Being empowered means having the freedom in life to make choices and be an advocate for yourself. As a leader, it means taking the initiative to create opportunities to drive change. Since 1981, the month of March has been celebrated to recognize the achievements women have made in a variety of fields. Women’s History Month encourages everyone to provide the recognition that all women have deserved throughout the ages—and still deserve today.
Despite 50.8% of the U.S. labor force being women in 2022, only 5.5% of CEOs among the 3,000 largest U.S. companies are women. According to a recent IBM study, only 1 in 4 business organizations stated that advancing women is a top 10 business priority.
As we strive to increase women leadership in our organization, Personify would like to feature four of our amazing women leaders: Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, Jessi Jones, Elaine Carfley, and Donna Horowitz on their perspectives about what it looks like to be a leader at Personify.
Meet our Leaders:
- Three-time Bahamian Olympian swimmer with a top 8 finish in 2012
- Former U.S. national record holder
- Three-time individual NCAA champion at Auburn University
- Auburn swimming team captain 2009-2012
- One of the leaders of the Erin Matson + PFY initiative
- First female professional ultimate frisbee player in 2015, playing in the American Ultimate Disc League
- Head Coach of Women’s Ultimate Frisbee at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for six years
- National “Coach of the Year” in 2018 and runner up in 2021
- Graduated from North Carolina State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering
- Assisted in developing Personify’s first Quality focused department by increasing skills base with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification
- Founding member of Personify’s RPO business since 2011
- Spent 12 years as a traveling management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers
- Earned an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with concentrations in Strategy & Leadership
- Currently develops strategy roadmaps across the value chain and manages her teams towards continuous improvements
- Seeks ways to inspire her 9-year-old daughter to be a leader for the next generation
- Joined Personify as Head of Quality and Innovation in 2018 after being a Personify customer for 10 years
- Leverages her experience with Six Sigma™ and lean management to ensure continuous improvement in service delivery
- Earned a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
- Served as the Director and Executive Committee member of YJ Global, an organization committed to youth education and leadership
We asked these four extraordinary ladies to share their perspectives on leadership by answering the following questions.
Could you share a time when you felt motivated to step up and become a leader?
AVW: I feel motivated to step up and become a leader when I have a teammate struggling with a particular problem that I have previously dealt with. First, I make myself available to them and walk through the problem/question. Then, I establish what can happen and how to deal with each issue so that the teammate feels empowered to move forward confidently.
JJ: One area at Personify that I felt motivated to step up was to help develop our internal committee program. I saw an opportunity in using the committee structure to build a leadership development program for committee leaders themselves. I created a proposal, pitched it to the senior leadership, and since then have been leading the committee’s program through an ever-changing business environment, constantly adjusting to the organization’s climate over the last few years.
EC: I feel motivated to step up and lead when I see people struggling or when they are missing an opportunity without realizing it. One instance occurred in my hometown. We identified that many teenagers didn’t have a safe, exciting, or relaxing environment to be with friends after school, which sometimes resulted in violence or crime. So I helped organize a committee, and we gathered funds, found a safe space, and built a free community teen center that offered a “cool” environment for all teens to hang out with friends, have fun, and stay out of trouble.
DH: I joined a youth group at age 10, and was elected club president. From that, I learned that I liked collaboratively leading groups. I had opportunities to continue to take leadership roles, mostly as a teacher, club leader, and camp counselor through high school. At the age of 19, I was asked to be Director of that same youth group for the state of Michigan—I believe I was the youngest Director ever and didn’t even have my BA yet! I still enjoy leading, especially when it’s collaborative, and I can help grow and develop those I am working with, as I did when I was a teacher and counselor.
What do you think are the most important qualities of leadership?
AVW: Having confidence under pressure, knowing that we as women belong, and never relenting to fear of being “too aggressive”. It is important to maintain a “servant leadership” mentality and guidance.
JJ: Trust you know what you’re talking about. When you have the knowledge and the experience to be an expert, then believe you are an expert and communicate confidently. When you don’t know or aren’t an expert, it’s also totally okay to admit that, defer to others that are experts, or go out and do the work to increase your knowledge base.
EC: As a woman, it’s important to show that great leadership is not defined by dictating power or forcing others to take action, but by positively influencing them through their desires to enact change. Leadership is servitude; it’s getting in the trenches and helping those around you to grow, improve, and be successful. It requires empathy, humility, and confidence mixed with emotional intelligence to know how to reach each person you serve individually. So many people define leadership as the power that requires forceful qualities, but we know through research and practice that this isn’t the case. Women need to step up and show the world that leadership requires a much more balanced approach and is achieved through trust and respect.
DH: I think unique challenges for women as leaders (when men are their bosses, peers, and/or direct reports) are to figure out how to fit in so that others are comfortable with them as leaders and how to be heard. The most successful women leaders I’ve seen are very good at this.
How has Personify helped you to lead?
AVW: Every day because of our culture, we work hand in hand, so whenever I see a teammate looking for assistance where I feel I can lead, I feel supported to step up and do that without stepping on anyone’s toes.
JJ: What has helped me to lead at Personify is that senior leadership often says “yes” to well-thought-out improvement proposals. When you’ve proven yourself that you are a committed, hard-working employee, and see an area of the business that can be improved, our leaders are very responsive to ideas that can help us continue to be innovative, high-performing, and industry-leading in RPO. The opportunities to take the lead are everywhere!
EC: Personify offers me the opportunity to lead across many facets of the organization. Here, I help empower professionals cross-functionally to achieve success and growth through an empathetic and humble approach. I set strategies but offer employees the opportunity to help define the detailed execution steps, so their ideas are heard and become part of the solution.
DH: Personify has helped me by giving me the opportunity to be involved in developing new leaders. Jessi Jones was a Business Systems Analyst when I first joined Personify. Together, we’ve been able to implement a full-fledged quality program for continuous improvement. In the process, Jessi got her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification and was promoted to ‘Lean Leader’ due to the great work she’s done and the leadership she has shown for the company.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
AVW: Be relentless, never give up in your pursuit of greatness, and don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do what you want to do!
JJ: Leadership happens at every level of every organization. Take the opportunities in front of you and put the work in to be the best in your role. Be the one others go to to ask for help and be open to helping them!
EC: Do not view leadership as a power that you take or deserve. Lead by example with empathy, courage, and commitment. Build emotional resilience and serve those you lead through a calm strength that guides them through challenge and change. Lastly, I advise women leaders to empower others through trust, respect, and integrity.
DH: Focus on your strengths while mitigating your weaknesses. Unlike when I first started in the corporate world, there are very few leadership positions (if any) that people believe women cannot or should not do on principle. Therefore, the thing that’s most likely to hold the next generation of women back from reaching their full leadership potential is themselves. There’s a temptation to focus on improving weaknesses, but it’s not always necessary. Instead, play on those strengths, be sure not to overuse them, and find ways to get around your weaknesses such as working with or hiring someone to do the things you aren’t as good at.
We are proud to have incredible women leaders who help lead Personify to success by embodying our core values (#howiPFY) and living out our EVP (#LockedArmsLongStrides).