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Women in Power

Reflections and real life advice from female leaders across our industry.

Lisa Gurwitch

Lisa Gurwitch

President and CEO
Delivering Good 

What was your dream job as a young girl? I have always loved languages and imagined being a translator at the United Nations.

What three events have helped shape your life?

  • My first international trip without family, which instilled in me confidence, resilience and the love of other cultures.
  • Every milestone event in my sons’ lives (birth, graduations, weddings, etc.).
  • Taking a ‘gap year’ ten years ago to travel, reflect and set the course for the next stage of my life journey.

How do you view women and leadership in the context of your position? Especially when leading a mission-driven organization, one brings the experience of being a daughter, a granddaughter, a mom, a sister, a BFF, to all you do. Compassion, empathy, teambuilding, collaborative efforts and consensus building are all traits I associate with women’s leadership. As I meet the women we serve, who may have experienced domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse, poverty and other challenging circumstances, I am reminded to bring these qualities to our interactions and our work.

How do you stay motivated? During the last five years at Delivering Good, I’ve traveled all over to better understand and address the needs of the people we serve. We can’t solve poverty, but we do have access to companies that can provide new clothes, books, shoes, sheets, towels and toys that will make a difference in people’s lives. On every visit, I feel compelled to do more.

Do you feel our society is improving the culture for working mothers? I have seen much more intentional mentoring of women by senior women than I experienced as a young lawyer.  Our board includes many stellar business leaders who are attuned to improving workplace culture and career opportunities for women and for men.  I hope young women don’t feel they need to hide a pregnancy or make up a story to cover attending a school function. Parenthood and career should both bring joy.

What traits does a great leader possess? An effective leader possesses the love of learning, the genuine interest in and commitment to others and the willingness to admit when they’re wrong.

What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders?  Given the number of years the next generation may be in the workplace, be open to new experiences! Staying on a linear career track is not the only successful career path; there are many.

Rita Polidori O’Brien

Rita Polidori O’Brien

Vice President of Marketing and Licensing
United Legwear & Apparel Co.

What was your dream job as a young girl? I wanted to be Nancy Drew. I read the books until I knew lines by heart. She was a good role model—courageous, independent, resourceful and smart, and she surrounded herself with people who wanted her to succeed.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities? Balance is essential in all aspects of life, and I find it’s only achievable when approached like a business plan.

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made? To honor my career as an integral part of who I am.
And the worst? I dreamed of living in Paris for a few years after college, but fear of the unknown held me back. Fear is awful. It prevents us from learning how strong we really are.

What’s an important discovery you’ve made in the past year? I’ve finally accepted women can have it all, but just not all at once.  Women have been sold a bill of goods that’s impossible to achieve. I can’t successfully split myself into three people—100 percent perfect employee, 100 percent mother and 100 percent wife—every minute of the day. I’ve finally realized I can balance all of my roles by prioritizing well and performing tasks to the best of my ability. Knowing I’m giving all I can is more than good enough—it’s great!

I don’t think I could have said that a year ago. With age comes wisdom…

Who inspires you? My mother. At age 13, she was taking shorthand notes in a law office, working in a department store and babysitting, all while going to high school. Her father passed away when she was 15, and she supported her mother afterward. She helped run my father’s business when I was growing up and ultimately managed the showroom of a global luxury womenswear label in her 50s and 60s. She’s never stopped working, and that has given me  my ‘hustle!’

What challenges will the next generation of women face? The same challenge women have faced since the industrial revolution, which is to reject a patriarchal sociopolitical and familial model. Women remain far from parity (earning potential, representation in government and the C-suite, etc.), so this is a struggle they will, unfortunately, still need to fight.

Lindsay Erickson

Lindsay Erickson

Executive Vice President and Design Director
Andy & Evan

What was your dream job as young a girl? First I wanted to be a gymnast, then an architect. But when I was in high school, I began making all kinds of fashions, from leopard pants for my willing friends to prom dresses. This became my favorite hobby, and I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer.

What three events shaped your life?   

  • Attending the Fashion Institute of Technology for design, which  allowed me the opportunity to meet interesting people and travel abroad for a year.
  • Leaving my job at a sleepwear/lingerie company to attempt my own custom-made business. I made a lot of mistakes but learned so much during that short-lived venture.
  • Meeting Evan Hakalir at a job fair while debating if I wanted to return to a regular design job. From a freelance design project to partnering in the company, my career took a new and exciting direction.

Who inspires you? I have always been inspired by the leading ladies in the books I’ve read (fiction and non-fiction), including I am Malala, The Joy Luck Club, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Lady Sings the Blues and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example.  Their struggles were beyond any I have encountered in my relatively charmed life. That perspective has always been helpful in stressful moments.

How do you stay motivated? Traveling and shopping the market help clear my mind for design.  As for the production end, I’ve always had a voice in the back of my mind saying, “If you don’t do this, it won’t get done.”  I cannot go to sleep knowing something is unfinished or undecided.

What will be the biggest challenge for future female leaders? I believe many individuals have the right intentions and commitment to an equal work environment with equal pay.  Regardless, gender pay gap inequalities still exist. The more women who break through those barriers and have a seat at the table, the more women will follow.

What advice do you have for girls aspiring to lead? There is room at the top for more than one woman. We must make sure we are supporting and promoting each other. I would also quote what my mother said to me my whole life: ‘Know your worth.’  You need to know you are in the right place and being offered the right support to thrive, whether at work or at home.    

Alexandra Gizela

Alexandra Gizela

Founder and Designer
Cabbages & Kings   

What was your dream job as a young girl? My mom actually just gave me an old diary she found from when I was seven. I listed ‘what I want to be when I’m older’ as ‘cash register girl,’ model and fashion designer. I can happily say I have checked off all three!

What does your morning typically involve? My day usually starts at 6:15 a.m. when my two-year-old decides it’s time to jump on Mommy’s face. Then, like dominos, the other three kiddies wake up. My first role of the day is usually a personal chef, serving up an array of diner-like requests (rarely am I able to make the same dish for all). I then become their dresser—not so much stylist with how picky they’ve become over time—but helping dress four little people always makes me happy. That usually transforms into me being their personal assistant, explaining any lingering homework questions or putting the finishing touches on a class project. At 9 a.m., I’m the chauffeur, shuttling them to school. Basically, I’m an octopus in the morning, with figurative tentacles going off in all directions!

Who inspires you? My mother.  She has always provoked me to have my own sense of style and individualism. She would ask what my favorite animal or object was at the time and proceed to embroider it on my jean pockets. She would always have fabric paints, markers, rhinestones and studs readily available to create magic on my sneakers or T-shirts. We would even go to the Fashion District and choose buttons and charms together. Her fashion sense has played an enormous role in my creativity and lust for uniqueness today. Some other notable women who have inspired me through the years are Iris Apfel’s passion for travel and worldly style, as well as Giovanna Engelbert, a modern day Audrey Hepburn for her style and grace.
What three events helped shape your life?

  • Traveling with my family. Being exposed to different cultures at such an early age definitely played a major part in who I am today!
  • Working from an early age as a model/actress and being exposed to an industry of creatives (stylists, photographers, makeup and hair artists, and pattern makers).
  • Giving birth to each of my children. It put everything into perspective for me in a way I would have never been able to understand before.

Do you feel society is improving the culture for working mothers? Yes—slowly, but surely. There are much-needed women support systems sprouting all over, such as Hey Mama, FFC and women work spaces like The Wing in New York.

What keeps you motivated? My kids! I have to constantly impress them and lead by example or all my validity is lost!

Samantha Morshed

Samantha Morshed

Founder
Pebblechild Bangladesh Ltd /Hathay Bunano PS

What was your dream job as a young girl? As a child, I wanted to be a textile designer. In many ways, I’ve gone in a circle. I graduated college with a degree in physics and became a computer programmer, worked in investment banking, started a non-profit and then found myself, out of necessity, designing toys. I smile when I think maybe I was always meant to be a designer.

How do you start your day? My day starts at 5:30 a.m. I  usually practice yoga for an hour, have breakfast and then practice the cello for an hour or so (which I started learning about three years ago). I take my little dog out for a walk, and we stop somewhere for a coffee. Because of the time difference, I don’t need to be working until around midday, and then I continue until quite late, but it means the morning is time for me.

What three events helped shape your life?

  • My eldest was born at only 1.6 kg and three weeks early. He had a long list of medical problems and went straight into an incubator. Until that point, I had assumed childbirth and pregnancy were straightfoward and had taken for granted nothing would go wrong.  Thankfully, we had fabulous care, and the story has a happy ending. But I was painfully aware that had I been a mother in Bangladesh, particularly in rural Bangladesh, it’s likely neither of us would have survived.
  • When my eldest was two years old, he was asked at school what his mummy and daddy do.  He replied his mummy stays at home, and his daddy plays tennis!  Clearly that wasn’t true, but I was really shaken by the way my two-year-old saw us. I wanted him to be proud of us. The following year we moved to Dhaka and started a non-profit.
  • The ISIS attack in Dhaka in 2016 was a wake up call for me. Only once we had fled to Bangkok and started to feel safe could I see the damage I created to myself both mentally and physically. Since then, I’ve tried to ensure better balance in my life.  Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see the wood for the trees.

What traits do great leaders possess?  A great leader inspires, and then steps back and watches everyone flourish. A great leader looks for no personal acclaim but celebrates the successes of everyone else. A great leader delegates, while still supporting from the sidelines.

Emma Aer

Emma Aer

Head of Cluster North America
Reima USA

What was your dream job as a young girl? I wanted to be a veterinarian. I love animals and thought it would be great to help them.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities? I accept that my life—at home and at work—is not perfect. I try to do the best I can on both fronts, but I remember not to sweat the small stuff. I was home for three and a half years raising my two younger boys, and to be honest, while I loved spending time with my kids, I really missed the buzz of work life. Returning to work, I missed many soccer and ice hockey games. I was not always home to read bedtime stories. It was hard, and I remember being very tired. Sure, I was not always the perfect mom, but I was always trying to be a role model to my kids. I believe you can have it all, just not at the same time. It is great to have a family, and it is very rewarding to have an interesting job. I am very fortunate and blessed to have both.

What traits does a great leader possess? A great leader is someone who is fair, authentic and able to see the forest for the trees. Being a good leader means being a visionary, yet keeping your feet on the ground.

What three events helped shape your life?

  • Being an exchange student year as a 16-17 year old in California with a lovely Canadian family. It was a big deal as a teenager to travel for a year to the other side of the world. It was a very different experience from my school back in Finland.
  • The gap year before I started in university. This is very common in Europe. I worked three shifts in a hospital in Finland, taking care of cancer patients. I also interned at Porsche in Salzburg, Austria, and I skied a ton. I visited a friend in New York City and sailed from the Virgin Islands to Bermuda. I had a blast, matured a lot and somewhere along the way, I decided to apply to study business.
  • The birth of my third son when living in Sweden. All of a sudden, we had three boys, and the children outnumbered the adults in our household. We were living as expats in Sweden.  I quickly learned life is chaotic, imperfect and happiness lies in accepting that fact and being merciful to yourself and to others.

Any advice for future female leaders? Push yourself out of your comfort zone to learn new things. If the less experienced young man thinks he can do the job, you can as well. Running a family is like running a company. There is nothing in the C-suite a woman can’t do.

Kim Perrin

Kim Perrin

Director of Sales, Creative and Marketing
Angel Dear 

What was your dream job as a young girl? A private investigator! I’m a kid of the ’70s and wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel.

Describe your typical day. I wake up at 5:30, have coffee, check emails and plan the rest of my day. I’m a list-maker and love a pretty notebook.  I usually hit the elliptical for one mile three or four times per week. I’ll be home from work by 6 p.m., followed by dinner and more emails. My goal is to be in bed by 9 p.m., with a good book or a little BBC procedural. I’m currently reading Washingon: A Life.

How did you balance being a mother and professional? My kids are older now, so it’s a little easier, but when they were young, they would go to Nanna’s every summer for six to eight weeks during my summer tradeshow season.

Who inspires you? My grandmother. She never worked in a traditional job but was always creating something. Whether she was gardening, sewing, canning or cooking, her hands never stopped moving. Thanks to her, I never ate an egg from the grocery store or purchased store-bought veggies until I went to college. She home-canned everything and kept chickens. So delish!

What are some traits of a great leader? Passion, optimism accountability and responsibility.

What will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women? The age-old question: motherhood or career.

Do you feel society is improving the culture for working mothers? I do. The Women’s March and Me Too movement have been so inspiring. I was able to attend the Women’s March in 2017, and it really was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. I set up for the Las Vegas Gift Show the night before, caught a flight on Friday to Washington D.C. and a flight back to Las Vegas on Saturday night after the march. I rocked the booth like a boss on Sunday, albeit a little bleary-eyed!

What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders? Be supportive of other women. Together we are unstoppable!

What’s the most important discovery you’ve made in the past year? That you need a team of amazing people to really make things happen. You cannot do it alone. Once you have the team, you are unstoppable.

Chewy Jang

Chewy Jang

President
Kid’s Dream

What was your dream job as a young girl? To have my own restaurant/bar with live jazz. I still plan to open one!

What three events helped shape your life?

  • I immigrated to America from South Korea with my family when I was five years old. The immigrant mindset has always stuck with me. I continue to strive for the American Dream, which changes and grows with time.
  • My dad passed away in 2017 of liver cancer. Kid’s Dream is his legacy, and I hope to continue growing the business for him and my family.
  • I’ve had the honor of serving on the board of ABA (Asian Business Association) and ACE NextGen for the past five years. These two organizations have made me a better leader. Your network is your net worth.

How do you view the concept of women and leadership in the context of your own career? Being in fashion, we are in an industry that is mostly dominated by woman with many female leaders and role models, such as Anna Wintour. Compared to almost all other industries, I believe gender plays less of a role in leadership than talent, passion and grit.

What’s the most important discovery you’ve made in the past year? Having a solid relationship with your suppliers and vendors is crucial. When cash is tight, they’re able to extend credit because of the relationship you have built over the years. Additionally, diversifying your customer base and suppliers is very important. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. With the current uncertainties with the coronavirus, people that only manufacture in China are scrambling to find alternative ways to produce their goods. We have trim and fabric orders that will be delayed, but we’re fortunate to manufacture here in America, so the production is still going strong.

Do you feel society is improving the culture for working mothers? Definitely. It’s the most obvious in the tech industry since it’s dominated by men, but big companies now have daycare and even pay to freeze eggs for career-focused women who want to work now but don’t want to jeopardize their chance of having babies in the future. I’m on the board of two business organizations that both have women’s initiatives. Our signature women’s entrepreneur event has 200+ attendees annually and is the most cherished event of the year.

What advice would you give the next generation? Collaborate more, and find ways to grow together. Find mentors who care about you and want you to succeed. Try to separate business with emotions, and don’t take rejection or difference in opinions too personally.

Lindsey Sims

Lindsey Sims

Director of Marketing
Kickee Pants

What was your dream job as a young girl? I wanted to be a teacher, and then a movie director.  It wasn’t until high school that I decided I wanted to work in the fashion industry.

How do you stay motivated?
It’s easy to get in a rut. I find sticking with a routine helps me. I need to eat healthy and stay active to feel motivated in other areas of my life. It’s hard to work out or plan nutritious meals when you’re tired, but the reward of feeling strong, accomplished and healthy outweighs the alternative.

Who inspires you? While I was in college, I worked in a magical children’s boutique in Los Angeles. The owner was a high-spirited and creative soul, offering stunning storefront windows, beautiful merchandising, cozy places for kids and a great shopping experience for her community. She really brought out the creativity in me.

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made? Breaking away from what was ‘normal’ growing up. I was raised in a small town in Wyoming. In high school, we had an entire club dedicated to ‘homemaking.’ I always felt I was cut out for more than what the least populated state had to offer. I followed everyone to the University of Wyoming, but after a year I transferred to FIDM in L.A.

What’s an important discovery you’ve made in the past year? It may sound simple but podcasts! I have a long commute and love music, but now I’m completely consumed by podcasts. I’ve found at least a dozen I listen to on a weekly basis. I have learned so much about business, marketing, leadership and life in general over the past year because of them.

Do you feel society is improving the culture for working mothers? Women are being heard, and that is the first step. In my 10 years with Kickee Pants, I’ve watched our female founder bounce a baby on her knee while designing our collections. I’ve seen women in our customer service department work a full day with their baby strapped to their chest. The company has supported multiple women in working remotely to raise their familes. We really are a family. Working and being a mother takes a ton of hard work and a lot of balance. It’s not easy, but when you have support it sure does make it more enjoyable.

What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders? Be yourself! If women focus on themselves by growing and learning every single day, building confidence and acknowledging their own values and beliefs, everything will fall into place. Women are powerful and can accomplish so many things, often all at the same time.

Julia Arledge

Julia Arledge

Owner 
ML Kids

What was your dream job as a young girl?  I’ve always wanted to be a designer. As a girl, I would dress up in my mother’s clothes and run around the house.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities? In the beginning, it was nothing but work. There wasn’t a balance. I had to source materials, make samples, find manufacturers, work shows, serve customers, you name it. Sleep was a luxury I couldn’t afford, let alone a personal life! But as the company grew, I started to to dial back my workload, which is when I met my husband!

Who inspires you? My parents. Being first-generation immigrants, I saw how hard they had to work to provide for me. When we first came to the United States, we did not have a lot of money or connections. Through their hard work, we were able to buy our first house, and Mom opened up her own needlepoint pillow business. I learned if you are willing to work for it, you can achieve anything.

Do you feel society is making efforts toward improving the culture for women and working mothers? Yes, I believe society as a whole is making improvements toward the female work environment, but it is also what you make of it. In today’s world, anything is possible. Owning my company has taught me to stand up for myself and what I believe in. If someone doesn’t have your best interest at heart, move on. You are your own advocate for success.

How do you view the concept of women and leadership in the context of your own career? Being a female business owner in today’s world is not easy. I have had setbacks because as a woman and young entrepreneur, I was perceived as inexperienced and weak. People will try to put you down and take advantage, especially in a industry as competitive as fashion.

What will be the biggest challenge for future female leaders? Finding your own voice. With society today, social medias, influencers, celebrities, etc., it is very important to stay true to yourself and not be a follower.

What advice would you give them? Have a tough skin. Understand business is business. Not everyone is going to agree and praise everything you do. You will have shade and criticism thrown your way but focus on you and your vision, and don’t stop until you reach it.

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