Beyond The Degree: What I’ve Learned From Strong, Successful Female Leaders In My Career

Woman holding coffee cup printed with 'Like A Boss' on it.In college, I dreamed about having a cool office space, designer briefcase and that I, as a woman in charge, would own the room as soon I walked into a meeting. Somehow, everything would work out in my favor the day after graduation. My degree would fully prepare me to become the ‘successful business woman’ and leader I always wanted to be.  

Eight years later and three jobs fuller, I learned that my degree really was just a door-opener. It didn’t teach me how to be a good listener, how to gain respect from my peers, how to prove my value or how, after successfully completing these tasks, to advance my career. I learned these skills and attributes from my female colleagues.

I knew that even though women had made great strides in the advertising industry most C-Suite and leadership positions would still be predominately male. However, I didn’t yet know that in order to navigate the gender gap you needed to be confident.  At my first job, my boss, Debbie was just that, confident. She was also an amazing mentor.

Debbie was 1 woman out of 24 men on our company’s leadership team. She was no taller than 5-feet, but she could command a room like no one else I’d ever seen! I admired that she never let criticism crush her creativity and when she knew she had a good idea, she never backed down. This was so important to me because for the first time, I saw a woman with the same background as me, take ownership in her career. Debbie taught me what skills were needed to standout and become a respected leader.

Despite how busy Debbie was, her door was always open to conversation and she was receptive to building a relationship with me. A Girl’s Guide to Finding an Awesome Mentor (and Being One), states that being able to make time for someone is a great trait of a leader. She was a great mentor because she taught me strategies through frequent performance reviews to help me become confident in my abilities and what I brought to the table.

Based on my learnings, here are Three Tips to Build Confidence in Your Abilities:

  1. Knowing your own value and self-worth can impact your work and the choices you make on a day to day basis. Advertising, as with any industry, is a world ruled by numbers – however you should never let these numbers dictate how you view Alyssa Ortiz working with ABC News. yourself and how you bring value to the table. On days where you find yourself doing this or feeling like you’ve missed the mark, it’s important to remove yourself from the work and access where you can take control and where you had no control in an outcome. Take control of your own self-worth and don’t see failure as the be all and end all, see it as room to improve. Here is a great article for more ideas on how to improve your self-worth, Do you Know Your Value? Self-Worth and How IT Impacts All You Do?
  2. If you feel you have a “good” idea – vocalize it. Always remember you have a seat at the table for a reason. There will be times where you will fill overwhelmed, but never shy away from sharing your ideas.
  3. Don’t pigeon hole yourself based on a job description. Even if an issue isn’t technically part of your role, don’t shy away from proposing ideas or solutions to solve it. Doors open more readily for those willing to go the extra mile.

In my second communications role, I worked for a non-profit children’s museum where the focus was teaching children STEM concepts. I was privileged to work with a creative team that was predominately women. The composition and dynamics of the team made me feel more comfortable about sharing my ideas, even if they seemed flawed. The style of leadership on our team was one of compassion and understanding and this was key in continuing to build my personal confidence. The relationships I had with colleagues and leaders inspired me to trust my intuition and skills and not second guess myself.

Our CEO pushed me to always think about who we were serving and encouraged me to break out of my comfort zone. She required team members to take on the roles of others in the company – including museum curator and receptionist, so we better understood the full service we were providing to the community and what their experience at the museum was like.

My second position provided me with Two Ways to Build an Integrated & Successful Team:

  1. It’s critical to understand the roles of everyone in your department. Be proactive in fostering relationships with your teammates and work to understand the responsibilities and challenges of their roles. Doing this and being a good listener can help you establish shared goals.
  2. Strive to understand who you’re serving in your job. Whether you’re an engineer, a sales person or a marketeer, you are serving someone. Gaining a more intimate understanding of your customers' experience with your product or service can help you and everyone on your team learn new concepts and approach challenges in new and creative ways.

Today, I am trying my best to follow in the footsteps of the women who taught me the skills and attributes necessary to be viewed as a leader in my role as a MARCOMM Program Manager for Assembly Technology at Emerson. If you need help finding a person who can help you get ahead at work here is a great article on how to approach finding a mentor at work, It's Time to Rethink How You Find a Mentor at Work.

Reply below and share your stories about the women who helped you along the way or how you helped someone else.