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Silverline Spotlight: Women in Leadership

By Kathleen Ferrie 08.26.22
Reading time: 8 minutes

Did you know that on August 26th, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated in the United States? Today we commemorate the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. 

While progress is always worth celebrating, it’s not always linear. There are challenges that women still face today, a topic we’ve discussed here at Silverline through our posts on International Women’s Day 2022: How Silverliners #BreakTheBias and Recognizing and Correcting Gender Bias in the Media Industry

During my 8+ years here, I’ve enjoyed having conversations with the women I work with on how we can keep pushing forward and making progress. Silverline has some amazing women in leadership positions, and I was honored to sit down with some of them to ask them a few questions. 

Michelle Dennis, Senior Director, Insurance Subvertical Lead

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
When I think about leading others, it has little to do with position and more about how you can support others by providing guidance and motivation. In general, I try to lean toward a democratic leadership style, providing people an opportunity to participate, contribute, and be heard. But one thing I have learned over the course of my career is that leadership style is not one-size-fits-all. It is important to understand those you are leading and what their needs are and what leadership and communication style they will respond to. My ultimate objective is for the people that I work with to feel empowered and valued. I strongly believe if someone feels that way in their career, everyone will benefit: the individual, our clients, and our organization.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Women face many barriers and challenges when it comes to taking a leadership role, including unconscious bias, societal pressures to be everything to everyone, and lack of equal opportunity and equal pay, just to name a few, so identifying the most significant is a challenge. I will say the barrier that resonates most for me personally is having the confidence to be seen as a leader. These internal factors often go “undiagnosed” and therefore unaddressed.

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
There were a couple of pieces of advice that I received early in my career that I often share with young women coming into the workforce. The first is to focus on cultivating a network. There are so many women in this industry and this organization. There is so much that you can learn from others’ experiences and there is nothing wrong with leveraging that. In fact, most women want to provide guidance and support — not to feed into stereotypes, but it’s what we do. The other piece of advice would be to believe in yourself. An organization would not have hired you if they did not believe in you and your ability to succeed. Realize that and accept it!

Fabienne Otruba-Fhal, VP of Sales and Alliances, Media and Entertainment 

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
I try to be very direct. But depending on your team, especially in sales, there’s a lot of being a chameleon and being able to identify what makes people tick and what motivates people and how do they want to be coached. I really try to cater that coaching to each individual person versus having a blanket approach. If it’s process-oriented and very specific I try to keep the messaging the same, but I do try to manage and coach each person on their own to see what makes them tick specifically.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I haven’t really dealt with too many obstacles, but I’ve been on many, many calls where I’m one of the only women. It’s nice to see, though, in the past five years I’ve noticed there’s definitely a lot more women in software development, both in the industry and on our side of the house. I do like that we’re seeing more and more women in positions of leadership.

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
Be yourself, be prepared to do your homework, educate yourself. Come prepared, come with an agenda, and be open to making sure you’re listening as much as talking.

Nicole McGuire, Senior Director, Head of Technology and Offerings for Insurance and Salesforce Industries

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
My leadership style is Visionary leadership with a focus on driving progress by inspiring employees to drive innovation by exploring new ways of thinking, designing, and delivering on projects.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
When it comes to the tech industry, there’s been a significant decrease in women pursuing a computer science major. When computers were entering the home, they were emphasized mostly as a toy for boys. The marketing was heavily targeted to men and boys and even in families where girls were interested in using computers, they were more often purchased for boys.

Without the opportunities at home, many young women entered college with the interest and skills in fields like math and science, but without the experience or encouragement of having used a home computer. This made them feel unprepared in computer science classes and they moved out of the major. As of 2021, women still only make up just 18% of computer science students. 

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
If we want to move girls and women back into the picture where we are technical leaders in the IT profession, then teaching us that these fields are just as open to us as any other is a critical step. My parents taught me that I could be successful and do any job, pursue any field, as long as I was willing to put in the effort. Like me, women should be given the “startup” encouragement and belief that they can pursue their passion. If it is computer science, they can sign up for and excel in computer science and engineering majors.

Angie Lingk, GM, Media and Entertainment

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
My goal is to listen, be a connector, and advocate. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and lead extremely talented people that are excellent at what they do. I strive to paint a clear picture of where we’re going, advocate for my team’s needs, and connect them to the right people/groups/ organizations so they can achieve their objectives.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
The Double-Bind is a terrible barrier for women. The concept is that women are either viewed as tough “bulldogs” or pushovers who can only be friends and nurturers. Neither label is positive or viewed as a benefit for a leader. This is the double-bind — no way for a woman leader to win.

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
Listen, be open to learning, accept feedback, have confidence in your point of view, and find a mentor.

Danielle Laffey, Senior Director, Insurance 

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
My favorite advice from a boss is, “To make our goals and meet our deadlines, I need you to push harder. I need you to be creative in your approach and do things differently. And don’t worry, I’ll be here to catch you if and when you fall.” This continues to resonate with me as I advance in my career and in the type of leader I aspire to be. I don’t like to micromanage my team. I want to give someone requirements, guide rails, and a goal. From there, I want them to show me what they can do and ask for help along the way. I love to roll my sleeves up and get into an issue alongside my team when an issue arises that they don’t know how to solve. I like to break barriers for team members to let them run with what they do best. 

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
As a female leader in the financial services industry, many times I walk into a board room full of all male executives with unconscious bias in gender. For myself, this results in imposter syndrome. To help me build that confidence and get over imposter syndrome, I have to remind myself that I am the subject matter expert in the room on this specific topic. I have made significant investment to research and understand the best practice solutions that solve the use cases in the insurance industry. 

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
Go into a job with the mindset that all things should be treated as an equal playing field. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. 

Shanna Sandy, Senior Director, People

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
I believe I have a participative approach to leadership. I love engaging my direct and broader cross-functional teams on various initiatives that allow for co-creation of the employee experience at Silverline. I guess you can say I’m a roll up your sleeves and work in the trenches sort of leader.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Unconscious bias and stereotypes about our ability to be successful in leadership roles are top barriers to female leadership in my opinion. Especially for those of us who have family responsibilities. The unfortunate assumption is that we are not interested in pursuing leadership roles or won’t be successful if given the opportunity.

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
I’d encourage young women to seek mentorship and counsel from strong female leaders as much as possible. Throughout my junior and mid-level careers, I had the privilege of being mentored by inspiring female leaders who held various C-Suite positions. I credit my success and most recently, my role at Silverline, to the network of accomplished female leaders in my professional life.

Jill Harrison, Managing Director, Capital Markets

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
I am so grateful to have worked with many incredible leaders over the years who have deeply influenced my work ethic and my style, which is that of servant leadership. I believe that each of us has unique strengths, and it’s my goal to help empower those I work with to unlock their passions in work and in life! That, and a big healthy dose of humor and memes.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
As a woman who works in both tech and finance, it hasn’t been uncommon in the past to be the only female voice in the room. Representation is deeply existential, and it’s so important for young women to have role models and those who they can seek advice from when they need help. The good news? The progress over the last few years is incredible to witness. It’s so exciting to see more women in leadership and on boards!

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
Become a student of growth mindset and self-compassion. The work that we do in the consulting ecosystem is hard and it will constantly teach you new lessons! Approach each challenge head-on, identify which skills you’re working on, have patience and love for yourself, and your journey will be a blessing to all those around you. Also, develop good relationships with mentors and build your own personal board of directors. Seeking advice is a great strength!

Paula Cervoni, Director, Change Management

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.
I enjoy having a personable and collaborative style to my leadership, focusing on being an advocate for my people and helping them to grow and continuously learn and improve. Not only learning but doing things that they really want to be doing. I love helping to inspire and develop people to be everything that they can be, professionally and personally in ways that will really bring them fulfillment. I like to be the type of leader that makes others feel I am working alongside them, not above them. 

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
The conscious and unconscious biases that go along with being a female leader and the discrepancies in the workplace in terms of competencies, behaviors, and situations where women will be responded to and dealt with differently than men, just because they’re women. If a man in the workplace is aggressive or stern or assertive, he’s strong, but a woman that does that is emotional and she’s not to be listened to. There’s still the mindset that if there’s a woman in the room she’ll take the notes, putting them in a position that is not commensurate with their experience. And women are often still paid less for the same jobs as men, which is simply unacceptable.  

What advice would you give to young women entering this profession/organization?
Think about what it is that they want to be doing and what kind of journey they want and get the necessary skills and training, not only for what they need to be doing, but some of the softer skills that develop emotional intelligence. Look to other women who are successful and spend some time chatting to or learning more about them. Success isn’t just in terms of capability or level, but also in how you connect and interact with others and demonstrate qualities that you admire. And when you’re working hard also make sure that you find the time to have some fun and laughter because it just makes everything better.

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