A mentor- this has been invaluable to me as I navigate my career A support system-people who remind you of your goals, your strength, your values, etc. Stories of other powerful women-reading these inspirational narratives has encouraged me along the way Grit-you’ve got to get up each day because you believe in something, You need grit to keep going! Rest-this is integral to combating burnout and showing that a key aspect of strength is knowing when to take a break
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Amanda Speer.
Amanda Speer is a Senior Manager of Corporate Communications in the tech industry with over 10 years of digital marketing and communications experience. Focusing on helping brands craft actionable strategy and compelling results-driven messages, she writes about brand strategy at amandaspeer.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
My background is in graphic design. I pursued a Masters in Digital Communications from Johns Hopkins University. I got my start in the nonprofit world but quickly migrated and found the tech industry to be a better fit.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
After graduating with my Bachelor of Arts as a graphic designer, I moved home to NC and worked in nonprofit digital marketing. I then attended Johns Hopkins University and earned my Masters degree in Digital Communications.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the more interesting opportunities was a brand partnership I founded between a company I worked for in the wellness industry and wearable tech. We were able to measure employees mental health based on information provided before, during and after meditation sessions utilizing data from the wearable tech device.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Growth- staying humble and continuously seeking to learn and stay at the top of your game in your field
- Grit-In the face of blatant sexism, and disrespect, the fortitude to keep going
- Respect-both for myself and others as I work to change age-old beliefs of how women are thought of and should be treated in a male dominated industry
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
I work in the tech industry, a typically male dominated field. Undoubtedly, there are many powerful women who are competent and capable of doing the same job as their male counterpart, yet one gender still dominates the industry. For some reason, women’s expertise are dismissed or disregarded or are relegated to a certain “category” of the company.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I’ve heard the saying before “there’s no women in tech unless they’re hot, then they’re in marketing.” Ugh. From appearance and clothes I choose, to the words I say and even my pay, I feel like I’m constantly having to prove something.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
My choice in these types of moments is to remember you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I work hard to actively listen, repeat back what I’m hearing in conversation, or ask for clarification. Additionally, I have found that modeling calm and open body language is important when people feel uneasy around me.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
We must reframe the narrative. Language matters-women are smart, capable, competent, efficient, and as worthy of respect as their counterparts. Reframing the narrative and the words we use around powerful women, from “aggressive” to “assertive”, or “too much” to “competent”, would go along ways towards change society’s unease around powerful women. Choosing positive language changes the narrative from one of fear or overwhelm to respect and value.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
In the past while at work, I typically do not share that I am raising three kids. While I deeply value and prioritize my role as a mother of 3 elementary aged boys, speaking openly about my children in some environments has hurt me. Once, I interviewed for a marketing job that was seeking someone for a full time role. During the interview, one of the C-suite executives (a male), asked me if I could “handle the job while also having kids at home” and “who was watching my kids while I would be working”. I ended up not taking that role because of the blatant sexism I was subjected to during my interview. Since then, I’m grateful to have landed several opportunities and worked with leaders who understand that a mother who is working both inside and outside the home is an asset to the company, and we are capable of handing multiple roles and priorities.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The perception of women leaders in the workplace is a huge challenge. For example, being seen as aggressive, or “too much” simply for simply voicing a differing opinion is very frustrating. Having to check my language, tone and even body language e becomes exhausting. It’s another job on top of my full-time job. In my experience, when it comes to communication, male counterparts are automatically given respect and the benefit of the doubt whereas I have to work for it.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
The struggle was not fitting in my personal/family life into my business and career life, as both are a priority for me-moreso, it was society’s perception of how I was doing that. Like many, I struggled with meeting a fantastical “ideal image” of what a “working mother (I don’t like that term) should be: perfect dinners, perfect children, perfect resume, and no mistakes in your career. Basically, it’s often assumed a working mother should have every aspect of her life together, and to put it simply: I don’t. And that’s ok.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
I started running my own digital marketing firm when I was fired from another marketing job for becoming pregnant. Upon finding out I was pregnant, I had decided to continue working, and when I discussed a boundary of working from home one day per week to accommodate the upcoming arrival of my new baby, they said no and let me go. Females often have to prioritize work as if they have no other life outside of work. Unfortunately, the (male) founders of the company I originally worked at when becoming pregnant were unwilling to consider my request to pursue both my career and my home life.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I am constantly frustrated and uncomfortable by this question. As much as I do not want this to be the case, I know that to be a woman in leadership I have to present a certain air or quality and in this case that includes beauty. While I personally don’t place a high value on makeup or beauty in my personal life, I do make it a point to wear makeup and look office presentable on zoom calls. In a public context, it can be an asset.
How is this similar or different for men?
I can only speak to my industry and my experience as a female within the tech industry. But from what I have seen, female leadership in the tech industry still often dresses business casual while their male counterparts are wearing jeans and a hoodie. Women are unfortunately still having to prove their worth to the company, conveyed in part via their clothing choices. For men though, it seems their worth is inherent.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A mentor- this has been invaluable to me as I navigate my career
- A support system-people who remind you of your goals, your strength, your values, etc.
- Stories of other powerful women-reading these inspirational narratives has encouraged me along the way
- Grit-you’ve got to get up each day because you believe in something, You need grit to keep going!
- Rest-this is integral to combating burnout and showing that a key aspect of strength is knowing when to take a break
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d love to meet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Amanda Gorman.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. Thank you for the opportunity!