Romy Newman
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President & Co-Founder of Fairygodboss

“You’re not here to take up space. You’re here to make a difference.” - Michelle Gadsden-Williams, quoting her father!

On April 13, 2021, thousands of Fairygodboss community members came together for the first ever Fairygodboss Inspiration Summit to acknowledge the feelings of burnout and exhaustion that many of us are experiencing, and provide each other with inspiration and support. 

The day-long event featured keynotes from accomplished thought leaders including Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Global Head of DE&I at BlackRock, Fran Katsoudas, Chief People, Purpose and Policy Officer at Cisco, Hannah Yang, Chief Growth Officer at The New York Times, and Tiffani Bova, Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. 

The day was full of honesty, wisdom and advice. Attendees laughed, cheered each other on, and were occasionally moved to tears. I found myself learning something new from every speaker and here are my top takeaways:

1. It’s OK not to be OK

So many of us have been taught that we can’t share vulnerability – especially at work. And yet, several speakers did just that: From Hannah Yang talking about how difficult it has been for her to manage her children’s homeschooling, to Retired General Patricia Frost of Seagate Technologies talking about her relationship challenges, these leaders set examples and reminded us that we no longer need to hide our personal problems. Collectively, we have all experienced trauma associated with 2020 and we owe it to ourselves and each other to be honest about how we’ve been impacted. 

2. Ask for Help!

Many of the speakers talked about how they nearly reached a breaking point before confessing to their managers that they needed accommodations or to step away from their work. The sessions gave us all permission to speak up early and often about how we’re struggling. Alison Hellmann from Spectrum told a heart-warming story about how her manager encouraged her to start coming to work late so she could take her kids to school. As Rachel Cheeks-Givan from Pfizer said, “It’s OK to be vulnerable….It’s not just OK to ask for Mental Health days – it’s the new norm.”

3. Prioritize Wellness

As Lindagrace De La Cruz from Salesforce reminded us, Zoom (and all video call) fatigue is real. It requires a higher cognitive load than human interaction and it severely limits our mobility. Add that to a year of trauma, strain and occasional boredom and it’s clear that the last twelve months have taken a toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing. More than ever, we need to prioritize our own wellness. Michelle Gadsden-Williams spoke openly about her ongoing battle with Lupus, and how it has forced her to slow down and pay attention to signals from her body. “Your career is only as great as you are healthy,” she told the audience. 

4. Extend Yourself 

A clear theme of the day was that when we help others, we help ourselves at the same time. Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta, asked, “How do we find strength to help others when our cup is empty?” to which Patricia Frost advised, ““Just pick up the phone and check on people.” Whether it’s participating in courageous conversations about race and allyship or simply stretching out our hands (virtually, of course) to check on each other, the very act will help replenish and energize us. As Ann Anaya of 3M said, “When your cup is empty, seek to help others. Because that will refill your cup.” 

5. The New Normal has New Rules

After a full year of remote work for most attendees, the Inspiration Summit underscored how the pandemic has made a strong case for remote work and flexibility that many of us have desired for years. Moving forward, we should capitalize on the moment and advocate for a schedule and arrangement that works best for us. Drawing on the famous adage from Rahm Emanuel, we should not let this crisis go to waste in the pursuit of a better workplace arrangement that supports the needs of American families.

In an impassioned plea, Hannah Yang shared that the pandemic has led her to reevaluate her past experiences and realize that we don’t need to adopt the qualities that we think are expected of us in the workplace. “Our institutions should be structured in a way that supports all types of leadership,” she said. When an Asian woman comes to me and asks, “How do I get to be where you are?” I used to say, “You need to learn how to speak really articulately in front of the senior management. I don’t say that anymore. I tell them to be who they are, do what they’re best at, and don’t spend too much time trying to impress people around you.” 

6. You Can Choose Your Job - And The Right Manager

Fran Katsoudas of Cisco shared wisdom reminding us that we have more control than we think over our situation. Speaking specifically to people who are looking for jobs right now, she advised individuals to “look for companies that are aligned to your values and beliefs...finding the manager that you want to grow from and learn from is incredibly important as well.” 

7. Choose Courage Over Comfort

Throughout the day, several speakers reminded us that in this moment of difficulty for many Americans, it is incumbent on us all to speak up for those whose voices are not being heard. Josh Stewart of PNC spoke candidly about the discomfort that some men face – even when they want to serve as allies to women in the workplace. “The core work of diversity is what brings us together,” he said. “Allyship is a core part of that equation and it can be uncomfortable, but it's about being a leader.” 

8. Make Your Ambition Known

Neveen Awad of Boston Consulting Group shared research that showed how women face a harder road to promotion than men do, especially in technology. One key action we can take to combat that discrepancy is to be more vocal about our ambitions. We must advocate for ourselves and be explicit about our hopes in order to achieve the next level. 

9. Emphasize Your Accomplishments

In conversation with two accomplished women technology leaders, Debika Bhattacharya of Verizon and Andrea Gallego of Boston Consulting Group, we discussed how we often undersell or underestimate our own skills. “Fake it till you make it, and you’re not even faking it because you probably do have the skillset. I was not a Chief Technology Officer [before now], and I have built a 200 person engineering team in less than five years,” remarked Andrea.  

Tiffani Bova of Salesforce talked about how she has invested in and developed a strong personal brand. “If I continue to stay very positive in what I’m putting out there and it’s helpful to people, I will continue to [grow my personal brand],” she told the audience. 

10. Be Deliberate – and Courageous – About Your Network 

Nearly every conversation within the day turned to the topic of mentorship and sponsorship. Frequently, participants commented that they had a hard time finding mentors. Many speakers reiterated how important it is to be deliberate about your network. Data from Boston Consulting Group showed that women were less likely to stay in touch with mentors after five years. Andrea Gallego implored women to be more assertive and aggressive in building sponsor relationships. “When you’re building relationships, let people know who you are and why you’re there.” 

It’s clear from the discussions that women crave more mentorship and sponsorship, as well as guidance on how to engage these relationships. And it’s our fervent hope that the day provided just that – as well as a good dose of inspiration to help us reset at this difficult moment when we need it most. 

You can find recordings from the day's sessions below or by following this link. You can view the transcript from the attendee chat here


Summit Opening

Georgene Huang, President and Co-founder, Fairygodboss & Romy Newman, President and Co-founder, Fairygodboss

Keynote: Finding Inspiration at Work with Michelle Gadsden-Williams

In conversation with Maggie McGrath, Editor, ForbesWomen

What I Learned About Career Advancement From Women at the Top (Presented by Boston Consulting Group)

Neveen Awad, Managing Director and Partner, Boston Consulting Group

Keynote: Navigating Your Career With Achievement & Balance with Hannah Yang

Interviewed by Keith McLeod, VP of Marketing Operations, The New York Times

Mentorship, Sponsorship and Navigating Your Career (Presented by Spectrum)

Moderated by Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Charter Communications

Jessica Fischer, Executive Vice President, Finance, Charter Communications

Elizabeth Biley Andrion, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, Charter Communications

Alison Hellman, Senior Vice President, Content, Strategy and Marketing, Spectrum Networks, Charter Communications

Transitioning into a Career You Love

Kimberly B. Cummings, Founder, Manifest Yourself

Reversing Burnout in Today’s All-Virtual Workplace (Presented by Salesforce)

Lindagrace De la Cruz, Director, Global Employer Brand and Customer Engagements, Salesforce

Creating Your "Perfect Work": How to Go From Bored, Burned Out & Unfulfilled to Highly Paid Doing Work You Love

Renessa Boley Layne, Founder, Perfect Work Academy

Parenting in a Pandemic: Escape the Room

Stephanie LeBlanc-Godfrey, Global Head of Inclusion for Women of Color, Google and Founder of Parenting Backwards

It Takes a Village: Growing Female Leaders in the Tech Industry

Roz Ho, VP and Global Head of Software, HP

Interviewed by Alison Vorsatz, Senior Enterprise Sales Director, Fairygodboss

Panel: Allyship and Advancing Diversity from Within

Ann Anaya, Chief Diversity Officer, 3M

Patricia Frost, Chief Human Resources Officer, Seagate Technology

Rachel Cheeks-Givan, Global Director Diversity & Inclusion, Pfizer

Moderated by Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact, Carta

Fireside Chat: Career Transitions (Presented by Boston Consulting Group)

Andrea Gallego, Managing Director and Partner, Boston Consulting Group

Debika Bhattacharya, Senior Vice President, 5G & Enterprise Solutions, Verizon Business, Verizon

Keynote: Building Your Personal Brand (Presented by Salesforce)

Tiffani Bova, Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce

Interviewed by Nicquel Terry Ellis, Senior Writer, Race & Equality, CNN

Engaging Men as Allies

Joshua Stewart, Senior Vice President, Director Talent Programs and Accessibility, PNC

Interviewed by Melina Owusu, Diversity Strategist, Fairygodboss

Closing Keynote: Plotting Your Career Journey (Presented by Cisco)

Francine Katsoudas, EVP and Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer, Cisco

Interviewed by Georgene Huang, President and Co-founder, Fairygodboss

Summit Closing Remarks

Georgene Huang, President and Co-founder, Fairygodboss & Romy Newman, President and Co-founder, Fairygodboss