Patience. This is where I struggle the most in life. I am a very action-oriented, seize the day personality. I must realize that things take longer than I expected, and eventually, I will see the fruits of my labor, but I must be patient. Recently, I started to collaborate with another small business owner on some content marketing initiatives. I have known this individual for years, but only recently did we start working together. He had asked me to proofread some of his articles over the last couple of months, and when he decided to expand his company’s marketing, I was his first call. The relationship unfolded organically and developed over months of small conversations.
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 Diane Davidson.
Diane Davidson is the owner of Clever Fox Advisory, a financial consulting firm. After working at several prestigious consulting firms such as EY and Slalom, she started her own company. Her clients include top Fortune 500–1000 companies.
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”?
I grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Atlanta, GA. At the time, my town was tiny, and I remember getting excited when we got a Super Walmart. My parents were hard workers, my dad was a truck driver, and my mom was a school librarian. Money was always tight in my household growing up, and I have consistently worked since I was 15 years old. Many of my school classmates stayed in our town, but I always wanted to see the world. I had this desire to see different places and countries. After college, I was unsure of my next move, so I worked at some restaurants and nightclubs in Atlanta for a while
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
After working at the bars/clubs for a couple of years, I felt stagnant and watched the travel channel, particularly Anthony Bourdain, before my shifts. I decided that I would backpack around the world and visit foreign countries to gain perspective, hopefully. I planned a 2-month adventure that started in Europe, then Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Thailand, Taiwan and finally back to the states. This trip was a pivotal point because it fueled my desire to see the world. This trip inspired me to take classes to add a Finance minor on my bachelor’s degree and apply to consulting jobs. I was excited to see the world and travel every week.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of my clients (a global manufacturer based in the US) had recently acquired a Chinese company, and the deal was unsuccessful. After the agreement, the head corporation found fraudulent activity and outstanding loans in their accounting books. The US company was a public company and had to disclose the findings to the market, which impacted their stock prices. The company decided to send three consultants to Zhengzhou, China ( a couple hours outside of Beijing) to assess the company’s financial landscape. The city was very rural, and they closed one side of the street to dry corn in the afternoon. It was the first time; I had a translator accompany me on interviews. The accounting fraud led to significant job cuts at the senior level, so the employees were hesitant to speak with one man who ran away from me during our interview. Over the two weeks, the people became less fearful and realized that I could not impact their jobs. Toward the end of my stay, I had a bunch of candies on my desk from some of the employees one day. They had left them there as a welcoming gift.
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?
Resilience- When I left my last consulting firm to start my own company, many people told me I was making a mistake and would not be successful. I was surprised by how much adverse reaction I received when I told people I was starting my business. I continued to push forward, and when people questioned my decision, I reinstated that I was following my passion. I ignored the comments and followed my inner voice when making decisions. The pandemic started after I had completed my second year in business, and 2020 turned out to be my most profitable year yet.
Advocate-As a small business owner working with Fortune 500 companies, the balance of power is skewed in their favor. I had to get comfortable pitching my company to VP’s and Senior Directors at very influential companies. When people ask why I should pick you over an established company, I provide my credentials and personalized services. I had to get comfortable bragging about myself and being my cheerleader.
Highly-Organized-I have essentially two jobs currently: providing financial guidance to my clients, which has to be very precise and detail orientated. The second is running and scaling my business. Opportunities have short expiration dates, and I must jump on them immediately. Clients typically only seek out financial consulting services when there is already a problem. They are looking for immediate answers and assistance. If a potential client reaches out, I must be prepared to submit a proposal or plan of action in less than a week. I make sure to keep examples/frameworks ready to add specific client details when the time arises.
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 believe that strong women disrupt the traditional gender roles and characteristics. Men are viewed as breadwinners and providers, while women viewed as caretakers and emotional guardians. As women move into the breadwinner/provider spectrum, we ask men to switch their roles to caretakers/emotional guardians.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I recently started looking for a single-family home in downtown Chicago. At one of the showings, the onsite realtor asked if I wanted to come back with my husband so he could look at the space. I am unmarried and did not indicate that I have a husband. My response was that my husband was invisible and that he already previewed the house. He didn’t like the bathrooms. I was shocked that the realtor had assumed that a woman could not buy a home by herself.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
I would lean into the uncomfortableness. At first, I used to shrink myself to fit other people’s norms. I would not talk about my company or other successes. I realized I wasn’t celebrating my wins and being true to myself. When someone is uncomfortable, I lean in and continue my dialogue as if the uneasiness was not present.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
We need to normalize powerful women and celebrate their achievements. We should celebrate women purchasing homes and job promotions as much as we do weddings. I’d love to see job promotion showers and celebrations on buying a home solo. We also need to normalize men who take on traditional female gender roles, such as caretakers.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve the success that men don’t have to take. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
I had a client that once kept referring to me as an intern. I was two years into my career and was hired as a consultant. There were other male counterparts on my team, but she only referred to me as an intern. This behavior went on for months without anyone correcting her. I did not feel empowered to speak up initially and let this play out for too long. Finally, I did speak to her and let her know I was not an intern. She seemed unphased and continued to address me as the intern. I ended up switching off this account.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The biggest challenge I have felt is when I exhibit behavior that does not fit into the “traditional” view of women’s behavior. I have received feedback over the years that I am “too outspoken” or “aggressive”. I have never heard this feedback being provided to men. I work in a very male-dominated industry, and the only way my voice is heard is when I speak up.
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?
When I first started my career, I traveled 100% of the time (Monday-Thursday). I was very dedicated to my career and missed a lot of birthdays, weddings, and social outings to rise through the ranks at my job. Most of the men on my projects had stay-at-home spouses who helped with the domestic duties. I had a hard time balancing my 50+ hour work week and the day-to-day domestic responsibilities such as picking up dry cleaning and housekeeping.
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?
The tipping point came after completing a two-year engagement that involved a significant amount of international travel and working odd hours to coordinate with the client’s global resources. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I decided to quit the consulting firm that required extensive business travel and took a job that only had local clients. I also started to pick up hobbies that had nothing to do with work to have an outlet for my stress. I began sailing and began to race on Wednesdays.
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 view beauty as an extension of how I feel and my confidence. I emphasize my appearance because when I feel “put together,” I feel confident. I believe that beauty is an inherent value for a leader, but the concept/ideation of beauty is personal and differs among each person. For an important meeting or presentation, I will wear make-up and a dress because this outfit makes me feel powerful. On the weekends, I barely wear make-up since I am participating in outdoor activities.
How is this similar or different for men?
I feel that men do not emphasize beauty, but I imagine they also want to look good and feel confident.
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 Network of Champions. My greatest strength is that I am surrounded by other successful, powerful women who inspire me to achieve more. They are my confidants, my cheerleaders, and the people who call me out when I feel sorry for myself. Their success inspires me to push myself beyond my limitations.
- Self-promoting. I am the brand ambassador, marketing department, and business development representative for my company. I have had to get comfortable pitching my company and services/offerings to all types of people. I work in a very male-dominated industry, and I have had to make sure that I make sure my voice is heard.
- Self-awareness. I am consistently working on being more self-aware and how my actions impact others. This approach helps me objectively look at different areas of my life and evaluate where I need to improve. If someone is not receiving my intended message, it is my job to modify my tone/language so the audience gets my message as intended.
- Adaptability. The pandemic has highlighted the need for adaptability. As situations arise, it is easy to get stuck in the rut of how things were, but this will leave you behind. Before the pandemic, a lot of my clients were focused on growth initiatives. Businesses paused strategic initiatives in favor of cost savings projects. I had to pivot my service offerings to be more focused on process improvement and cost savings. I revised my website to showcase more cost savings programs. This pivot allowed me to continue business during these uncertain times.
- Patience. This is where I struggle the most in life. I am a very action-oriented, seize the day personality. I must realize that things take longer than I expected, and eventually, I will see the fruits of my labor, but I must be patient. Recently, I started to collaborate with another small business owner on some content marketing initiatives. I have known this individual for years, but only recently did we start working together. He had asked me to proofread some of his articles over the last couple of months, and when he decided to expand his company’s marketing, I was his first call. The relationship unfolded organically and developed over months of small conversations.
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.
Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx). I love her positive messages about being an entrepreneur and finding love at the age of 37. My favorite quote of hers is: Be the CEO your parents wanted you to marry.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.