You need to be working on your inner personal growth as much as you’re working on your business or at your day job. People are so quick to go to how to succeed and reach my goals versus who do I need to BE to reach my goals.
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 Julie Ciardi.
Julie is a former Fortune 500 Marketing VP turned multi-passionate entrepreneur and certified results coach. She is on a mission to help women break the paradigm of “should” and pursue the life, dreams and purpose inside of themselves!
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 have a very typical story of being a type A, do good, kind of girl in my childhood. Go to school, don’t get in trouble, get great grades, play sports — be the best. I graduated high school at the top of my class, went on to college, got my masters degree, got a great job in a great company, and climbed the ladder. The same “should” story you will hear time and time again — hopefully not from my own kids! It wasn’t until I was in my 20s, coming out of the fog of “shoulds” that I started to question “what do I actually want?” This plagued me into my 30s and I finally decided as I entered my 40s to DO SOMETHING about it. And I am so grateful that I did!
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I had a 20+ year career as a Marketing VP at a Fortune 500 company working the daily 9am-5pm grind. About 5 years ago, I decided I wanted more and worked to build my first business, a brick and mortar boutique for women. I loved building my brand and launching my different businesses, and other women kept asking me how I did it. I started to see other women wanting help building the same thing for themselves. I leaned back into the gifts I developed in my corporate days — being a business leader and helping to lead people into building new businesses — and decided to help other women create bigger businesses. Since then this passion has grown to help women create any type of result in their life whether that be in business, health and wellness, or in their relationships, and live a life by design.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have always carved my own path, even in the structure of should, and I can so clearly remember a time I was sitting in a big corner office — it wasn’t mine — I was not yet an executive in the company, but I wanted to be. I am sitting in this office and it is all women — all senior to me in both age and rank — and the meeting is going WAY over. I was coach of my 4 year old son’s soccer team and the balls were in my trunk, parked outside the office, 45 mins away from home. I sat there and made a decision — I can leave and jeopardize my chances of becoming an executive, or I can make it in time to be the coach of these 4 year olds. I chose the latter. I left the meeting early and told them why. The most senior executive in the room (female) turned to my boss (female) and said “I thought you said Julie wanted to be an executive?” Funny thing is, that same senior executive gave me my first executive promotion. I CHOSE my priorities AND went up the corporate ladder. You can do both!
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?
I would say the first would be persistence. You can’t ever give up. Building a business does not happen overnight, and you don’t always get it right on the first try, but you have to keep going. It was a series of taking action consistently over time, and not giving up, that got me to this point. There are times in my journey after leaving corporate that my husband would ask me when I was going to be making the same money I was in my corporate job, but I was persistent and knew I had to keep pushing forward. Another characteristic is compassion. I truly care about my clients and prospective clients. If you’re not caring about your clients and their results, you won’t be successful in entrepreneurship. I would also say a key characteristic in being a successful entrepreneur is confidence. For a lot of people this is built over time by taking imperfect action over and over again.
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 a lot of this has to do with conditioning, unfortunately. For years it has been taught in society that women stay home and men go to work. There were responsibilities and roles assigned to each gender. Once those “habits” and that way of thinking is formed and planted, it is very hard to create a new belief system. The majority of the work I do with my existing clients is helping them to form new habits and beliefs, new paradigms, so that they can build from there to achieve the results they want. The quicksand of should is holding women, mothers, back from doing what they actually want to do.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
Having spent two decades in a fortune 500 company, I encountered this a lot. Both personally and in observing how other successful women were perceived and treated by others. Here is the core issue — it is not a strong woman that is uncomfortable to people, it is a strong woman being a WOMAN that is the issue. If a strong woman acts like a strong man, it is ok. If she acts masculine, wears the suit, doesn’t get emotional etc, then it is not uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable when a woman dresses like a woman, brings emotional intelligence into the mix, has a combination of masculine and feminine. In my experience THAT is the root cause of the discomfort.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
Similar to my response above, you LEAN into it vs trying to disprove it. It is also imperative that you build a self confidence that truly is not impacted by what others think, or what others expect from you, but rather you are focused on what YOU want, YOU showing up as the best version of yourself and taking the actions YOU believe are right.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
STOP TRYING TO BE A POWERFUL MAN. Embrace, own and redefine what a powerful woman actually is! I truly believe that if women can put their own oxygen mask on first, the ripple effect would be huge! My mission is to help women realize that if they can help themselves first, and change their own way of thinking to achieve the results they want in their lives, all of that growth will begin to affect their entire family. I see it in my own family and the families of my clients, and I can’t wait to help more women achieve this.
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?
I have not experienced this outside of our own expectations that we and society put on women vs men. Most of it is in our own minds. And some of it just is what it is. For example, I breastfed all my children. I travelled for this company during that time. I needed to figure out how to bring my pump, find time in the packed schedule to pump, store the milk somehow and get it home. No guy has ever had to worry about that while travelling for work. But in most other cases it is wrong thinking and “shoulds” that cause the discomfort.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
That they need to be more “men” like. No man is thinking he needs to be more “woman” like as a leader in business. We must STOP this. Couple the need to be more “man” like with the “shoulds” placed more on women regarding being a “good” mom and it can derail even the strongest female leader. We must rewrite this and it starts with us working on US and in the confidence of showing up the way we want to, not how we are supposed to.
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?
No — I made a decision early on that my family was always a priority. I said no to many things that my mentors told me could be career suicide. I chose not to believe that, and it proved not to be true. I also chose to leave the corporate world and create my own business for more freedom for my family and I. This is a decision. Anyone can decide this. It requires confidence, discipline and sticking to your decisions. Now that said, I also decided to let go of some of the “shoulds” at home! Getting help inside the home, not worrying if things didn’t always look perfect, letting go and finding more balance there as well.
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?
For me, this tipping point was when I decided to go all in on leaving my corporate role and make the leap to entrepreneurship. It was definitely not an easy road, but one that I knew deep down would be life-changing not only in terms of my own happiness, but also the happiness of my family. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was the only way I was going to eventually get the time and financial freedom that I wanted so that I could spend more time with my family and achieve all the goals I had set out for myself. It was in doing this that I found my true calling to help other women achieve that as well.
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?
My mentor, Bob Proctor, shares a lot that our outside appearance is a reflection of how we see ourselves on the inside, our self image. When we present ourselves in a certain way, I fully believe that it speaks to how we feel about ourselves on the inside. I think most leaders are inherently confident, quick decision makers, and passionate about what they do and who they serve. Therefore, for a lot of leaders, this shines through in their appearance and how they present themselves to the world. I love makeup, hair, all the things — I am not afraid to let my feminine shine through — beauty is so unique to everyone and EVERYONE has beauty they can choose to show or frankly, not show.
How is this similar or different for men?
Whether they realize it or not, I believe this is true for men as well as women. Both women and men in leadership roles possess a certain confidence, and take pride in their appearance. That said, there can be more pressure to “look a certain way” for women. This is super important from a self image standpoint that you embrace the way you choose to look and dress versus fight it. For example, I LOVE makeup. I have fun with it. I love wearing it. I do not see it as something I have to do and why don’t men have to do this etc. It is all about being in alignment to what you prefer.
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.)
- First, you need to be working on your inner personal growth as much as you’re working on your business or at your day job. People are so quick to go to how to succeed and reach my goals versus who do I need to BE to reach my goals.
- The second one would be having a mastermind community you can lean into for support. You cannot build a successful business, or work in an office setting without that core group to help you along the way. Your mastermind will most likely not be your friends and family as you want to surround yourself with other humans that are growing business or face similar situations as you. You absolutely have to have that support.
- The third is consistency. You must take action consistently over time. Since I work with other entrepreneurs, I see the biggest mistake they make is starting and stopping and starting and stopping. In this thriving online market that we’re in, those that don’t stay consistent will lose. Patience is massive.
- The fourth thing someone needs is patience. Everyone thinks that things happen faster than they will. Growing a business or moving up at work looks like a hockey stick. Most of the time you’re putting in a lot of work, but your growth still looks like a flat line. When you put in the time and have patience, you can hit that curve in the stick and shoot up. People stop before they hit that breakthrough.
- Lastly, you have to have a burning desire. Too many people get into a business that they don’t really have passion for. You have to have a burning desire in your heart for what you’re trying to create and for your clients, or for the company that you’re working at. If you don’t you won’t be able to stay persistent, consistent and hold on to that patience.
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.
100% Tom Brady. Not for the obvious reasons. I am a huge Patriots and TB 12 fan, but also not why. I love to learn from successful people that used persistence, desire, faith, visualization, and mastery to get where they are. I tell his story often to my female clients. I share his journey from being a nobody and 6th round, #199th draft pick to being one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. That he is never done in his learning and growth….he still works with a coach on his technique to release the football faster. There are no overnight successes, but there are overnight breakthroughs after years of persistence, desire, and vision. I would love to talk about that with him!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.