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Learning from Women Leaders

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Each year Women’s History Month reminds us of the advancement of women’s rights and the many contributions women make to our society.

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Each year Women’s History Month reminds us of the advancement of women’s rights and the many contributions women make to our society. After two decades working in the communications industry, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many talented, hardworking women who have led by example—many not even realizing their incredible impact on their colleagues, clients, companies, and communities.

Over the years, I’ve helped several female executives prepare to speak at industry events, with reporters, during stakeholder meetings and through other forums about important business announcements. Most have centered around new company initiatives, an innovative product series, their team’s specialized expertise or unique capabilities, industry changes, and—most inspiring—their own personal and professional success stories. 

Recently, a DKY client that supplies bearings and transmission components parts to manufacturers named its first female CEO in the organization’s history. It’s an exciting time for the growing industrial company that also launched a new master brand in late 2020. Our PR team shared both announcements with media and helped secured an interview and story with The Charlotte Observer for the CEO who talked about her role in a male-dominated field, navigating the business through the pandemic and her outlook for the future.

Collaborating with women leaders like this CEO has been a highlight throughout my career, so it was a pleasure to participate in the 2021 Bizwomen Mentoring Monday hosted by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. In partnership with 40 other regional Business Journals, the virtual event brought together 30 local women business leaders and hundreds of women from different industries and points in their careers for one goal: to learn from and support each other. 

Across the country, 10,300 women logged in to take part in the eighth annual Mentoring Monday event through their respective Business Journals. It kicked off with a few opening speakers and then moved into small group mentoring sessions led by leaders ranging from seasoned marketing executives to small business owners to veteran banking officers. 

The format worked seamlessly and below are takeaways from two of the sessions that I attended:

The first session was with Jill Renslow, executive vice president of business development and marketing for the Mall of America. She’s been in this highly visible marketing role for most of her career and she’s been navigating a very difficult environment for the retail industry, so I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to share.

She talked about the sudden changes that hit their industry and the major impact on MOA tenants, many who struggled to stay afloat during the shutdown. The focus for MOA during the first half of 2020 was preparing to reopen safely for workers and customers. Jill highlighted their need to be flexible and always – and now more than ever – create community and value for people. 

With MOA re-opened with restrictions, Jill and her team have helped reimagine the space to meet important community and societal needs. For example, MOA has opened a COVID-19 vaccination site for local residents and has enabled 17 minority-owned businesses continue their operations for free in a shared, available space in the mall. Jill says the pandemic has forced malls to take a step back and get creative about using retail space to best serve customers and the greater community.

Another session with Margaret Murphy, regional chief culture and credit officer at Old National Bank, was also insightful. Margaret has more than 30 years of finance experience and she’s been quoted by local business press on industry changes and trends.

Margaret led a discussion with our small group about the benefits of joining a corporate or nonprofit board of directors. She talked about many boards seeking specialized expertise or skillsets to help meet their organizational goals and make an impact. She mentioned for those who do give their time and serve on a board, they often gain more in return by learning, collaborating and networking with professionals outside of their own organization. 

As an example, Margaret reflected on one of her past board roles and noted how much she learned by observing a highly successful CEO run efficient and effective meetings. His leadership style and command of the room made a lasting impression on her.

Insights from Jill, Margaret and countless other female leaders over the years have been invaluable to me. I continue to learn from great leaders – women and men – each day. Stepping back to observe successful leaders in action and those who lift up others around them are your best guidebook. Take those observations and experiences and apply them to develop your own work style and approach to leadership.