Education, Event

63 Min Read

Ellevate San Diego Event: Finding Balance with Women Moving Mountains

Felicia Lyon, Founder of Women Moving Mountains and CEO & Executive Leadership Advisor of Lyon Performance Solutions, presented a hands-on workshop for Ellevate Network’s San Diego Chapter, titled: Finding Balance: Accelerate Your Career and Create a Life You Love (at the same time!).

The event showed us how we can secure the career of our dreams while building meaningful and impactful relationships and living a life we love … we just need the roadmap to do it. 

Felicia guided us through the seven proven strategies for accelerating our career described in her book, along with a dynamic panel discussion with San Diego women leaders.

Felicia is an accomplished executive leadership coach with 24 years of business experience. She brings a hands-on approach backed by leading practices, to enable her executive clients to take positive action that leads to lasting results. Her passion for helping business leaders succeed led her to create Women Moving Mountains, an executive leadership coaching program for professional women leaders who want to get an edge in their career and increase their career, impact, income and lifestyle. Prior to launching her own business, Felicia worked as a senior leader with Deloitte Consulting where she helped her clients improve operational performance by focusing on the people side of the business. 

Felicia’s Story 

“Women Moving Mountains has been such a passion project for me, but also it’s been 20 years in the making,” Felicia said. She grew up in Atlanta, where her family runs the unions. In the south, traditionally women are moms, dads go to work, but her mom was the first female police officer in the county in 1982, when Atlanta wasn’t very safe, she said. “She’s been my inspiration, my guide, my gut checker, my call-me-on-my-garbage, my everything,” she said. Felicia’s my first career was a police officer because of her mom and because she wanted to do something that matters, working in family violence for three out of five years.”Every day, I went to work and I mattered. I knew that in my heart down to my toes. But when you start losing victims, you lose a part of yourself. And so I had to have an honest conversation about my own career. Where do I see myself going? I knew I wasn’t gonna survive and thrive in that industry,” she said.

She found industrial-organizational psychology appealed to her, applying the theories, motivations, and behavior into the workplace … which is where we spend most of our time besides sleeping. Her calling is to make an impact in people’s work life. She chose to work for the biggest consulting firms and the biggest clients that had the biggest impact to reach as many people as she could, at Deloitte Consulting. She worked in Russia, Afghanistan, Mexico City, and says she was the poster child for owning your career. 

“I lived and breathed my career. That was my life. That was my spouse. My friends were all my colleagues. And I was drinking the Kool-Aid … until I wasn’t,” she said. Four years ago something changed. “But then my body broke. I also met my now husband, who’s kind of cute and I like to hang out with him. And I decided that I needed to make another change for my career, to have a life that was outside and bigger than my career,” she said.

She reinvented herself as Felicia, the consultant, but was missing the relationships she had with her team and peers who she mentored and coached. “And so my husband in his wisdom says, ‘Well, what do you want to do for the next 20 years? Why do you just want to keep doing the same thing?’ And I fought that for three years, because I’m good at what I do. I love what I do. But then when I really started to lean into thinking about what I want to do for the next 20 years, it was really about how I wanted to change the conversation that we’re having. [I don’t want my clients to say], ‘Hey, Felicia, there’s one woman on the client side, she’s a little bit tough, could you go talk to her for us?’ And I would go in and have a straight conversation. And I’d walk out with a quite lucrative project to do with her. And they’re like, ‘What did you do? What magic do you have?’ I don’t have magic, I just know how to talk to a woman. This was the recurring theme and I don’t want to have that conversation anymore. I want to be a part of the change,” she said.

The #MeToo movement started around this same time, with everyone finding their voice saying we’re tired of this crap. That’s when Women Moving Mountains came to fruition in 2018. In order to get the vision for her business and mission crystal clear in her mind, she had to write it all down, and that’s where her book came from. She insists she is not a writer, to give hope to people who don’t consider themselves writers, she said you can still write a book. The book is the tried and true things that she’s seen that work, which was gifted to attendees.

The business case for women rising to the C-suite

Felicia said that because she’s a business consultant, she likes to start the discussion about advancing more women to the C-suite by discussing the business case for it. “The math is there. The facts are there, you can’t dispute that when you have a diverse leadership team, the company has performed better. Now, if you take this beyond one step further to ethnic diversity and educational diversity, the numbers get into the 30% range. So it’s hard to argue with that math anymore,” she said. Women are half of the workplace, but we’re only 22% of the C-suite for the Russell 5000 companies. The Fortune 500 have an even smaller percentage of women in the C-suite.

Felicia said that not only are there systematic issues that need to be addressed, there’s also individual issues that we need to address, such as how men are promoted for potential and women are promoted on performance. 

A somewhat surprising statistic she shared was that 71% of women want to be higher levels in our career, but only 33% want to get to the top (C-suite). Felicia hears this a lot with her clients even though they are high-achievers, and the usual explanation they give is that they are tired. “They’re moms, wives, housekeepers, and when you get to a certain age, you have aging parents that you got to consider and that caretaking. And so societal pressures about what it means to be a woman haven’t changed enough … high achieving women, we want to do it all, we think we can do it all, and we take some of it on ourselves too much. But then we’re tired. So we have nothing left to give,” she said. Changing the conversation we have with ourselves is part of the equation for planning for the rise to the C-suite on a path where you won’t be exhausted by the time you get there.

The ongoing topic of women not negotiating often enough was discussed, as well as how women have so many responsibilities that we often can’t make the time to network as much as men do in old school ways like golf clubs and cigar clubs. She said women tend to take on family responsibilities versus going out. Combined with backlash from the #MeToo movement where men can be afraid to network or mentor women, and these present major challenges for advancement.

So what do we do about the problems of getting more women to the C-suite since there is an obvious business case for a diverse senior leadership team? Felica has three words for us to focus on: clarity, confidence, connection.

Clarity means getting really clear on what you want from your career. Confidence “is what you need to do to arm yourself to put on your suit coat.” Connection refers to the support and the team that you need to get you there. Focusing on these three things will make you the CEO of your own career.

CEOs have advisors and corporate retreats where all they do is spend time looking at how to add value to customers, how to get the right team in place, how to promote and motivate employees, how to be the best company to customers. Felicia said it’s these same kind of things that we have to think about it with our careers, how we are going to manage our career like a CEO manages the business. 

Felicia’s other part of this conversation is layering in life to the work equation, which is where the balance part of the conversation comes in. “No one knows what you have going on at home. No one knows what your thresholds are until you get clear on what those are for your life, and can articulate those. And [your boss/job/etc.] are just going to keep letting you give all your time,” she said.


There are two parts of clarity: the career clarity and the life clarity. Get clear on what your version of success looks like. Everyone’s is different. One example Felicia gave was a former coworker. “She’s a hard charger and her husband is a partner in an international consulting firm. So he was on the road all the time when she worked at a consulting firm and was on the road all the time. It’s really hard to have children if you’re not actually in the same city, much less deciding who’s going to take care of the children when you’re not in the same city. And so they had some choices to make. What she really looked at is the tenants of her career that she wanted, which was the impact that she wanted to have. And so breaking it down, it was, ‘I want to be a global leader, I want to impact an innovative company that is doing greater things. But I want to not travel.’ So what does that look like? We got really clear on the pros and cons of everything, what it meant financially, because when you’re working for the larger consulting firms, you’re typically paid the hazard pay of having to live on the road, that was probably going to go away. What does she need to do next? And so fast forward, the role that she has now is a global HR leader at one of the top accounting firms. And that is her holy grail, she got exactly where she wanted to go, because she got really clear about what success looks like. And she’s got two beautiful children. Her husband still does a lot of international travel. But it makes her life livable. And she’s living her own dream. And you can’t get better than living your own dream,” Felicia said.

Felicia said to make a list of the values that you need out of your career and life, such as how much recognition do you need, how much decision-making authority do you want, do you want to be an individual contributor instead of a people manager. Ask those questions. When you’re planning next steps in your career and life, make sure you’re keeping those values in mind, as well as the job title, job responsibilities, and the salary. “Because you could make everything really great on paper. But if you don’t align value-wise, you’re not going to be happy,” Felicia said. That’s where she finds a lot of mismatch today. For example, being an entrepreneur and owning your own business, that’s cool, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s hard. She explained that even though her portfolio of clients at Deloitte was $250 million for herself for the year, as an entrepreneur running her own consulting and coaching practice, it is hard. “I’m also the janitor, the accountant. And I’m not a math person, right? I told you, I was a psychologist. And so there’s all of these other pieces that come with that, that you have to be prepared for. And you got to make sure that that’s okay with you,” she said.  

Knowing your own personal boundaries and priorities in work and life is very important, proven again by Felicia’s example of another client who runs a pretty significant financial portfolio at a real estate investment trust, where her business is networking and business development. So she spends countless hours driving up and down the freeway, but her kids are her priority that is non-negotiable so she’s home for dinner every night. Dinner with the family is a table stakes for them. It’s something her client didn’t do with her older daughters and she sees it as a missed opportunity now. “So what are those table stakes for your personal priorities, those relationships, that you are not willing to compromise on? Be honest with yourself, no one else is going to know it’s important to you,” she said.


Confidence is a big topic, Felicia said. How do you show confidence? She talked a lot about putting on your suit coat as putting on your confidence, metaphorically. “What is your suit coat? How do you put it on? How do you show up? How do you present yourself? How do you engage with everyone in the room? How do you get your point across and working through what that means for you? Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, it looks different for everybody. If you’re like me, I’ve gotten more introverted as I’ve gotten older. So I’m learning different ways of being as I’ve become more introverted, which is kind of interesting to me as the psychologist of myself,” Felicia said.

She uses a research model as a good baseline of what it means to be a successful woman leader, where ‘build relationships’ is one of the highest indicators of success, which is why her third “C” is about connection. Being a successful woman leader is also about being authentic, leading others, and leading to the future. “When I had my first panel with Women Moving Mountains, there was one question, ‘What is the best advice that you’ve got?’ And one of the CEOs, the best advice she got was from her dad, when she was interviewing many years ago, was just to be yourself. And she’s like, clearly you have better advice than that. But later on she realized it was true. It’s being authentic. Because if they don’t like you for who you are, it’s not the right fit, you’re not going to be happy,” she said. “Showing up as your authentic self is the way to get the convergence and the harmony in your career in your life,” Felicia said.

The other side of confidence is once you’re excelling, when you have opportunities, start owning your narrative. The book gives a framework of how to talk about your capabilities. Felicia’s notes that as women collectively, we don’t like to brag, because we were taught to be nice and respectful. What a former mentee of hers did was clever, she had referred him for position at a global HR position, and the company dropped the ball in the process. But he wrote a thank you letter for trusting him and referring him into the into the pipeline for this company. “And he says, oh, by the way, I finished my Global Leadership Conference. It was great to get this feedback. ABC, I don’t remember what it was. I thought you would find that interesting. Right? So he took a huge success, and talked about it in a very humble way, in a very matter of fact way of just really solidifying for me that he was a great referral. So I look good, because I referred someone highly capable, highly intelligent, for the position. I wish I could just like create the formula for how he wrote that, for how to tell your successes, and kind of brag about yourself in a very humble way, because you deserve it. You’re kicking butt, you’re rocking it out there. So why not take credit for what you’re doing and own your narrative. Because if you’re not, then someone else is going to own their narrative. Mastering this and being exceptional here with no one talking about it doesn’t get us anywhere,” she said.


On the topic of connection, Felicia asked us who has a personal board of advisors. “This, to me, is where the magic happens. And this is how you get some of your time back for your life. When you have strategic advisors, mentors, and advocates, they’re doing your talking. So you’re not always self promoting, they’re promoting you for you, because they know what you want. They know what you’re capable of. And they’re singing your praises for you and looking for opportunities for you. And this needs to shift as you shift. The board of advisors that I had when I was at Deloitte was very different than my board of advisors now, and that’s okay. And some people that I consider on my board, those people don’t even know. Because how uncomfortable it is to fire someone from your board? That’s an awkward conversation,” she said. 

Your board can be people that you don’t know personally, or work colleagues, friends, people watched from afar, wherever you see traits that you want to emulate. “My favorite is asking them for the unwritten rules. There are always unwritten rules. And your personal board of advisors are the ones that are going to give this to you. So you don’t have to step in the [muck]. Usually in your first 90 days at a job, that’s when you step in the [muck], because you don’t know any better. But when you have advocates in your personal board, they can help you step over some of that, they can throw down the trench coat so you can step over the rain puddle,” Felicia said. 

The second part of connection is togetherness. The two pieces to togetherness are your team and those you mentor to pay it forward, and then also your tribe. The tribe is what Felicia calls the Bat Phone, the trusted people you can call and ask  “What do I do now?” Felicia said to look for people who support you in life, love, and career. 

The importance of grooming your replacement at your job cannot be understated. Felicia gave an example of her friend who was not given a promotion opportunity because she was told, “Well, you’re so valuable where you are, we cannot promote you. Because who else is going to do your job?” Mentoring a second-in-command and bringing them up with you to take your place as you move up also creates loyalty within your team, since your team is also rising. “That’s what’s going to help you rise to that next level,” Felicia said.

Making an Integrated Life Plan

What does an integrated life plan look like? It’s getting really clear on what’s important to you, your career, and your life. Felicia provided worksheets to help guide the group at the event, also included in her book. 

She emphasized the importance of tailoring the plan to how you operate. “If you’re a structured person and you want five goals delivered by Tuesday at 2pm, please write that down. But if you’re a journey girl, say something like, in six months I want my life to look like this. And then break it down. What does that mean for three months from now? What does that mean for two months? What does that look like in the next 30 days? Chunking down the big hairy goals and dreams into manageable chunks. Form habits to help you meet those goals every day, work with the end in mind,” Felicia said.

Her goals worksheets follow the AIM structure of acceptable, ideal, and middle ground. 

“Ideal is if you just have a rockin’ year, you’re going 90 miles an hour, and you’re shooting the moon, what does the moon look like? But if life happens, which it always does, then what is the minimum way you want your life to look like in 12 months, that would be the acceptable amount,” she said.  

Q&A with Felicia’s Friends 

Felicia invited a few of her friends and clients to participate in Ellevate San Diego’s event.

Susannah is a Chief Sustainability Officer at Southern California Design Company, as well as an advisor for CEOs. She’s involved in the San Diego Sports Innovation Center, Chairman’s Roundtable where she advises CEOs on how to build a sustainable business. She speaks six languages. She’s lived in Milan, Sweden, UK, Netherlands, Spain, and more. 

Bridget is a “wizard genius,” Felicia said, whose superpower is seeing around corners. Bridget works in the male-dominated field of tech, in the large conglomerates and now she’s a VP Chief Architect at Intuit. She’s got a master’s in electrical engineering, she’s got five patents, she’s been elected into the Engineering Hall of Fame, she’s on the board of Athena and Evo Nexus. 

Q: What is the defining moment that helped you take the reins of your career to get to the greatness that you are at?

Bridget: “For me, I think I was in my late 20’s, I was working for a tech company. I was starting to see my peers, who are pretty much all men, getting the good work. I’m competitive, and I like to do new stuff, so I was really frustrated. I was complaining to my husband, who said ‘Just go ask.’ I went to my manager at the time, and I said, ‘I want to lead this group. How fast can you make that happen?’ What I learned from that is that you do have to ask. I would say I’ve asked five times in my career for something big. And I got it three out of the five, which I think is pretty good. But it was after I’d been out of school for a little while, and I saw guys that I thought were no better than me  getting opportunities that I wasn’t, until I realized I had to just put on my awesome and ask.”

Q;  What was the defining moment that helped you take the reins of your career?

Susannah: “I kind of have a runaway career. So I follow my career. I think what got me into sustainability and strategy was when I went over to do a startup in Italy that was a combination between the richest family in Italy and one of the largest American consulting firms. I found out that the company was killing children in Turkey due to toxicity of their products. And when I went back to the company and asked them about it, they said, ‘No, don’t worry, we just made a $5 million donation to the World Food Program. We’re saving a bunch of starving kids in Africa, it evens out.’ And I resigned the next day and said, ‘No way.’ I started Italy’s first ethics and corporate sustainability control company before either issue really existed. So I think for me, that was the defining moment of integrity. And everybody looked at me said, ‘You’re the youngest C-suite person in Italy, you’re a woman, you’re working for the largest company, how could you be so stupid to walk away?’ It was that choice of greater good versus personal gain.” 

Q: On the topic of limiting beliefs, Susannah, how have you gotten over any limiting beliefs that have gotten in your own way as they’ve emerged throughout your career?

Susannah: “I guess predominantly just by jumping in and doing it, embracing it. Some of the fears I’ve faced have been real-life fears where you’ve got to make a choice. When you’re faced with a sink or swim decision, jump on in and figure out how to swim. There’s always going to be an option where if you try, somebody will save you or, or you’ll figure it out. Maybe it will take a little bit longer, maybe it’s not going to be exactly the way you want to do it. But at least you’re in it and things are moving. When you have a limiting belief, and you let it limit you, and you become frozen, you don’t have that inertia. At least if you have inertia, you can flex, you can change and go backward, forwards, up, or down. But if you let a limiting belief stop you or limit you, it’s a lot harder to start each and every time.”

Q: How about you, Bridget? 

Bridget: “That’s super true. I was thinking how I would answer that question. Someone might say your resume is awesome, you must feel like you own the world. And I don’t, when I go into new situations or things don’t go the way I wanted, I feel a little bit of imposter syndrome. ‘Am I really good enough?’ But you’re right, you can’t let it freeze you. You have to say, ‘If I don’t change anything, and I just stay the way I am, I know for sure I’m going to be super unhappy. But if I try something, I’ll either be unhappy or happy, but at least happy is one of the choices, one of the things that might happen.’ So I give myself that internal pep talk. I have a colleague at work, she and I are life preservers to help each other. I ask, ‘Should I do this?’ She says yes. And then when she asks it, I say yes. It can be really scary. But if you don’t do anything, everything will be exactly the same. And if you’re not happy, then why would you choose that? I’ve had times where it’s messed up. and I’m like, oh, that didn’t go well. But at least it’s different.”

Felicia: “You also benefit from the experience. If you try, you have a 50% chance of living in happiness and worst case, you at least have an experience. I don’t make the same mistake twice. But there are so many available out there, you’ll just make a different one.” 

A psychologist in town, with a book to be released soon, has done some research around leaning into fear. She said it can take only 60 seconds to get past the fear, once you move into action, it only takes a fraction of the time to get past that paralyzing fear. “So just go for it. We can do anything for a minute, right? That can be the goal. Action begets action, and momentum gets momentum. You may have the roller coaster. But you’re moving,” Felicia said.

Q: So Bridget, what is the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn on your way to the top? 

Bridget: “You can’t have everything, and you have to make choices. Sometimes I’ve made choices that have been related to my family. Like my last role, I was traveling all the time, my boss was saying you need to move to Philadelphia, and yet my career is going great. The difficulty is that you can’t just focus on your career. It really is juggling a bunch of balls. And sometimes the ball drops. You maybe don’t want to drop it. But there is something else that’s more important. Taking the long view, there’s a short versus a long view. And I will say that I have been continuously surprised with how much politics and pettiness there is even as you move up the leadership chain. It’s like middle school politics, it’s not that sophisticated, it’s more annoying. I’m not super good at politics. I can tell when you’re irritating all of us, you can see and just stop talking. And I can tell on your face. I’m irritated because we’re not talking about anything useful. But there’s so much like, theater, you have to do, you actually have to play that game.”

“I say this with an open heart, that women suck,” Felicia said. “Women in the career world have been the biggest disappointment to me, that we’re not only our own worst enemy, we’re the worst enemy of the women around us, oftentimes. It’s finding that one woman who will give you so much more than finding 10 men, potentially. But we want to be with the men because they seem to be the ones in power or there’s more of them. And I think that that was just the most disappointing thing is every time I thought like, ‘Oh, I have a choice of this promotion, or this one, I’m going to take this one because it’s a woman boss, I want to work for women.’ And every single time it was not a really positive experience. So for me, it was when I was able to get into management and be able to surround myself with good women, and really trying to work myself out of every job. So that one of those women could have that opportunity in that place and hopefully learned by coaching, just by being there, that they can then do that and kind of pay it forward to other women.”

Audience member: “I have experienced very similar to what you said, I did have one woman that I worked for who truly was my sponsor, but most other women, it’s often just competition. And I’m not sure why I’m like, you know, like we’re the same, we should be helping each other. And it doesn’t always happen.”

Felicia said we often hear how women are looking for more women mentors, which is why she says ‘together, we rise’ very purposely, because the more that we support and enable each other, the more that we get there. Some of the lack of mentors is because until the recent past there weren’t many women role models, there were no women CEOs. “Well, now there’s like 10. So now we see more possibilities. And maybe a little less competition. When I was growing up in Deloitte, and even as a police officer, there were only so many positions, and a woman would see me as competition versus thinking how to be calculated and all get there together. We soften the conversation today and say we need to be better mentors and pay it forward. I think we all have an obligation to stick together and help each other out. And it gets a bit tongue-in-cheek. But it is important to remember that because the other thing is, for example, when you work in a foreign company. When there’s one other woman you end up with gravitating towards each other. So if you’re at this entire table full of men, and there’s two women, somehow you end up sitting together. And you think, let’s be friends, let’s do something and you don’t necessarily think that that’s going to have a detrimental effect. Look at things in a positive manner. Always see who is sitting next to you what you can do to help them as opposed to just seeing what you need for you.”

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received along your journey? 

Bridget: “A quote someone told me this was really good, because it kind of drove a behavior changes for me was, ‘I have as much of a right to compete for what I want, as all the men around me. I don’t necessarily deserve it, I’m not necessarily going to get it, but I have as much of a right to compete for it.’ That drove me to act differently. I always sit at the table when I come into a room. I have sort of a saying that I use when I counsel and mentor some younger people in their career. I’ll say, if you want to own the meeting, grab the whiteboard marker, be active and just take up space, wherever you are. It came from the ‘I have just as much of a right as everybody else to compete’ quote.”

Susannah: “What else I would say is embrace the change. My career has been so vast and different, because I looked for change, embraced the change, trying to be the change. And in doing that, it’s one thing if you’re working in a corporation, and they have a certain hierarchy, you have to go from assistant manager, to manager, to assistant director, to director … but if you start a new division, you can immediately become the director of the new division. So there’s a lot of ways that change can actually be your friend. And it’s something for me, because my life has always been changing. I thought I had to put down roots and prove everything was good and make a lot of demonstrated success in a certain position. Instead of saying, I don’t like this or do that better. But when you embrace change, you have the opportunity to participate, where if you don’t, you’re in it and it becomes very divisive quickly, and then you’re not changing or you not at the table and then it makes it more difficult to create that inertia to do something different.”

Q: I work in a pretty male-dominated office. And I’m just looking for some advice on how I can assertively express myself in my voice and not come across badly.

Felicia: “I think the first thing you should think of is you’re not coming across as yourself like that. Because men start talking before the words are even in their brains. We tend to worry about what we say and how we say it. So as long as you’re not really stabbing anybody, you should just be clear and speak loudly for what you want. I think it’s more internal, I worry about that, too, that I come out hard. Some people will say no, you were very calm. But I didn’t feel that way. You have to be true to what you want. And you just have to say it, and say it, the volume of your voice has to be high. Because we speak more quietly than we think. Authenticity is key, and alive in integrity, if you say what you believe in, and you do it with authenticity and kindness. Don’t worry what somebody else thinks, because they’re going to interpret it differently, irrespective of every way you try to switch yourself into some odd way of saying something. So better to say what you want with integrity and kindness. And let the chips fall and don’t deal with it.”

Q: You both have been in your careers for some time now. What do you think has changed in a positive way, where you now feel that you don’t have to struggle so much. That may be culturally or maybe as a society or because you’re female versus male. 

“I don’t know if it’s something that’s changed, it may be more my response to it. The 80/20 rule, focus on the 80% of stuff you can deal with and just forget about the rest, don’t try to be a perfectionist or do it all right. 20% of times you fail, or 20% of people don’t like you, or whatever it might be, but it’s just more that element of do your best and then realize you’ve done your best, and that’s good enough, then stop and move on to something else.”

Bridget: “So I’ve worked in tech, for my whole career is pretty male-dominated. What I have observed, and I don’t know if it’s because of a view that we need more diversity, but there is more of an effort at the corporate level to try to increase the number of women in roles that typically have been male-dominated. I want to encourage women into leadership roles, though sometimes I felt a little bit like I was a pony on display. But it was financially good, and I had opportunities. I see that in early career, particularly young women getting out of college, there seems to be more opportunity. And in tech, I see more effort to recruit them. I think where things haven’t changed is when you get to that five to 10 years into your career. Maybe you decided to start a family or not drive for your career as much, society still doesn’t have a good way of addressing that. When I came to my boss, he said, ‘You’re a woman, figure out how we’re going to get more women in engineering.’ I did get a lot of data from our HR partners, and we were doing very well hiring young college grads, 40% were female, which in computer science is really high. But get to five years in, we were less than 10% women. The women who were the senior leaders, who would be directors, vice presidents and above, had not come through the company funnel, they had been hired from the outside. I still think that in that middle part of your life, when you have biology and if you want to have families and other experiences when you’re younger, I think we still get penalized for that. So you have to be willing to do that, to get that opportunity. That’s just been my experience. But I have not been an entrepreneur, I’ve always navigated the corporate world.”

Felicia: “I think the data shows that across the board, either McKinsey or Korn Ferry has looked at the numbers. And then the Center for Creative Leadership, their book Break the Glass, that’s one of their key data points is there’s a cliff, or drop off, for women in that five to 10-year mark. And it does correlate often to family. And so we haven’t, as corporations, figured out how to manage that in a positive way, right? We just say, ‘Okay, take your to leave, maybe not come back.’ But that’s not proactive.”

A case was discussed where a father at JPMorgan Chase asked to take the four months parental leave. And the company said that’s for the primary caretaker. And he said, ‘Well, my wife’s going to go back to work.’ They denied him since he wasn’t the one that gave birth to the child so was not eligible for that leave. So he sued JPMorgan Chase, because he said it wasn’t fair, that he didn’t get the same amount of time as the woman did, to take care of the child when the child was born. Some corporations don’t have the caretaker role primarily for the woman, and then the men have the ability to go and stay home and take care of the child. 

Susannah: “When I worked in Sweden, Sweden is 50/50. Try running a company, because people are always out, they get a lot of time off there. So they can’t make any decisions by consensus if one person’s out for two weeks, and another is out for four months. But it was interesting to see that change, that [parental leave for all genders] was never even a question. I think it was weird when the men didn’t want to take it. You know, here’s an opportunity for you to go and stay with your new child. Why wouldn’t you want to take that?”

Felicia: “I think that highlights the point of the board of advisors, making sure you have men on your board of advisors. Men are allies. I have a colleague who I think the world of, and he would argue about five years ago, that I had a seat at the table. And I told him, not, I’m not welcome at the table in Houston, where I was the only woman and I look younger than I am. I continually had to prove my worth to be at the table with all the white guys. And until his daughter was in college, and started interviewing and entering the workplace, did he actually understand what I was saying years ago. He’s like, ‘You’re right, you weren’t really welcome, now I understand.’ And he’s changed the way he runs projects and his practice because of that. And so it’s important to have the conversation and listing man as allies, even if it’s telling your partner that maybe they should take parental leave and you’ll go back to work. Having this conversation is just as powerful as what we do for ourselves.

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