"Ellevating" Women in Leadership - A Q & A with Kristy Wallace

Aug 30, 2018 3:18:28 PM / by Mary Kaylor

Kristy Wallace, Ellevate NetworkKristy Wallace is the President at Ellevate Network, and is responsible for executing Ellevate Network’s mission to close the gender achievement gap in business by providing professional women with a global community to lean on and learn from. She directs the Network’s staff, is responsible for business growth and strategy, and works closely with Ellevate's Chapter Leaders, Business Partners, and Champions to further Ellevate's impact. Kristy obtained her BA in English/Sociology from Villanova University and began her career as a financial analyst at KeyBank.

Session: Climbing the Leadership Ladder

The research is unquestionable: Companies and the economy perform better when they fully engage women. The presence of women leaders in the workplace sends a strong gender diversity message, attracting and encouraging others to reach for similar opportunities while providing role models and mentors. In sharp contrast, although progress is being made, the World Economic Forum says gender parity will take about 170 years at current rates. As Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started,” and each woman’s leadership journey is unique. Join this esteemed panel of women in HR technology and hear how one size really doesn’t fit all.

As an HR Technology Conference Insiders blogger, I conducted a Q & A with Kristy to learn more about her thoughts on Climbing the Leadership Ladder:

Kristy, what do you see as the biggest challenge for organizations when it comes to removing gender bias?

Organizations have many competing priorities -- including boards, customers, employees, competition, profits, and revenue -- and due to this, diversity often falls down or off the list of priorities to focus on. However, research has shown that having a strong workforce that values diversity is hugely beneficial to a company’s bottom line. Companies that fully realize the connection between workforce diversity and business success, companies that assign goals and KPIs to D&I similar to any other key business success driver, companies that engage their workforces in ways that move diversity and inclusion forward in their organizations -- are quickly rising to the top of their sectors (i.e. Accenture, Salesforce). Results speak volumes, and business leaders who redefine and innovate in the ways we drive company success will be ahead of the game.

Why is mentorship so important for women to climb the leadership ladder and what advice can you share for finding a mentor?

Mentors have helped me quite a bit along the way -- especially peer mentors. Being in the workforce comes with a myriad of challenges, such as managing difficult situations, raising your hand for a new role or opportunity, and dealing with the general stresses of work and life. Having a squad to turn to for advice, feedback, and encouragement can be instrumental in managing and overcoming many of the obstacles women face in their careers.

The key to mentorship is a personal connection. Find someone that you can naturally build a relationship with. My best advice is to network; find as many people as you can at different stages in their careers and in varying industries. Use resources like Ellevate Network to meet and connect with people on personal and professional levels.

It’s also important to remember that women don’t just need other women. Progress and new ideas come from diversity -- so connect with women, men, and individuals from different socio-economic, geographic, and generational groups. Finding someone who has shared similar experiences can be helpful as you navigate the challenges of being a woman in today’s workplace.

How can women’s networking groups, such as Ellevate, help women along their career journey?

The job market always comes down to who you know and what you know. Ellevate is doing great work in not only connecting like-minded women, but connecting them to people with the insight and experience to help them in their careers.

At Ellevate, we believe in the tried-and-true power of personal connections, combined with technologies that allow women to form deeper connections and synergies with other women. We also work to provide safe spaces for women to be their true selves and find squads that have their backs.

What specific skills, competencies, and experiences will women need to gain or master to advance and thrive in leadership roles of the future?

This is something I think about a lot. All leaders, regardless of gender identity, need to be stronger in terms of empathy and awareness. As leaders, you need to look at employees as human beings and gear yourself toward building solutions for them. In order to do this in a powerful and meaningful way, you have to step outside your own personal identity to recognize the wide range of obstacles others face in this world. Then you can take that knowledge and understanding back to make yourself a better and stronger leader.

As a woman with a successful career and now as the CEO of Ellevate Network, what are some important career lessons you’ve learned in dealing with gender bias?

The most important thing is to speak up. More often than not, the person on the other end of the boardroom or conversation isn’t intentionally trying to be biased. Until you say something, they won’t recognize their bias and the situation will continue for you and others.

Find a way to speak up that’s authentic to you, whether that’s in a one-on-one conversation, through humor, or by engaging an ally. Use your voice to speak out. I recognize that not everyone in the workplace has the privilege to leverage their voice, and that’s why networks such as Ellevate are important in helping everyone use their voices to eradicate the bias and divisions that exist in workplaces around the world.

At Ellevate’s Annual Summit you asked women to create change in their workplaces by providing action-oriented solutions to close the gender gap.  Can you share an example of a solution that was proposed during the summit that women can implement in their workplaces today?

Two things really stood out for me. One was Sallie Krawcheck talking about diversity, which she pointed out isn’t an individual sport. It takes a team to create change. What resonated with me was her drawing attention to the actions we can all take to support diversity and each other in the workplace. Often those that are marginalized feel alone and without the power to create meaningful change but with a team supporting you, anything is possible. This means that those of us who are in a position to support other women need to do so. Women of color, women with disabilities, women without equal access all need our help, and advocating for them, promoting them, giving them opportunities to be heard - this the only way things will change for all of us.

The other stand-out moment for me was Joy Fitzgerald, Chief Diversity Officer of Eli Lilly and Company, who spoke with such candor about being your true and authentic self in the workplace. It’s crucial to be true to who you are, and recognize how that sets you apart from others. I recognize that this creates a bind because we still live in a business world that doesn't fully embrace diversity or foster inclusion.  But we must mobilize around authenticity and transparency -- the more we all commit to embracing diversity and being inclusive of others, the quicker we'll all succeed.

Thank you, Kristy and we look forward to learn more during your session at the 2018 HR Technology Conference: Climbing the Leadership Ladder | Tuesday, September 11, 2018: 9:30 AM - 10:20 AM


Topics: technology, HR, hr tech, HR Technology, women in HR Tech, Women in HR Technology, HR Tech Conference

Mary Kaylor

Written by Mary Kaylor

Mary Kaylor is the Public Affairs Lead for the Society for Human Resource Management. She is the Managing Editor of the SHRM Blog and the creator and producer of #Nextchat, a leading global Twitter chat on the HR trends and all things work. Her career in communications spans from technology and workforce management in the telecommunications industry to external affairs and public relations. An HR Technology conference blogger since 2015, you can find her on Twitter at @SHRMKaylor.

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