Women in Leadership Roundtable: Breaking Down Career Barriers

Tuesday March 8th, 2022

Estimated time to read: 15 minutes, 15 seconds

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Every March 8th the world observes International Women’s Day to celebrate the impact and achievements women are making across the globe. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, which focuses on the efforts that everyone can make to become more aware of and eradicate the deliberate and unconscious bias that hinders women in the workplace. 

In honor of this day, we are recognizing women in leadership within the HR industry, including isolved employees and customers as well as analysts. We asked three important questions to the following panel of leaders to highlight experiences from their careers. Read on to see what they shared. 

Question 1: Who has been your biggest professional inspiration? 

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Trish McFarlane, CEO and Principal Analyst at H3 HR Advisors

“My biggest professional inspiration is Christina Van Houten. She was my boss when I was leading HCM product strategy and management at a vendor.

Christina is a driven, caring leader. She was the type of boss who challenged me, gave me opportunities, and provided all the tools I needed to be successful. Her approach was never to do the work for me. She made me think and expand my approach. She was always by my side when I needed a listening ear, to weigh in on challenges and to celebrate wins. 

Christina was also the most caring boss I've had. She demonstrated this as a working mother. She openly communicated the importance of taking care of family and not just focusing on work. While she always made time for her sons and husband, she also made time to lift other women around her. She created 'Women at Work,' dedicated to the economic advancement and self-reliance of women and girls. Her efforts provide inspiration and guidance for women in business. She also gives her time and energy to younger women as they make their way in the world.” - Trish McFarlane, CEO and Principal Analyst at H3 HR Advisors

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DeeAnna Warrington, HR Technology and Services Principal Analyst at NelsonHall

“It would be difficult to pinpoint just one person as my biggest professional inspiration. My inspiration truly comes from all the women, especially African American women, who forged the paths that I now walk.

It can be easy for some to forget that not too long ago, women fought for the right to attend institutions of higher learning, to enter certain career fields, to have financial freedom. The fight for gender equality is far from over, but I draw so much strength from the women whose fight and sacrifices allow me the opportunities to pursue and achieve educational and professional goals.” - DeeAnna Warrington, HR Technology and Services Principal Analyst at NelsonHall

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Mollie Lombardi, Chief Research Officer at Aspect 43

“My biggest professional inspiration is probably my mom. She was the first in her family to go to college, got a degree to be a librarian, and wound up owning one of the first Apple Computer retailers in the very early 80s.

Her business was led by three female partners, and as a result, I grew up never thinking it was odd for women to start a business, even in a 'man's' world like tech, or that I couldn't do something if I didn't hold a degree in it.” - Mollie Lombardi, Chief Research Officer at Aspect 43

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“I don’t like to focus on one specific source of inspiration. Every woman that has come before me has contributed in some way to my success.”

 - Evelyn McMullen, Research Manager at Nucleus Research 

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“An unoriginal answer, but 100 percent my biggest influence was my mother. My siblings and I grew up as military dependents and did not have a traditional childhood in many ways as a result.

My mother’s work ethic and her ability to keep it together and keep it fun were awe-inspiring. We also had ponies and science projects, plays and learned to swim in the ocean before we could walk on our own. Things that many other kids didn’t regularly experience, all while she worked up to three jobs at a time. I find myself emulating her calm enthusiasm with my own kids as well as my colleagues. She taught me how to face adversity head on, to consistently communicate with grace and how to work hard and handle multiple priorities at once.” - Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer at isolved

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“My dad and my mom. They taught me to work hard, be kind, stay humble and to know that everything that I wanted to achieve, family work or anything at all, will always come with hard work.

My mom has always lived by the idea of teamwork, ‘we work hard and support each other hard.' She taught me to lead my life with passion. Very early in my days, my dad was a business guy who traveled all over the world. As a little girl I commented, ‘I wish girls could carry roller bags through airports like boys do.’  My dad quickly said you can do anything you want to do if you work hard for it.” - Lina Tonk, Senior Vice President of Marketing at isolved

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“Aside from Sara Blakely, Whitney Wolf Herd, and Sheryl Sandberg, my biggest inspiration is my dad. Unfortunately, I've never had a female manager in the HCM space and I've been in it for 7 years.

But my dad has always been my biggest cheerleader. My dad taught me how important hard work is and that his goal in life was for me to be more successful than him. He constantly encourages me and is an extremely decisive person, and that has shaped my leadership style a lot. He stressed that in sales, like in ice hockey, if you're one of the top five players you'll always get ice time, so my goal at isolved was to finish in the top five my first full year and qualify for President's Club. And I did! My dad is the biggest inspiration in my life and I am so incredibly thankful for him and for him never downplaying my goals and ideas because I’m a woman. If anything, he pushed me harder because I am a woman and taught me to always be independent and be able to rely on myself no matter what.” - Amanda Razzi, Vice President Direct Account Management at isolved

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"My professional inspiration is one of my mentors and isolved’s Sr. Vice President of Marketing, Lina Tonk. I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside her for multiple years.

She is one of the hardest-working women that I’ve ever met. Her dedication to isolved inspires me.” - Kelli Rico, Vice President of Product Management at isolved

Question 2: How do you show support to other women and encourage them to pursue their leadership goals?

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Trish McFarlane, CEO and Principal Analyst at H3 HR Advisors

“Acting as a mentor to women of all ages and all stages of life is the way I've found to be most effective in supporting women. Women need the language to communicate their skills and abilities.

They also need encouragement to pursue their work dreams and goals while also pursuing their personal and family goals.” - Trish McFarlane, CEO and Principal Analyst at H3 HR Advisors

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DeeAnna Warrington, HR Technology and Services Principal Analyst at NelsonHall

“I focus a lot of support on women who are just starting out in their careers because oftentimes the biggest hurdle is taking those initial steps.

I direct them toward and amplify the voices of women in their chosen field so that they can find inspiration in strong female leaders. That’s why representation is so important. We need to be able to see ourselves reflected in leadership roles in professional environments and beyond. I mentor young women in pursuing educational advancement while strongly advocating for pay and promotion equality in the workplace, along with comprehensive work/life balance policies.” - DeeAnna Warrington, HR Technology and Services Principal Analyst at NelsonHall 

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Mollie Lombardi, Chief Research Officer at Aspect 43

“Early in my career, and even today, I have been lucky to work for a lot of great women who put me in positions to succeed by offering me advice or giving me a shot, or just offering a hand up when I fell down - because we all fall down.

I try to repay that by doing the same for clients and colleagues. Always try to help people shine, and never feel threatened by their brilliance.” - Mollie Lombardi, Chief Research Officer at Aspect 43

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“It’s important for me to make sure that I am not only supporting my women colleagues but pushing them outside of their comfort zone.

Young women often have a tendency to step back and I want to make sure that I am encouraging them to step forward and take up more space.” - Evelyn McMullen, Research Manager at Nucleus Research 

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“I encourage active and continuous networking. I employ my network often in the service of others and recommend they do the same and pay it forward.

Career speed bumps happen, and it’s important to know what motivates you and how to redirect your stamina to learn something from your challenge and keep going, even if the direction has changed.” - Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer at isolved

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“It is so important to me to be able to inspire women and share with them wins and losses along the way during my career. But the best way I have been able to support women is by speaking to them, getting to know them, listening to their experiences and stories, and being there for them.

The stats of women in leadership today can be discouraging. Over half of the United States is female, with women earning 57 percent of undergraduate degrees and 59 percent of all master's degrees, and yet women hold less than half of the leadership positions in the United States. And, among the world's largest 500 companies, only 10.9 percent of senior executives are women. But that just means we should feel more encouraged to make a difference and change the stats. How do we do that? 

Women coming together, learning from each other and helping each other through the journey. I also think it starts early. I have met with high school girls over pursuing their goals and one common denominator they ask me, ‘So if I want to be a mom, can I also have a big career?’ I always say YES you can, you will find obstacles but yes you can. Here are some non-discouraging stats: According to a report by Morgan Stanley, companies that score better in gender diversity score better in profit. Organizations with more gender diversity have more productivity. The role that we play as women in the workforce is critical to the future. I am thankful to work for a company that lets me be me and bring my whole self to work. I can speak to women often, encourage them and not only that, I have several women within our company that I reach out to for advice and share experiences too.” - Lina Tonk, Senior Vice President of Marketing at isolved

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“I am the co-leader of the Professional Women Inspiring Results (PWIR) group here at isolved, which aims to build confidence in the women of isolved to help them define their goals and achieve them!

I also mentor women throughout the company mostly outside of my organization (not in sales). I've helped multiple women navigate hard conversations that they've come out the other side even better than they were before and have elevated others to be mentors to give them the space to show leadership what they can do.” – Amanda Razzi, Vice President Direct Account Management at isolved

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“I work hard to ensure female teammates have the experiences and the resources to learn what they need most. I push myself to speak up in meetings — and encourage other women to do the same.

Finally, I am consistently looking for opportunities to celebrate women’s accomplishments. Even if it's just an encouraging message, I know firsthand it can go a long way.” - Kelli Rico, Vice President of Product Management at isolved

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“I have found that women either worry that they do not meet the qualifications of a leadership role or fear rejection.

I encourage them to apply for opportunities when they surface because it’s always a positive step forward even if they do not get awarded the role. It gives them exposure and lets the organization know that she has a desire to grow within the company. “ - Kerrin Jesson, Vice President PEO Enablement at isolved

Question 3: How have you helped break the bias during your career?

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Trish McFarlane, CEO and Principal Analyst at H3 HR Advisors

“I'd like to think I've improved in taking steps to break bias during my career. When I began working, women were not encouraged to speak up.

Instead, I tried to demonstrate a strong work ethic and build a reputation of trust and solid performance to show that women are capable. But after I worked for a few years and gained credibility, I began using my voice inside my organization to empower women. Working in professional services, I made sure to find ways to hire more women in leadership, increase female representation in our intern classes each year, and assess and correct any pay inequities I found. 

In the past 13 years, I found that creating a strong, growing social network is a way to use credibility to talk about and teach women how to get ahead in the workplace. I also teach male leaders the benefits of hiring and promoting smart, strong female leaders.” - Trish McFarlane, CEO and Principal Analyst at H3 HR Advisors 

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DeeAnna Warrington, HR Technology and Services Principal Analyst at NelsonHall

“Honestly, I break biases everyday by just showing up. The early years of my career were a study of assimilation.

As a Black woman in Corporate America, I felt like I needed to 'fit in' – lessen my accent, take up less space, be as agreeable as possible – in an effort to prove that I belonged, that I was deserving of the opportunity. As I grew, not just in my career, but also in confidence in my career, I realized that my presence and voice is not only important, but necessary. There is a significant lack of black women visible in the HR Technology and Analyst space, so I learned to break the bias by showing up – knowledgeable, accomplished and most importantly, unapologetic.” - DeeAnna Warrington, HR Technology and Services Principal Analyst at NelsonHall 

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Mollie Lombardi, Chief Research Officer at Aspect 43

“By being myself, and never assuming anything but the quality of my work would limit me.

This wasn't always true — I found the higher I got in organizations the less ‘adorable’ it was to be a smart girl and the more threatening to the status quo. But when I hit a ceiling at one place, I wasn't afraid to move, or start my own thing — often joining forces with other women.” - Mollie Lombardi, Chief Research Officer at Aspect 43

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“I think that just being present and visible in this industry is really important. By being a younger woman in a space that is dominated by older men, I am actively breaking biases and challenging assumptions every day.

Sometimes my imposter syndrome flares up but pushing through that has helped me to continue to advance my career.” - Evelyn McMullen, Research Manager at Nucleus Research 

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“I believe that ‘the proof is in the pudding’ when it comes to breaking the bias. If I want someone to see me for me, not as a woman or any other identifier, I need to put in the work and show my capabilities.

I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves and help out no matter where it is needed for the benefit of the company. I feel that has helped me to garner respect and be looked to for insight because my work ethic is seen through action. No matter who a person is they will face doubters and challenges, but the way they handle and work through it will always speak volumes over words.” - Jennifer Steimer, Senior Tax Consultant at Bene-Care

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“I’ve encountered more ageism than sexism throughout my career. Bias because I wasn’t viewed as old enough to have a role of authority or to know best practices.

To be counted on as a leadership authority or encouraged to provide input into strategy. Since I became an executive, I have been the only female in the room, regardless as to the type of company. I had a strong female chief human resources officer (CHRO) and chief operating officer (COO) early in my career that told me not to dwell on what I look like and instead base my own worth on my ability to deliver, be accountable and speak honestly, read your audience, and relate to others. She would say, ‘these are your superpowers, so use them ad nauseam.’ 

I’ve never thought of myself as being at a disadvantage because I’m a woman. But being aware that bias exists allows you to best assess your audience. As a result, I’ve tried to focus on the traits that make all of us different and unique and tried to focus on the power in that. I like to look for the similarities and connections that are not obvious. Find out what’s important to the other people in the room and deliver on those things. Enable their goals to be achieved and you will gain trust, alignment and eventually recognition. And I’ve found that to be wholly true. When I coach this now, it’s often an ‘aha’ moment. I think it breaks down barriers and gets us thinking about results and how people with different ideas bringing their authentic self to the table can help us achieve our own goals and the goals of the business more effectively and efficiently.” - Amy Mosher, Chief People Officer at isolved

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“Speaking up. It is not easy. It is uncomfortable but there’s so many ways to have the conversation. As a Latino, but also a woman, it is so important to me to speak up and generate bias awareness.

We may unconsciously or unknowingly attribute certain stereotypes and attitudes to specific groups of people. Gender bias is the most visible in a professional setting. Often times we leave it up to HR to fix it at a company. Although I believe the work they do is crucial and incredibly impactful to bias, as a woman, a manager or non-manager, being able to share stories in which we experienced bias is critical to awareness of bias. I love how the conversation sometimes can turn into cultural and experience sharing. In other words, being vulnerable to bias and being able to speak up has been crucial to my career. Always speak up with empathy.” - Lina Tonk, Senior Vice President of Marketing at isolved

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“I’m sure you’ve heard the statistic ‘Men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them.’ 

And with that knowledge I applied for the regional vice president (RVP) position even though it said 10 years minimum of leadership experience and I had zero. I applied and created every business plan you could think of as if I could actually get the job and IT WORKED. 

When the RVP position opened up there was no female leadership to look toward for help, so I went to my manager for some advice, and he encouraged me to apply. I turned the first meeting into an interview with Stu Story. After that meeting Stu became my mentor and still is today. You don’t have to find a female mentor just because you're a female. If women waited for that it would take us 15 times as long to make an impact and climb the ladder. I tell my directors, reps and everyone this: only ask people you respect and want to be like for advice. If a rep isn't hitting quota that's not someone you want to lean on. Be intentional about who you talk to and spend your time with. It matters.” - Amanda Razzi, Vice President Direct Account Management at isolved

Read our “Improve Inclusion through Employee Resource Groups” blog to discover how employee-led groups can support women as well as diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) initiatives within your organization.