#SpeakHerMind: Elisa Steele on ‘Advocating for Yourself’


"If you sit back and don't have a voice, things don't usually fall in your lap,” Namely CEO Elisa Steele told a crowd at the company’s first #SpeakHerMind event. “I’m a big believer in people making things happen for themselves in their life.”

WomenIn, Namely’s gender equality employee resource group (ERG), launched the speaker series to encourage candid conversations on women’s issues in the workplace.

Steele kicked off the series with a topic that came up #1 in a survey with female employees: “Advocating for Yourself”. She shared stories and advice from her career and personal life on how you can rise in the workplace and take action to support others to enable others to do the same. In her own words, here are the top four takeaways Steele shared:


Advocating for Yourself

“I grew up with the philosophy ‘work hard, do the right thing, and the right things will happen.’ But that’s not really the way the world works. ‘Work hard, do the right thing, and make things happen’ is my version.

When I was 28 years old, there was a management job I set my sights on in a big company. It was a job I felt I wasn’t truly qualified for and the other three candidates were significantly more experienced and older. I didn’t think I had a shot in hell, but I went for it.

Even though I never thought I’d get the job, somehow I did. I found myself sitting in my first staff meeting with eight long-tenured men all 20 years my senior. The current results were 120 percent over budget and only 80 percent to quota, and I realized why I got the job! They needed someone different and someone to drive change. I was scared and nervous, but I said ‘let’s get down to business and get things done together.’ It was one of the best moments in my career because it was something I’d never done before, and I proved to myself that I could succeed.”


Advocating for Others

“I like to think about how we can individually improve diversity and empower others. At any position and at any level, you have the ability to be more inclusive every day. You can start by including your female and diverse colleagues more than you did last week. Asking yourself, ‘What can I do tomorrow morning to help others?’ Every single one of us can invite someone to coffee, we can include someone in a project or meeting where they can get more visibility and contributed in different ways. We’ll all start making a difference faster if we do more of these things for others.”


Building Confidence

“It’s really important to build a professional and personal support system. I always tell others to develop what I call a ‘Personal Board of Directors.’ A mentor is a great resource to have, but one person isn’t enough. Having diversity in the feedback, coaching, and input you receive is what helps you be well-rounded.

Who is on your personal board of directors? You might want someone you work with who knows your job function, but you might also want someone who knows you as an emotional person. For me, that person is my dad. He knows me inside and out, and I can talk to him about anything in my life. He’s going to give me different feedback than my mentor would. Having this diversity of thought in your life and in your support system helps build confidence and inspires you to just go for it.”


Finding Work-Life Balance

“When I first started doing press interviews in the business world, the first question journalists would typically ask me was ‘So Elisa, I hear you’re a mom and have two kids—how do you do it all?’ This question started getting under my skin. It made me realize I didn’t have balance in my life, and I started to feel like I was failing. I used to try to give pretty, pithy answers whenever this question came up, but one day I was so frustrated I just said, ‘There’s no such thing as work-life balance—it’s just life.’

I realized I didn’t need ‘balance’ in the way it was described. I needed to just live my life in the way I wanted. I love that I have multiple roles in my life—mom, CEO, mentor, board member—and I don’t want it any other ways. But some days you want to rip your hair out because it is so hard to juggle them all! Sometimes there’s going to be conflict, and sometimes I’m going to be tired, but I’m just going to compromise for the moment. Coming to that realization for myself made me feel like I wasn’t a failure anymore.” Prioritize for the moment. That works for me.


There’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Many companies think costly initiatives and hiring quotas will fix the diversity gap, but 
this approach is falling short. Do you have a diversity strategy in place for your organization? Download our “How to Craft a Diversity Strategy” webinar for tips on how to create a workplace that promotes acceptance, respect, and teamwork.

Topics: HR, Diversity & Inclusion, Work Life Balance

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