299: Breaking Barriers to Help Women Climb The Corporate Ladder – with Gina Stracuzzi

Meet Gina

Gina is a leader in the women in sales movement. Gina’s career in sales started very early in life when she would pitch your parents on important issues like her version of how grandma’s vase ended up on the floor in a million pieces! She would routinely beat out her competition (aka her six siblings) for best storytelling in a dramatic role. Throughout her 20 plus years in sales and marketing in the US, Europe, and emerging economies, Gina has continued to employ those same storytelling skills in selling and other persuasive arguments.

So talking about women in general, what are some of the things that you think are holding back women from getting into leadership positions?

Well, it’s not for lack of trying and it’s not even for lack of perceived opportunities on the part of the companies. Many well-meaning corporations want to bring women up through leadership, and really give them opportunities. What they are kind of unaware of is that they’re still environmental issues and cultural issues within companies that don’t promote the same kind of allegiance to opportunities. For instance, there’s like this disconnect, companies will tell me that they want to elevate women into leadership, but the women just don’t speak up in meetings, they don’t share their ideas. So it’s hard to get sponsorship opportunities for them to give them big promotions and things. Whereas the women will tell you that they don’t feel heard or seen, or they try to speak up in meetings, and they try to share their ideas and they get blank stares and then Bob will say the same thing five minutes ago and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, way to go, Bob!” My apologies to all Bob’s listening, that’s just the name I use. It’s just these kinds of underlying cultural anomalies that happen, and they keep women from actually feeling like they are heard and seen. It’s really a problem because it stops them from asking for what they want, asking for the positions they want, or letting their employers know that they want those positions. Whereas a guy will say, “I am going after that VP role,” and he will make it known to everybody that he wants it. So that’s where the disconnect is. Companies feel like they’re giving opportunities to women, and they’re not taking them, but women don’t feel the same way. They don’t feel that they are given the same visibility and the same opportunities to share ideas and that’s really holding women back.

Let’s talk about actions that can be taken to help women in the workplace. How can women help themselves achieve their career goals?

Well, there’s a lot of things and this is where it sounds easy, right? So if you’re not getting hurt in meetings, just speak up more? Well, if you don’t perceive that there is support for your ideas, or if you have tried to speak up in meetings, and you’re shut down or ignored, or dismissed almost which I have heard from many women, then it’s harder to go ahead and just speak up. So that’s where mentors, coaches, sponsors come in and we can talk a little bit about the difference between mentors and sponsors. But where these things come in, because once you get someone who you can be as your sounding board, and you can talk through how you can handle this. Also, women can help women. If you see something happening in a meeting, if you see that Bob said something that Mary just said a few minutes ago, and Bob’s getting the attaboys say, “Wow, Bob, that was great and you know? Mary was just talking about that five minutes ago.” Have your sisters back! Do these things that really can help both you and her get heard better because it puts people on call that you were aware of what just happened, and you’re not going to just sit there. So that takes getting used to, it takes practice. It’s not something that comes all the time. But I would say one of the biggest ways that women can help themselves is to get a mentor and be honest about what it is you want to achieve, what your career goals are, where your aspirations lie. Do you want to go after a leadership position? And if so, how might you do it? How might you get around these things that you see as holding you back?

On the other hand, how can employers help women on their team?

That is one of the places that I try to coach employers on a little bit. Be aware of these things. It’s not enough to say that women aren’t speaking up, why aren’t these speaking up? What’s actually happening in those meetings? If you stop and look around, and really start to appreciate the dynamics that are happening, if women are getting elbowed out of the conversation, or one person is always dominating, you are the person to put a stop to that. That’s kind of a trickle-down thing, if you’re the CEO of a company, and you aren’t meeting your equity and inclusion goals, then you need to start having meetings with your managers and your directors and ask what’s going on? Why aren’t we recruiting more women? Why what’s happening in meetings? And if you’re the person running those meetings, make sure you give women not just a moment where you suddenly say, “Barb, what do you think?” Because if the environment has never really been supportive, or open, to just turn the spotlight might leave them frozen in their tracks. So I would say, think about what’s going on in your office in your meetings, and make sure that there is an open and inviting opportunity to speak, and that the follow on isn’t just kind of, “Are you done? Is that it? Okay? So Bob, what do you think about this?” That doesn’t do it, so really work on those things. Then one of the things that I preach all the time is to make sure that they have professional development opportunities because that is such a crucial piece of one; letting them know that you actually are behind their career development. It’s a vote of confidence, it will buy you some allegiance too and it will help strengthen your succession plan. So doing those few things, which is just a little bit of time and a little bit of investment can make a world of difference.

Can you share with my listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you’ve had?

I will say honestly and like everybody else I so miss being in person and it’s unfortunate that you are not in the DC area, but one of my favorite networking events is The Institute for Excellence in Sales. They have had and will have again monthly programs and the great thing is the networking is awesome. You meet other salespeople in this instance, but they’re from all kinds of companies, tech companies, government contracting companies and you meet really interesting people. Then you get treated to a phenomenal speaker who presents on the art and science of selling and I have met some of the most wonderful people through that program. Now, of course, we’re expanding who we network with because of COVID in this virtual world and it’s really opened up a lot of things. One; we are really leaning on platforms like LinkedIn and through LinkedIn, I have done some exceptional networking and I probably would not have given it that much time if we weren’t in this situation. I have found great organizations and networking opportunities in that way and I have people reaching out to me all the time too and there are just so many ways to network these days that are a heck of a lot less frightening than walking up to somebody at an in-person networking event which I know can be scary, especially when you’re new, straight out of college, or new to a new industry or something because you have to go up and make small talk and do all those things that maybe don’t come easily to you. So it’s a brave new world when it comes to networking if you haven’t tried it before, but it is such a crucial piece of your career growth and in sales. 

How do you best stay in front of and nurture your network?

This is an interesting question because content is king as they say and people put so much time and energy into their content now. I have to wonder sometimes if the return on investment is actually there in terms of how much time it takes. Now, if you have a whole team making content then it might be. I like to do a lot of commenting on what interests them. I will do content too but I feel, at least for myself that the thing that works best for me so I can stay in front of people that I want to do business with and that I admire is to really engage in a conversation over the content that matters to them. So I will put my own content out there but I make sure that their content is seen and heard and shared and liked so that we have an engaging conversation around things that really are of interest to them.

What advice would you offer that business professional who’s really looking to grow their network?

In this virtual time, I would see who’s doing business with the companies you want to do business with, and connect with them, and then connect with those companies and businesses. It’s a multi-step process and then look for associations and organizations that are in the field of business that you are selling to, and make sure you join them and get in those conversations. When we can do things back in person, go to those events, muster up the courage to speak to people. After you do it a few 100 times it’s easy. But really professional organizations, not just in your particular line of business, but in adjacent ones. Think a little broadly and then find those organizations and get involved and build your network with a wider base. Try not to be too narrow.

If you could go back to Your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?

It’s interesting that you asked that because, as you know, I run The Women in Sales Leadership Forum. I bring in all these amazing women to talk to all the amazing women that go through it and they talk about mentors and sponsors and programs. One, I think to myself that I wish there was more of this for women when I started my professional career, which there wasn’t. Two, I have always been a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, I get off on new and exciting, and I like to do things that are super challenging and I get bored kind of easily. It’s gotten a little better as I’ve gotten older, but I would get bored with the situation, or I would get frustrated for many of the reasons that we talked about earlier of how I was treated, or how all women were treated in a company and so I would leave, rather than figuring out a way to fight the fight. I realize now that there were some really great opportunities that I walked away from so that I would not walk away from those interests. If you have a job you love, but you’re not crazy about the company, find that mentor, and figure out if there are things that you could be doing differently, or how you can ask for what you need, what you want, and what you deserve instead of getting fed up and walking away. So that would be my advice and is the thing I wish I could change.

Any final word of advice for our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?

Really think about ways to help support other women. What can you be doing? What do they need? And make sure you never let something get said or done and wish you had said or done something about it because it’s those micro situations that kind of build and they take the wind out of people’s sails. So just make sure you have somebody back all the time, and then someone will have yours.


Connect with Gina:

Email: gstracuzzi@i4esbd.org 

Visit Gina’s Website: https://i4esbd.com/ 

Connect with Gina on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ginastracuzzi/