Liz Valentine grew up watching her mother counter gender bias, and knew her career would lead her to making the world a better place. In 2006, after several years in the apparel world, she founded Swift — an agency that helps it partners create friendly work environments for women. Swift itself has a 65% female staff and family-friendly policies, including 16 weeks of paid leave for primary caregivers. Valentine considers creating such an inclusive environment — and chasing her dreams in a positive way — one of her greatest accomplishments.
Valentine makes time for fun, too. She says when she's not working, her phone is off and she's enjoying her time away — whether she's flipping houses or watching "Wonder" for the third time. We spoke to her about entrepreneurship, keeping the balance while you chase your ambitions and the women who inspire her to do it all.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Liz Valentine
Founder and CEO, Swift
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
I grew up in Philadelphia, where my mom, an incredibly determined doctor, overcame gender bias in her own career and fought hard for equal pay and equal respect. I took my upbringing and my mother’s influence to heart. In the early 2000s, I worked at a startup apparel brand and then worked in digital marketing at Nike, when digital was just emerging. I collaborated with some incredibly talented people and learned a ton, but I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I wanted to build a company that could be a true strategic partner to clients and create the work environment I wanted as a mom, a wife and a very ambitious professional woman. I co-founded Swift in 2006, and since then the agency has grown to 140 people — 65% of whom are women.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I realized how incredibly fortunate I was to have created my own path, and how many women could use a hand up in their careers. In April 2018, we launched "For the Women," a mentorship and accountability program that places women on the rise into small groups to help them workshop their challenges and make tangible progress toward their goals. Swift also implemented a progressive, family-friendly HR policy that includes 16 weeks of paid leave for primary caregivers and a 32-hour work week at full pay for the first 3 months back.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
Less than two years after starting Swift, the market tanked and the U.S. entered the worst economic recession since 1929. We weren't in a financial position to be flashy with budgets. We focused on value and ROI for our clients. We were very scrappy. These principles that formed the philosophy of our business. Our innovative work attracted big brands and, over the next seven years, our revenue doubled year-over-year and our client list kept growing.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
Kate Delhagen, founder of Oregon Sports Angels. When I was just starting out, I worked with her at Forrester Research on the east coast and then came to Portland to join her at Lucy Activewear. After she hired me, she asked why I didn’t negotiate my salary — that she expected me to counter. That was a powerful lesson that has stayed with me. Do the research to gauge market value and understand your unique worth.
What do you do when you're not working?
When I’m not working, I’m really not working. I'm not on my phone, not on my email, not available.
If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be?
Reese Witherspoon. She is doing such cool work with her production company Hello Sunshine, putting women over 40 at the heart of these great movies and TV series. She was tired of waiting for better scripts, so she took charge on the story side and is doing so much to change the perception of women through mass media. The way women are portrayed in pop culture is key to advancing equality.
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
"Love Shack" is my go to — as a duet, of course.
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
My new favorite is "Wonder." I’ve watched it three times and just loved it.
Lightning Round: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
For someone who has no time, I flip way too many houses.
What is the No. 1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
I love to help women see that they can advocate on their own behalf, without fear, and clearly articulate the value they bring to an organization.
Why do you love where you work?
Our main value is respect. Respect is everything. It’s core to how we operate with clients and one another — how we think about the consumer and our community.
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