Courageous Conversations: A Conversation With Inspirational Client Leaders From Colgate, U.S. Navy and Wendy’s

Headshots of women on the Women in the Workplace panel

By Beth Wade, Global Chief Marketing Officer, VMLY&R

In honor of Women’s History Month, VMLY&R, in partnership with Luminary, hosted the Courageous Conversations: Creating Impact for Women in the Workplace panel for our clients and employees. 

WHM comes at a tipping point this year, with 5.2 million women having left the workforce due to the pandemic. The worst ripple effects have been felt by Black and Latinx women, and women in their early 20s.

We explored leadership, mentorship, and personal perseverance in a discussion with Maria Elisa Carvajal, vice president of global oral care at Colgate; Claudia AldayU.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr.; and Lindsay Radkoski, vice president of brand marketing at Wendy's. Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, moderated the conversation. While each of the journeys of these impressive women were quite different, they all showed determination, courage and humanity in their leadership.

Below are a few key takeaways from this powerful conversation:

Never Underestimate the Importance of Culture

Building a strong and consistent culture in your organization is important to driving commitment and enthusiasm for company values.

When Carvajal first joined Colgate, she didn’t realize the influence the strong culture would have on the longevity of her career. But she discovered Colgate brings to life its culture consistently throughout the world. From Hong Kong to Colombia to the United States, you felt like you were in the same place.  

 “We become almost like family,” Carvajal said. “You really feel embraced, and you feel that globality and teamwork all over the globe, no matter where you are.”

Harness the Power of Being the Only to Pave the Way Forward

The experience of being the “only” in a room can be a challenging one — whether it’s being the only woman, the only woman of color or the only one on an age spectrum. It takes bravery and confidence to keep pursuing goals, but it also provides the opportunity and potential to create change in the future. Be persistent in speaking up, be brave, and ensure you bring forward diversity in points of view.

“When you are the only, you have the chance to pave the way for others … to harness that ‘only’ and turn it into a positive,” Radkoski said.

Alday took on the challenge of being one of the few women in Naval aviation head on.

“As far back as I could remember, I was fascinated by flight.” Alday said. “I set these goals at such a young age, and I’ve actually accomplished what I set out to do. I’ve been determined; it hasn’t been easy. Competing with the boys in aviation was tough, but I was fearless, and I didn’t give up.”

Create Mentorship and Sponsorship in Unconventional Places

Mentorship is not dependent on finding someone who is more senior, but on peers who can give valuable, varied perspectives and guidance toward growth.

As leaders, it is important to find ways to advocate for underrepresented communities within our organizations.

“Remember that mentorship or sponsorship is really a relationship,” Radkoski said. “It’s not just about how they’ll help you, but how you can help them. It should be a value-added relationship in both ways.”

Seek Different Experiences and Take Risks to Broaden Skill Sets

A rewarding, successful career is often not linear. Saying “yes” to opportunities that may feel like a detour can be some of the most rewarding and important parts of growth. A willingness to take risks is key to becoming a leader.

Carvajal accepted postings in different parts of the world many times over the course of her career, taking on the risk of new roles, new teams and new international cultures. It didn’t always seem like a step up, but it’s given her the leadership abilities she has today.

Alday pursued a career in the military — joining ROTC, enlisting in the Navy and eventually becoming a Naval aviator. Her dream wasn’t a corporate boardroom — it was flying planes. Her path eventually led her to human resources, where she recruits and mentors other women following in her footsteps.

Whether you’re moving to a new city or joining a different department, not every career move has to be upward momentum. Being willing to take unconventional paths or try different experiences builds a wider skill set, broadens the work you can do with confidence and allows you to bring a unique viewpoint to leadership.

Exemplify Authenticity in Your Leadership Style

As leaders, it is important to find your authentic voice and leadership style. Often, women are encouraged to take on leadership characteristics that do not match their personality or management skills.

“I had coworkers who suggested I take a more aggressive tone,” Alday said. “I tried it, but it wasn’t my style. All of my employees respect me for who I am. My younger self second guessed how I should be a leader. But staying true to yourself and being honest, that’s the way to do it.”

We all have to embrace what about ourselves makes us leaders and what we uniquely bring to the table. Another tip for leaders?

“Give credit where credit is due,” Alday said. “It helps build trust and make employees feel valued.”

In closing, powerful characteristics of these great leaders included: determined, vulnerable, honest, attentive listeners, humble and authentic.

“My advice to women is to be yourself. It always works,” Carvajal said. “The more authentic you are, the more real you will be perceived. Find out what works for you, how you communicate and what thrills you.”