There is unconscious bias, and I have it too. When we first started our company, we had a great encourager who took us from bank to bank and couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t give us a loan. He was a middle-aged white man. We were women and a minority in our twenties. We didn’t “remind the loan officers or investors of themselves when they were young.” I also learned that I had unconscious bias that I had to address. Did I think that if you were from a small town and talked with a country accent you were unintelligent?
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina Radke. Gina is a successful business owner, entrepreneur, investor and economic influencer. Owner and CEO of an Aerospace Manufacturing company, Galley Support Innovations, Gina uses her international business experience to serve as an International Trade Advisor to the US Congress. Gina is a speaker and coach who has mentored entrepreneurs from across the globe and is well known for her involvement in community service, and empowering others with economic opportunities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Truthfully? I married a risk-taker! That coupled with the desire to own my own business. My husband and I decided we wanted to be in business for ourselves and after looking at several opportunities a relative told us that a family aerospace business was for sale. The business was struggling, and any seasoned entrepreneur would have run the other way. But we were just naïve enough to think we could make it work.
I made the decision to purchase the product line and assets of the business and my husband and I would start our own company to manufacture the products.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I had revolt happen on my production floor. We were in a huge growth stage and couldn’t hire people fast enough. We were offering our employees all the over time they wanted. I got a call one night from my production manager saying he didn’t know what to do, he had a mutiny on his hands. I made him repeat the sentence about 4 times because I could not grasp what he was saying. I returned to the facility to find out that he had hired his family and was demanding that they stay all night to work. His family had decided that they had worked enough and were going home. A huge family argument broke out. I went and defused the situation and explained that we couldn’t legally or morally take advantage of his family. After we took care of the situation at hand and sent everyone home for a good night’s sleep and a restful weekend, my cell phone rings again. An employee who was not related to the production manager had been working that night and when the family started arguing she went to work in the back of the facility. We had locked her in! She never came out while I was there and in the heat of the moment the production manager forgot she was there!
Another interesting story relates to being a woman in business. I had gone to finalize a contract at a customers facility and as I was leaving the grounds I met a man in the parking lot who explained that he was a quality inspector for the interior of the aircraft and that he had inspected my product many times. I offered him my card and told him that quality is our highest priority and if there was ever an issue feel free to take it straight to the top, being myself as the CEO. He called me the next day and asked me out on a date! I calmly stated that my husband and I would love to have dinner with him to discuss the quality of our parts, I told him I would transfer him to my assistant to set up a time. He hung up. A few days later I ran into a friend who happened to work with this gentleman and he relayed the story of how the gentleman had come into his office bragging about how the CEO of my company just gave him her phone number. The co-worker just let him shoot his shot, with out warning him that I was married and NOT giving him my card for personal reasons. He thought it was hilarious. Me? Not so much.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had to join a conference call with our salesperson and a customer from the car as I was driving back to my facility. I began to yell at a car that was veering into my lane, almost hitting me. I noticed the call went silent and then I heard my staff say. “Umm, Gina is on the road returning from a customer visit.” I had forgotten to put my phone on mute! I learned to always leave plenty of time for travel and always make sure you are on mute!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We care about people beyond the 40 hours they work for us. We know that what people ‘do’ is not who they ‘are’. We offer to pay for counseling services for our staff and their families.
We offer courses that not only help production at work but also in their home lives. After taking a management communication training, I decided it would be beneficial for everyone. So we mandated that the entire company take the course. A few months later one of our team members came to me in tears and said he believed the atmosphere we created at work and the communications training saved his marriage. He wife later sent me a note thanking me for playing a role in the man her husband had become. That was powerful.
We also go above and beyond for our customers. We know that if we can save our customers stress that flows down into their home lives as well. Because of the care we have for our employees they take the success of the company and products personally and are willing to go above and beyond when needed. We also have what I coined as the 6–8 rule. That means if things are crazy and people are having to work overtime, they must go home between 6–8 to have dinner with their family and put their kids to bed. They can come back to work if needed, but time with family is not optional.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Personally, I have written a book. More Than; How to be Bold and Balanced in Life and Business. After decades of being one of the few women in my industry I felt the need to write about the things that women encounter daily and offer tips on how to handle tough and uncomfortable situations. My hope is that when women read More Than they see they are not alone, but also, they walk away with actual solutions. More Than covers topics such as mansplaining, sexual harassment, the bitch label, being heard and the mythical work life balance to name a few.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think for the most part female leaders already have the listening and building a team part down. I would advise women to push past the comfortable and be a bold leader. Encourage your team to take risks with you. Remind them that there are no losses, only lessons. If you have always done right by them they will trust that you wouldn’t led them astray.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I strongly believe in the 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of your time with the top 20% of performers. And duplicate yourself. Teach others how to do the things you can do. This opens your time to be spent encouraging and directing rather than buried in tasks. Have those 20% percent leaders lead the rest.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been so many who have helped me along the way. The biggest being my husband. He is a huge ally to women. Once some of the bias of others were called to his attention, he began to point them out and make sure people saw what they were doing. There was also a gentleman named Rudy Ortiz that literally sat with me for hours to help me understand how to run my business better. Katherine Daniels has been my go-to for all thing public media. I have had many, many allies along the way. The one person I didn’t have was a female business mentor. With such a small percentage of C-level positions being held by women, we have a mentor shortfall.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I use my platform to bring attention to marginalized groups. Such as youth who have aged out of the foster care system, people with prior convictions and of course women in business. And daily in my work I point out the need for diversity, and to expose unconscious bias in the workplace and in life in general.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. It’s going to be hard and you’re going to want to quit. I had always just put my head down, worked hard and achieved success. In business, as an entrepreneur or a corporate leader that’s not good enough. There was a time when I thought I just wanted to go to work for someone else in a middle management job without the stress of leading a team and ultimately being responsible for the financial lively hood of my employees families. I had a resume printed and addressed in my desk, just waiting to be mailed to a large corporation. Eventually I tore it up.
2. Find a tribe. In my early career the majority of my friendships revolved around my children’s activities or community/church organizations. I didn’t have many female friends who had dealt with or were currently dealing with the types of career issues I was facing. It wasn’t until I joined a state chamber leadership program that I found a tribe of similarly minded women to vent to and bounce ideas off. Also known as a personal board of directors or a Brain trust!
3. Crying is ok. I know this one is hard to read. 99.9% of women feel like it sets us back 50 years when a woman cries in the workplace. But the truth is it happens. I used to hold all my emotions in, to the point where it caused tension headaches and ulcers. I believed that in order to be a successful corporate woman I had to show zero emotion. But that’s not humanly possible. I’ve seen men get mad and release a slew of curse words and throw laptops across the room, and the next day it was laughed off. If a woman were to cry or even release the same slew of cuss words, it could ruin her career and feed into the stereotype of “women are emotional.” Now instead of holding everything in, I take a moment, process my feelings and if needed, have a cry in the car or let out the slew of cuss words while no one is around.
4. There is unconscious bias, and I have it too. When we first started our company, we had a great encourager who took us from bank to bank and couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t give us a loan. He was a middle-aged white man. We were women and a minority in our twenties. We didn’t “remind the loan officers or investors of themselves when they were young.” I also learned that I had unconscious bias that I had to address. Did I think that if you were from a small town and talked with a country accent you were unintelligent?
5. All successful people have failed at something. Failure has never been an option for me. Which in turn meant that I didn’t attempt to do the impossible. I did what I knew I would succeed at. It wasn’t until I had a huge failure that I realized that failure wouldn’t kill me. As a matter of fact, failure made me better. If you fail enough, you lose the fear of failure. You decide that losses are really lessons. In my house we say, “we don’t lose, we win or learn.” Really embracing that statement and actually living it has brought me more freedom and success than I could have ever imagined.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would change the way schools are funded. Currently schools are funded based on real estate taxes paid to the county. That leads to schools in poor inner cities and rural areas having less funding. This makes it hard to find teachers. As the schools degrade less people move to that area, because people who can afford to have a choice of where they live move to where the good schools are. Which means even less real estate taxes, which leads to poorer schools. It’s a cycle that won’t be broken until we change the way schools are funded.
I would also change the government (‘welfare’) benefit cliff. Currently, people are punished for achieving more, so it makes it easier to stay on taxpayer paid benefits such as snap and government healthcare. We once gave a woman a promotion and a raise that would equal an additional $500 dollar monthly roughly. She had to turn it down because she would lose childcare, food stamps and government healthcare for her son. After the raise and loss of benefits she would lose $274 a month. That number has stuck with me. We need a tiered benefit program. We need to help people be successful and independent, instead of keeping them dependent upon a system that appears to want them to live in poverty. IF you make $200 more than you lose $100 in benefits. Not if you make $200 more you lose $200 or more in benefits, that’s not motivational.
Foster Care: 87% of children in foster care will grow up to go to prison. We need to stop the funnel from foster care to prison. Starting with the parents. More focus needs to be on parenting and financial classes and drug rehab rather than on removal and termination of parental rights. Of course, in cases of child abuse the children should be removed.
Plus we need to help these youth aging out of foster care. They are not prepared to be productive adults. They have become dependent on the system to take care of them. They don’t have parents to say “Don’t leave your window open! That causes the electric bill to go up!” They live in group homes where the bills are just paid. Much like rich kids they grow up with a sense of entitlement, because they don’t know that their actions have consequences.
I believe the federal government needs to allow mental health evaluation waivers for children who were placed in group homes or behavioral hospitals simply because they were in foster care. Currently if you spent time in a behavioral hospital you can’t join. Makes sense, unless you were there because there was not a foster home open to take you! Allowing a waiver to receive a mental health exam to determine if they are mentally fit to serve would open up huge opportunities for the youth as well as address both our military shortage and the foster care to prison funnel. I have been working with my Congressmen’s staff on this issue. (Background: I am an adoptive mother of two sons out of trauma. We adopted one child at three and the other after he had already aged out to the foster care system, so I have firsthand knowledge.)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“ We don’t lose. We win or learn.” This concept has made me look at failure as a lesson instead of a defeat.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
Barbara Ann Corcoran, I just love her! I love her story and how real she is. I follow her on instagram and her authenticity is endearing. I would just sit and listen to all her stories and advice!
— — — — —
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click here to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.