how busy we are and how we cannot imagine having to raise a child, too. I think being a mother is an incredibly hard job and I always ask my mom ‘how the heck did you do it’?!

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?

I truthfully have never read Lean In. I listened to her Ted Talk and I think she is an incredibly intelligent and successful woman. I also think she has a very valid point that there are just not as many women at the top. I admire her for pushing women of the world to push themselves to work harder and to make it to the top.

As I haven’t read Lean In, I can’t really speak too much on the book, but the entire movement is inspiring. I am all about supporting other women and supporting women in business– I actually work for a woman run business!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I think everyone needs a mentor… I think a mentor can be anyone at work, a family friend, etc. I think the people who have mentored me throughout my life have pushed me to work harder and be the best person I can be!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I really admire Tory Burch for building her empire. She is beautiful AND smart and has a family, too… she really does it all!

What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?

Drive. I have an insane drive for success… I’m not sure where it comes from, but I want to be the absolute best version of myself!

Women in Business: Jean Martin, CEB

Jean Martin

Jean Martin

Jean Martin’s infectious enthusiasm coupled with her deep knowledge of human resources lead Chief Human Resources Officers at some of the world’s top organizations to look to her and CEB for guidance on the critical problems keeping them up at night.
As executive director of CEB’s HR Practice, Jean directs the research, business practices, and operations and together with the leadership team, sets the strategic direction for CEB’s HR research. Her areas of expertise span the HR spectrum and range from the future of the HR function to leadership to labor market trends. Specifically, Jean spends time working on issues relating to employee engagement, how companies can attract and keep the best employees, and how companies can seek out top talent globally and build out their global leadership bench.

Jean is often asked to share her knowledge in larger forums and has spoken at venues such as the Gathering of Leaders, Wharton Women in Business Conference and the European Union. Jean also regularly presents to executive teams including Bombardier, Intel, Cisco, BBVA and Eskrom among others. In addition, her work has appeared in publications such as the Associated Press, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek and Human Resources Executive Magazine.

Prior to CEB, Jean served as a special assistant to President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council. Additionally, Jean was a Presidential Management Fellow serving as a Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President for small business/community development banking at Bank of America. Also during her time as a PMF she was project manager for microfinance and microenterprise development at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Jean received a Masters of Public Policy with a concentration in Economics and Finance from the Kennedy School at Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts with highest distinction from the University of Virginia.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Growing up as the daughter of a social worker and a teacher, I learned very early that leading successfully requires leading through the success of others. My leadership approach focuses heavily on inspiring and supporting talented people and then getting out of the way. By not “helicoptering” I have seen talented people rise to new heights and it ties up more time for my own creative contributions – the things that only I can do for the business. Working for former President Bill Clinton I learned similarly that if you give people full information about the context for the work and the goal you are trying to achieve, they will use their own smarts and initiative to get to better solutions than those you could engineer. Whether they be welfare program administrators or hospital workers or prison guards, when each person knew what we as leaders wanted to do, communities carried the ball further toward the finish line. In my career at CEB, I’ve learned to plant the flag of achievement on the most aggressive targets possible – as one of our executives put it, if you, as a leader, don’t frame real truly aggressive goals for yourself, everyone working for you will be less aggressive, causing the organization’s real potential to be undergunned. Key as a leader is to inspire, empower and direct, and-only if absolutely needed, dive in.

How have your previous employment experiences aided your position at CEB?

My previous work in consulting, government and non-profits has assisted me in several ways:

1)    Previous employment has provided me with an ability to work across boundaries with many different types of people with differing priorities – being “multi-lingual” in this way is crucial in serving the thousands of organizations we serve at CEB;

2)    My prior work has allowed me to hone an analytic and operations skillset that means I can get quickly to the root-cause of problems and identify the underlying issues and work quickly and efficiently resolve them; and

3)    My work has always revolved around persuading and influencing extremely senior executives whether they be heads of companies or Heads of State – therefore, excellence in articulating ideas, building business cases and communications is something I have focused on throughout my career and has been a key to my success.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CEB?

Highlights during my time as an executive director at CEB include:

1) Publishing groundbreaking studies in the areas of performance management, leadership development, succession management and employee engagement;

2) Growing our offices from to two to 12 globally;

3) Contributing to the launch of our services for small and medium-sized enterprises – now one of our fastest-growing businesses; and

4) Witnessing many of my staff rise up into other senior roles within the company.

Challenges have included creating new information platforms for regions like Asia, Latin America and the Middle East where cultures and histories make management very unique, and growing our sales and service capabilities to now include more hands-on application of tools and knowledge. Both efforts were highly rewarding in the end, but required fundamentally rethinking how we do business.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

For both men and women, I believe that work/life balance emerges first from having a strong definition and understanding of the values one plans to live by – for each person, these values and priorities can be different, but knowing and defining for yourself the full life you want to live and then living it is key to being truly successful. Knowing that family is a top value for me, I prioritize separating my time with my husband and three young children from my work time. Office work ends at 6:00 p.m. and dinner and bedtime are “no work” zones during which all calls and emails are deferred. When I am on the road, I FaceTime with the kids every day or show them pictures of where I am when I am traveling – they like seeing the sites through the photos I send and hearing my stories about what I am eating or doing and what the weather is where I am. During periods where travel and work is heavy, I try to make sure to reserve special time with each of my kids, my husband and my extended family where we can do things for just us and make sure that I am investing deeply in my relationships with the people closest to me. I think of it as “making deposits in a bank” ensuring that the balance of my time stays high enough even when work forces me to “make withdrawals” against my time with them. As with most working parents, for me caring for my family and myself means every day is its own journey and there is no magic formula. That said, how I spend each hour is a choice and I try to be extremely mindful of each choice I make since, with a family, the tradeoffs are high. I have found that being a working parent is the greatest management challenge I have ever faced and I have learned the most from it as a result.

What research has CEB been recently working on?

CEB is focusing on several topics of great interest to the C-suite and business leaders:

1)    How to accurately identify and engage high-potential employees and how to drive high levels of employee performance – this work leverages insights from neuroscience and organizational design to understand what are the most effective innovations in driving employee productivity;

2)    Building leaders in New Work Environment – given the way in which work has become more dispersed, virtual, horizontal, this work studies how leaders need to behave differently to be effective; and

3)    The Future of the Corporate Functions – given our privileged position managing the largest networks of C-suite executives, we have been able to study the continuum of practice within each function and map the overall direction we believe Finance, IT, HR, Marketing, Sales and other functions will take in the coming decade.

 What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

The biggest issue for women in the workplace today is the fact that many workplaces and many jobs – especially senior jobs are not designed in a way that is attractive to women. A recent CEB study showed no difference in women’s abilities to handle senior roles, there were dramatic differences in whether women wanted these roles, with as many as 30 percent saying they did not aspire to the roles of senior executives above them. Part of this is the work-life balance question and the fact that many of the senior roles are not dual-career or family friendly. Also interesting was the study’s conclusion that women prefer more collaborative and constructive work environments and that their perception is that many senior positions exist within senior teams that do not support constructive collaboration. Because these senior roles are the stepping stones to Board positions, we will not solve for the dearth of women on Boards until we make senior leadership roles in corporations more appealing to women. Until more women are in senior roles and can contribute to changing these roles to make them more attractive to a broad group of candidates, we will struggle to attract women to top jobs.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?

I am appreciative that Sheryl has raised women’s issues again and energized the discussion around women in the workplace – she has ensured women and men of all generations are reflecting deeply on the progress of gender integration in the workplace. In particular, her book is a terrific rallying cry for the soon-to-graduate cohort of women who will benefit from setting the highest possible aspiration for their careers and as Sandberg suggests, “going for it.” Her “Ban Bossy” campaign is vital to keep attention on places where double standards may exist for the acceptable behaviors of boys and girls. My argument with the book is only that I think the answer of “Lean In” oversimplifies the reality of the profession-life challenge women face. Those of us who have been in the workforce for decades know that in most organizations it is never just a question of leaning out or leaning in, but rather a subtle mix of activities and attitudes that may vary day to day or even hour to hour. We may lean in at a CEO/ Board presentation in the morning – only to lean out in the afternoon at a child’s doctor appointment or school event. We may have weeks or even years where the focus needs to be on an aging parent or a soon-to-graduate teen and work hours must taper, followed by years when the balance is such that a full-throttle lean in is possible and desirable. The other critical side of the Lean In need is also the need of organizations and societies to “Lean In” to meet women (and men) half way as they seek to support complex, multi-dimensional values-driven lives. The smartest companies are realizing that when they design programs and careers in a way that dedicates this kind of flexibility and lifetime commitment to top performers, they can attract and motivate a very different level of talent and keep that talent contributing longer to their mission. Yes, women need to lean in, but organizations and societies are also responsible for creating environments that allow men and women the resources to “go for it” at work even as they make positive contributions outside of work. I do not believe an employee’s outside life should be thought of as “Leaning Out,” but rather as living a full life and in a way that can often amplify their capabilities at work.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentoring has been essential to me in my professional and personal life. Mentoring relationship perhaps because they are driven by more personal, less structured interactions have contributed more to my learning than any other experience. My mentors have been and are men and women, professors and business leaders, experts and friends. Borrowing an approach created at GE, I have recruited and maintain a “Personal Board of Directors” that meets with me off-line to help me guide my investments in myself and in my career. This diverse group has been invaluable at challenging my thinking and pushing me to the question of “Why not you? Why can’t you accomplish your wildest dreams?” Their real-world experience has also helped me with innumerable lessons in work-life balance, creative problem solving, team management and persuasive skills. All of the key transitions in my career were driven by mentors who saw an opportunity and encouraged me to reach for it. In my view, there is nothing more important, regardless of one’s profession or aspiration, than cultivating a terrific set of mentors to serve as guides through work and life. Notably, for rising female leaders, I do not think these mentors need to be women.

Instead most important is that they are people with networks and experience that extend beyond your own in the fields that you care about and that they have an energetic and long-term commitment to you and your advancement.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I admire Hillary Clinton for her willingness to really do the work to master a subject and maintain an exceptionally high bar for the quality of her own and her teams’ work. I admire Christine Lagarde of the IMF for her superb yet subtle ability to frame a national or international agenda. Finally, Melinda Gates is an inspiration for the way in which she quietly reframes countless health, development and education challenges by asking simply “What works in addressing this problem and how can we rapidly scale that solution?” In general, I admire women who ask those fresh, tough questions that go furthest to advancing dialogue and understanding and then have the operational skills and discipline to inspire teams and organizations to deliver a fresh approach

What are your hopes for the future of CEB?

CEB has an exciting future ahead. We are committed to unlocking and progressing the science and practice of management and my team specifically is focused on unlocking and progressing the science of talent management. This is particularly significant in that the dramatic changes in the work environment mean that many of the talent management solutions that worked a decade ago are no longer effective. At the same time, the market of providers – largely consultants and technology firms – has not kept pace with advances in employee behavior and organizational management. CEB sees a better way forward against the challenge of talent management and is assembling a suite of services grounded in the principles of economics and organizational behavior. We are committed to ensuring that every organization does not just have effective talent management, but rather the right talent management for its specific objectives. We are beginning to see breakthrough results from this business-specific approach and look forward to taking that to all of our operating regions and the thousands of organizations we serve. We continue to be energized by the mission of improving executives’ ability to harness both their personal and their organizations’ full potential during these challenging times.

Empowering Women and Girls: Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu

Named to Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women and by the Huffington Post as one of 19 women who are leading the way, Tiffany Dufu’s life’s work is advancing women and girls. She is a nationally renowned expert and speaker on women’s and Gen Y leadership. Tiffany serves as Chief Leadership officer, Levo League and on the Launch Team for Lean In. She is former President, The White House Project, and was previously at Simmons College and Seattle Girls’ School. Tiffany is on the board of Harlem 4 Kids and lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

My personal and professional journey are the same because my life’s work is advancing women and girls. My first formal job on this path was raising money for Seattle Girls’ School. I was then a Major Gifts Officer at Simmons College in Boston before moving to New York where I eventually ran The White House Project and am now Chief Leadership Officer for Levo League. All of these organizations have a goal of creating a world where women’s talents and voices are leveraged for everyone’s benefit. Along the way I’ve had many women mentor and sponsor me. I’m the product of their cumulative investment and I thank them for my success.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

My parents taught me that if you want something you’ve never had before you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before in order to get it. For me, that means not being afraid of taking risks. The first one that comes to mind is running for class President in middle school. It was terrifying, but when I lost I learned the most important lesson: that you can fail, wake up the next morning, and the world hasn’t fallen apart.

It’s been your life mission to advance women and girls, and you have served as the President of the White House Project, and most recently as the Chief Leadership Officer at Levo League and a launch team member for Lean In. What have been the highlights and challenges you’ve experienced during these positions and how have you met your mission?

My mission is something I strive for consistently. I’m not sure we’ll reach the end goal in my lifetime. My highlights are always in moments when I’m interacting with women who recognize their own power. Whether they are students demonstrating their knowledge to a large crowd with unfathomable poise, or a woman who decides to run for office, or a young professional who musters up the courage to ask for a raise, I’m most inspired when I see women realizing their own potential and purpose through my work.

How do you think the Lean In movement has made a difference?

One of my sponsors, Marie Wilson, taught me that if you want to make any meaningful impact in the world you have to meet people where they are. And you have to leverage popular culture. Sheryl did that with Lean In. She captivated the attention of the masses and many more people that otherwise wouldn’t be are now talking about women in leadership – and doing something about it. It’s been wonderful to see.

What advice can you offer those seeking a career in non-profits?

The non-profit sector is expansive. It includes everything from an ivy league college to a small community center. Conduct lots of informational interviews to learn about how others navigated their path and to explore all of the different opportunities. I also think it’s helpful to be clear about your own passion so that even as you transition to various organizations throughout your career your brand remains consistent.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I don’t. It’s all the same to me. I just do the best I can every day to be the kind of person I would want my children to grow up to be. I also listen to loud music and dance all over my furniture…frequently.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Unconscious bias. Many workplaces purport to be a meritocracy but they are all complex political ecosystems, and the role that gender plays in them is powerful.

How can we collectively close the leadership gap and advance opportunities for women and girls?

Pass legislation that creates affordable childcare options for families, ensure there is equal work for equal pay, and mentor and sponsor women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I wouldn’t be here without it. My mentors have helped me to develop a level of self awareness. They help me to achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement. I consult them whenever I’m making any major decision. Their wisdom has been priceless.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

My mother-in-law. She is a fierce negotiator and amazing entrepreneur. If it weren’t for her, my husband wouldn’t have the assumption that ALL women are supposed to rule the world. I’m also indebted to Janie Williams and Marie Wilson, who really saw me and gave me opportunity even when others didn’t.

What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?


Lean In for Graduates

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We’re passionate supporters of the Lean In movement and it was exciting to hear that a new version of the book has been released especially for graduates.

Since Lean In was published a year ago, it has sparked a global conversation about gender equality. Now Sheryl Sandberg has enlisted the help of experts to create Lean In for Graduates, a handbook that offers instruction and inspiration for the next generation.

Lean In for Graduates includes the full text of the original bestseller as well as new chapters on finding your first job, negotiating your salary, listening to your inner voice, and leaning in for women of color and millennial men.

There are lots of exciting ways to get involved over the next few weeks:

Make sure you get involved!


Women in Writing: Antoinette van Heugten

Antoinette van Heugten

Antoinette van Heugten

Antoinette van Heugten is a former international trial lawyer and mother of two autistic children.  Van Heugten’s first novel, Saving Max, was widely acclaimed and a USA Today bestseller.  The story follows a single mother whose teenage son has Asperger’s syndrome and becomes the primary suspect in a gruesome murder case.  More than just a heart-pounding thriller, Saving Max is based on her real-life experience raising autistic children.  Van Heugten received both her undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of Texas.

Why did you choose writing as your career?

As a young girl, I was consumed with reading and my dream was to see a book on the library shelf with my name on the binding and to be able to flip through the card catalogue and find myself there. (Those of you who don’t know what a card catalogue is, now know that I roamed the earth with the dinosaurs.) Prior to writing, I was a trial lawyer for 15 years, but didn’t stop practicing law to become a writer. I stopped to take care of my special needs sons and my family. I had always written, but it was the experiences I had with my son who has Asperger’s that made me want to finally write a book. Writing was how I coped with my life at that time. Now I do it because I love it.

Saving Max has quickly become a USA Today bestseller, how are you dealing with the success and publicity?

Saving Max was published in 2010, so I have had time to adjust to its success. It happened so quickly, though, that although I was thrilled, I was somewhat taken aback by the overwhelming response. No debut author expects to have a bestseller! It took time to absorb it all.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

The luxuriousness of it all – the blank page, the solitude, the reflection, the work and schedule no one dictates but you. To actually have the opportunity to translate your voice and soul onto the page and share that with others is tremendously fulfilling.

How has your life experience made you the individual you are today?

An understatement! I am 57 and an amalgamation of my experiences, which have been beyond any expectations I had when I was young. I never imagined I would practice law, travel as widely as I have, have children (I was determined to be single!), or write novels. I think we are all part and parcel of those strands of experience. As a writer, I am fortunate enough to have these to draw upon.

How have you learned from these challenges and successes?

The challenges have made me more patient – never my forté – and the successes, particularly watching my children grow and flourish, have been made all the sweeter by the valleys we have endured to reach the peaks. Raising children with special needs while balancing two careers and marriage have taught me so much about the wonders we all experience on our paths in life.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I don’t! When I am working, really working, life falls too much by the wayside without my noticing. My husband, a saint, makes sure I am fed and come in out of the cold when I am in the zone like that. When I’m not working, I tend to want to “live” more – see my children, travel with my husband, visit friends. I fully intend to achieve balance before I’m 90. A work in progress.

What advice can you offer to those seeking to navigate the publishing industry?

Patience: It is the most important quality that anyone seeking to navigate the publishing industry can have. The process of getting a book published is very long, and painful at times. Just because you think your book is finished, doesn’t mean anyone else will!

Do you have any top tips for aspiring writers?

Keep your day job.

Get a reader.

Rewrite until your thumbs are blue and half of your original book is on the floor.

Find a good agent. Don’t stop until you do or you’ll get nowhere. (Unless you self-publish, of course.)

Be true to yourself.

Get a real life. Be happy. Don’t just write or you’ll go nuts and people won’t be able to stand you!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Balancing children and career. I still remember running back and forth between home and the office when I was a lawyer and nursing, feeling horribly guilty when I went on overseas business trips. It almost killed me. Now none of my grown sons even remembers when I worked!

Being paid the same as their male counterparts – still!

Dreaming large enough.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I have had two marvelous mentors in my careers. When I was an attorney, my partner became my second father, encouraging me in all things and helping me turn from a headstrong, aggressive and ambitious lawyer into, I hope, a good one. My other mentor is my agent, Al Zuckerman, an icon in the publishing industry. He is Ken Follett’s and Stephen Hawking’s agent – need I say more? He is both a superlative editor and agent, deeply involved in every word I write, literally drawing the story out of me and helping me craft my work into the best it can be.

What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?

You’re very cruel to make a novelist use only one word!

Women in Digital Media: Christina Chaplin, USA Development Director, Womenalia

Christina Chaplin

Christina Chaplin

Christina Chaplin is a bilingual English-Spanish strategic marketing, communications and development professional with solid experience in product development and positioning, both online and off, in various companies and roles related to career growth and professional education. Born in Boston, she has a BA in International Studies and Spanish Language & Literature from Johns Hopkins University and a MS in Marketing from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain.  She’s been living in Spain since 2005. She is the USA Development Director for Womenalia, a network for professional women.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

My life is very much marked by a before and an after. Most of life had been a series of choices that, while rewarding and positive, were more about moving along a path set out for me, going through the motions and doing my best to live up to what was expected of me by my family, my environment and society at large. But in December 2004 I had finished my undergraduate coursework at Johns Hopkins, and I was off schedule with graduation still six months away. I was presented with a unique opportunity. I decided to break with expectations. I picked up and moved to Spain that January with almost no plan in mind and completely abandoning the path that I thought my life had been on up until then – hence the before and after in my story.

It was an adventure. It was a fresh start. It was a chance to do and become whatever I wanted, and to spend more time exploring the path than heading in any given direction. It was an opportunity to allow myself to just live. And that’s more or less what I did for the next 5 years of my life. Explore, live, learn, be open to new possibilities, and most importantly, try to find my own footing in a world where it would have been so easy to just let one thing lead to the next.

I think few people really question who they are, what they want in life and if what they’re doing today is actually helping them to get closer to that goal. Most people need a disrupting event in their life to start to question anything at all.

It’s been nearly a decade since I left the US, and I can’t even imagine what my life would look like had I stayed, but I had a chance to shed the expectational baggage and start anew, and that means that today I am and do what I have chosen for me.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I’ve been defined by two of my core values. On the one-hand I’ve always enjoyed learning, so as a leader I am driven by an insatiable curiosity and drive to grow. This means that I can be demanding at times (on myself as well as others), but it’s always with the aim of seeing my team grow and learn with me as we work towards a common goal. This also makes me very results driven. You have to be open to the many ways to achieve any desired outcome, so giving the freedom and flexibility to people to take their own journey is important as long as the goal is clear.

The second most important part of leadership for me is a strong sense of self-responsibility, which in many ways goes hand-in-hand with the first part. It’s one thing for someone else to hold you responsible for something, but an entirely different skill to have a strong internal sense of ownership over one’s actions and decisions. With freedom comes responsibility, both for one’s mistakes as well as one’s successes. Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process but you have to be willing to acknowledge them and learn from them for them to be beneficial in the long-run.

How have you learned from these challenges and successes?

I’ve had to learn to be very self-sufficient since moving to another country. You don’t realize how much of a support network your friends and family provide until you lose it and have to start nearly from scratch and have to relearn even the most simple of everyday tasks.

Living immersed in other culture also gives you a new perspective on everything. You are constantly calling into question (or others are calling into question for you) assumptions about your values, ideas, goals… you end up going through a deep self-redefinition process that I think is invaluable. You have the opportunity to adopt and adapt those values and ideas from your adoptive culture that better adapt to your personal values, and maintain those you prefer from your country of origin.

I have also had to make new friends and get to know new colleagues so often that it has really helped me hone my networking skills!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Womenalia?

I’d say the most exciting part of being part of Womenalia is the opportunity I have to lead our current platform development project. Not only because it’s a strategic project for the company, but because it’s a project that brings me in contact with the entire team and all aspects of the company at one point or another, so it’s a chance to better understand the business and to help create an well-integrated future for the company. It’s a huge challenge to bring together all the need and ideas from all over the organization into one coherent platform, but it’s extremely rewarding to actually see it materialize and develop little by little.

What are your hopes for Womenalia’s future?

Womenalia is a platform with so much potential to unify a currently fragmented market. There are endless groups and organizations, big and small, for and not-for-profit around women, their careers and their place in society. I would love to see Womenalia be the place in which all the many faces of the professional woman can come together and create a powerful voice that leads to meaningful social and political change as well as being a dynamic and innovative technology platform that reaches the infinitely unique needs of each individual professional woman and helps her find her voice, whoever and wherever she is.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Time management is key and for me that means formally scheduling in both work and fun into each day. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very results and deadline driven, so I’ve never been one to be held to nor to hold people to any particular schedule. With that being said, it means that coordination and scheduling are key! If my team or any other department needs me in the office at a given time, they just have to schedule it in and I can build the rest of my day around my top priorities. I always make sure to schedule in Me time every day. Whether it’s to go running, read a book, catch up with a friend or try a new recipe it’s important to have activities every day that you do not because someone else wants you to or you feel obligated to do them, but rather because you want to do them.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

While there is certainly data that shows that women are discriminated against in pay, promotions, and social perceptions, I believe that the biggest issue is really our own inner dialogue. I think that too many women censor themselves, don’t truly believe in their own abilities and potential, and often get distracted from their main purpose. I also think that society feeds into these behaviors (and has constructed them in many ways) and certainly doesn’t do much to help women break through these constructs. It’s so easy to get caught up in the million daily tasks and distractions and lose sight of what really matters to you, how best to achieve your top goals and actually go for them.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?

I think that Sandberg’s book hit quite a few nails right on the head. There were certainly whole sections that I read through thinking, “Yes, that’s so true!” For me the most important realization was that choosing your life partner is probably the one most important decision a women makes in her career. You and your partner’s values and ideas around gender roles, career expectations, and childcare responsibilities shape a women’s career more than most of the direct career decisions we make along the way. The question couples should ask each other before building a life together is no longer “Do you want to have kids and how many?” but rather “What expectations do we really have around family, career and money?” And as a woman you need to allow yourself to be honest about what you do or don’t want for your life.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I have had very few formal mentors in my life, but there have been a couple of women that have been great sounding boards for me during my career. More than anything they have helped me discover where my potential lies and opened my eyes to opportunities that I would probably have never considered on my own. The most powerful mentoring experiences for me have been very practical and focused on specific skills and competencies. Mentorship is a powerful tool that women don’t take advantage of often enough though, myself included! Many women think it’s hard to find a mentor but it’s easier than you think.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I have to admit that I’ve never been someone who turns to famous names or a particular person for inspiration. Each person’s strength and success comes from a very personal set of experiences and sources and cannot be replicated by anyone else. I draw inspiration better from my immediate surroundings and the small daily acts that catch my attention and make me stop and reflect.

What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?


Women in Non Profit: Q&A with Kate Farrar, Vice President of AAUW Campus Leadership Programs


Kate Farrar, AAUWKate C. Farrar, vice president of AAUW Campus Leadership Programs, manages programs that ensure college women assume leadership roles and acquire the skills they need to succeed in their academic, professional, and personal lives. Prior to assuming her current position, Kate was the associate director of National Programs and Policy at Wider Opportunities for Women. She was a 2011 WIN Young Woman of Achievement awardee, member of the Center for Progressive Leadership’s 2011 Executive Fellowship, and serves as president of the Women under 40 Political Action Committee (WUFPAC) board.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. Since its founding in 1881, AAUW members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day — educational, social, economic, and political.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

Long before Take Your Daughter to Work Day was official, I went to work with my mom, who is a nurse practitioner. Starting when I was 5, I would join my mom at the Staywell Health Clinic in Waterbury, Connecticut, where she served low-income women and families. Some days I wanted to grow up to be the pediatrician, some days the clinic’s office manager. At Staywell I learned to see that each patient, regardless of income, should receive comprehensive and respectful health care treatment.

While interning in the state legislature during college, I witnessed what a difference women at the table could make for families in my state. I saw that it was the women legislators leading the charge for health care, for basic child nutrition. They were the ones speaking out and making policy change for the women I’d met at work with my mom, but there were so few of them in the legislature. I soon started to understand that diverse opinions and experiences were how to reach the best decisions.

I wanted to change what I saw as an imbalance in power. That at the tables of business, media, government, military, and on and on, there were not enough women leaders. More women are needed to more accurately represent our population but also to bring different and new perspectives to priorities and decision making.

This is why today I work to build confidence and skills in college women to help them to break through the gender leadership gap.

We need more women in this next generation to see themselves at the decision-making table and to break through the barriers to leadership. At AAUW we are empowering and training thousands of women every year to take on leadership roles on their campus and in their communities. I get to use my beliefs and passions to support these women to change the world and build their own leadership story.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I see that I had the privilege of having two supportive parents, a chance at a college education, along with mentors and cheerleaders, which all helped lead me to where I am today. But also the leader I am today is due to lots of hard work and self-reflection. In many cases I’ve also been witness to leaders I want to emulate and the leadership qualities I want to avoid. My first boss out of college was an intellectual property lawyer in London. I was his administrative assistant for four months and suffered through his micromanagement style during which he often treated me as incompetent and immature. On the other hand, in my next boss, a lobbyist for nonprofits, I was a trusted member of the team and thrown into new tasks to learn how to problem solve and negotiate on my own. The juxtaposition of these supervisors an taught me what a difference having a leader that you admire can make in your effectiveness, growth and success in your work but also your happiness.

How have you learned from these challenges and successes?

I think we learn a lot more from the challenges than from the successes. We tend to analyze the challenges way more than we savor the successes. When you are faced with a challenge, personal or professional, I think the only way to get through it is to be easier on ourselves and lean back on the values and personal mission that guides us. For instance, when I was unemployed for months after graduate school, I felt lost. I didn’t know which direction to go professionally and felt like I needed to choose the “right” job since it would set the course for my career. In the end, I was being way too hard on myself to find that perfect opportunity. I took a risk and traveled to Wisconsin for three months as a field organizer for the 2004 presidential campaign. This risk led me to settle in Washington, D.C. and pursue my current career. Once I let go of the idea of that ideal job, I could be open to doing something I’d never done such as joining a campaign and fighting for a candidate who shared my values.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at AAUW?

Over the past six years at AAUW, I’ve been an intraprenuer. Intraprenuer is the concept that you are acting as an entrepreneur in an already established larger organization. I’ve led the growth of our Campus Leadership Programs with five programs from two staff to 10 and from fewer than 300 college/university partner members to more than 800 and thousands of AAUW student affiliate members.

There are two key highlights that are special to me, and they are building the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) and founding and growing Elect Her. NCCWSL is the only conference of its kind for college women and is a transformative event that will welcome nearly 1,000 college women in 2014. This conference is special to me because when I was in college, I attended and it opened my world to the opportunities beyond my state school experience. Getting to expand the attendance of the conference with our collaborator NASPA has been very fulfilling. At each conference I get to see these college women say how this event changed their life in the same way it changed mine over 12 years ago.

Elect Her, a program developed in collaboration with Running Start, is the only program in the country that trains college women to run for student government and political office. We started a pilot of this program with just three campuses and now reach 50 campuses and more than 1,000 college women. The attendees gain the confidence and skills to run for office in college, and we fully expect many of them to pursue political office at a young age and build the pipeline of women in office.

I would say that there are daily challenges. Often we underestimate the maneuvering that goes along with leading a team, being a kind coworker, seeking excellence, and being an effective communicator. These things require a conscious effort every day, and some days are realistically easier than others. To stay on track I try to keep an open mind and a problem-solving mindset. None of the work, especially in a large and long standing organization such as AAUW is ever done on your own. You must rely on others in the team and external collaborators to accomplish your goals.  You need to be open to a lot of opinions, expertise, and work styles. And, there is always going to be something that goes wrong or fails. Perfection is a myth. I try to see challenges from a mindset of a problem-solver in order to get through them and move forward.

How is AAUW making a difference in the lives of women across the US?

AAUW builds a better future for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. Building an incredible legacy, AAUW has been empowering women as individuals and as a community since 1881. For more than 130 years, we have worked together as a national grassroots organization to improve the lives of millions of women and their families. We do it all through research, advocacy, education, philanthropy, and leadership development. We analyze gender equity issues and challenge sex discrimination in education and the workplace. We shape the lives of the next generation of women leaders. We level the playing field for girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We provide educational and lifelong learning opportunities for women and we deliver leadership development opportunities to AAUW members. Plus, our members find lifelong friends and mentors from their engagement in AAUW. Our real strength lies in our community of over 170,000 members and supporters, 1,000 branches, and more than 800 college/university partner members across the country.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

There is no such thing as work-life balance. For everyone, it is your life and how work is integrated into it. For me, what I do for work is a large part of my identity, so I need to hold it in check to make sure I’m making time for who I am beyond my work.

Really, the concept of work-life balance is such a luxury. Most women in our world don’t think about work-life balance. Women in every country are often just trying to survive and support their families day-to-day.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I think the biggest issue for women in the workplace is that our workplaces have not kept up with what our 21st century society wants and needs to be innovative, productive, and sustainable. Due to outdated workplace cultures and policies, women often feel unsupported and underdeveloped as employees and leaders, not to mention unequal pay. If our workplaces actually were held accountable for pay practices, our economy, families, and women would benefit in leaps and bounds.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?

I greatly appreciate Sheryl Sandberg’s choice to use her platform to make the gender leadership gap a worldwide discussion. I hope Lean In helps start the conversation among women and men about what we can do as individuals, communities, and across systems to change the inequities. Sheryl is one person, and it is going to take each and every one of us to see the value of women’s leadership and make personal and systemic change.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentorship can be an often misunderstood concept, but I equate it to a range of relationships I’ve had in which I learned from someone else. That person can be more senior than me or younger than me or a peer. There is no doubt that I’m where I am professionally and personally due to a strong support network and a network that has pushed me. I think the biggest difference that mentors can make is to help you envision the life you can’t even imagine for yourself.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I greatly admire women who are innovators and risk takers. Women I associate with these attributes are social entrepreneurs such as Majora Carter, an environmental justice pioneer, and public servants such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand whose first political race was her win for Congress at the age of 40.

I also greatly admire women who are living life to the fullest when our society expects them to slow down. Rita Moreno is one of those women. At 82 she lives life with joy, humor, and passion. Not only does she serve as an incredible role model in being the only Hispanic to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (!) but she still dances every day.

What are your hopes for the future of AAUW?

My hope for the future of AAUW is that we go out of business because our work is done.

But in the meantime, my hopes are that we are able to build a stronger and sustainable intergenerational community of women and girls who see the power of working together to break through the remaining barriers to equity.

What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?