Each month we introduce you to an inspiring leader using their voice to advance women in the workplace. We're committed to changing the narrative about women and leadership.
Early on in my career, I was working in finance, and buying work clothes that I didn't particularly love or find flattering. When I got home from a long day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was browse for blazers online. There’s this myth that all women love to shop, which just isn’t the case. And even if spending time buying clothes isn’t a top priority, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about good style or looking elegant.
My mother worked in high fashion throughout my childhood. She really opened my eyes to the power of costume and how much wearing the right clothes can not only change the way others see you but the way you feel about yourself each day. At 27, I quit my full time job in private equity to start M.M.LaFleur because I wanted to make women’s lives easier. Instead of considering getting dressed for work a chore, I wanted to reframe it as a secret weapon that can transform the way we feel be helping us feel our best.
At MM.LaFleur, our staff is over 80% female. Our male colleagues inspire me every day with their commitment to our mission of celebrating female professionals. We’re a young team, but we’re building a new normal where all genders work together to create an environment of equality and respect. I’m determined to be part of a generation that speaks up so women can thrive, rather than just survive. We are all in this together. One of the most important decisions I’ve made as CEO is to offer 12-week parental leave for mothers and fathers. Equality is something we need to fight for at every step of the career journey.
One of the best qualities I think a good leader should embody is to treat people with kizukai. I’s a Japanese word, and one of M.M.’s founding values. The closest translation I’ve come up with is “empathy in action.” When you treat people with kizukai, you make room for the whole person, not just the employee. It’s our way of saying “bring your whole self to work.” There’s a belief in corporate America that treating people with compassion doesn’t lead to results -- but nothing could be further from the truth.
Challenge yourself to stop over-analyzing, over-thinking, and over-preparing. I am not saying that there shouldn’t be preparation, because diligence is rewarded -- and I am a big believer that hard work and showing up pays off. But give yourself permission to be more daring, take action and try new things.
There was a convergence of events: Having spent time in retail, technology and marketing I was aware that people were constantly using their phones to shop and that the shopping journey had changed. As well, I was aware that teens and young women were using their phones to send pictures of their outfits to their friends to get advice on what to buy or what they were wearing everyday. I’m firm believer that technology, if used properly, can enhance relationships so I decided to create a platform for people to share photos but in a safe, honest and positive environment. Essentially, do what you’ve always been doing but in a better way.
I think parenthood is a challenge, or the perception that women are the ones who have to stay home and “parent”. Once you have a child you are not seen as a high performer anymore - which is not true, obviously. Another challenge is that there are mainly white men in leadership positions as people tend to hire and promote people who look like them. Many of the leadership profiles that are used in business are based on men so women don’t have enough profiles that match their skills or characteristics. We need more women to help other women rise up and succeed. More diversity at all levels is just better business.
I see young kids now (I have two teenagers, a boy and a girl) and they just don’t have the same barriers as we did, they see things so differently and are much more open and accepting. If we can keep focusing on getting more women, and women of color, at all levels in business I believe we can have gender parity. But it has to be at all levels - all the way up to the C Suite and the Board. But this includes the work of both men and women. We need everybody working on this, not just women.
I fail at things all the time, and I believe that these are important learning experiences... so I’m learning all the time! It’s hard for people (including myself) to wrap their mind around the idea that “failure is always an option”.
In any case, some of my most important learnings have been related to people and leadership. It varies from small things like the value of showing people your sincere appreciation, to bigger things like the ramifications of working with close friends and family. We have to remember that business is people. Understanding people allows you to do well in business.
Well, there are certainly the obvious things like patriarchy and other systemic challenges. But there are some not-so-obvious things also, which are sometimes self-imposed.
We live in a society with impossibly high standards that cause women to feel guilt and shame in ways that hold us back from our full potential. It’s a very recent journey of my own that has caused me to examine my internal challenges. Wrapped up in that is what it means for us to “have it all”, and our impressions of what it means to be successful at work and in our personal lives. I think a lot of women struggle with this.
Ha, it’s hard to say what’s effective considering that we still have a such a long way to go. But one critical thing I have learned is that it’s usually a waste of time trying to change the minds of people who don’t share our beliefs.
So, I’d say what’s been most impactful is bringing together a community of people with a shared understanding around what the future can be.
To own your decisions and listen to the feedback. It is only a misstep if you don’t learn from it. Otherwise, I think of it as a step forward, a step to a better and stronger you.
Women are not all the same, therefore, the challenges will vary depending on the personal circumstances of each woman. But as a group, we oftentimes feel that we need to prove ourselves beyond any doubt; that there is no space for us to make a mistake. That can lead us as women to be reluctant to take “risks” with our careers. We need sponsors, champions, who will reach out to us to share their stories of how they took “risks” — how they made mistakes and came out stronger from the experience. Women also need sponsors (both men and women) who will tell us about being comfortable being successful and being ambitious. As we get more senior in our careers, we need to reach out to the next generation of women, tell them our stories, and encourage them to find their own definition of success.
The most effective tactics are the ones that are genuine and built into the culture of an organization. That is why I have a strong belief in the role that managers play in leveling the playing field for women in the workplace. Managers make day-to-day decisions that directly impact how people experience an organization (who to hire, who to give a new client to, who to bring to an important meeting, who to highlight to leadership as the next star, who to promote, and how to pay their people). Any initiative aimed at increasing representation and inclusion of women in the workplace must include an active role for managers. They have to be the champions of a culture of inclusion in the organization and they have to be held accountable for the experience of ALL their employees.