Jan 10, 2019

By Nicole Bitette
How to navigate professional challenges, according to industry leaders at the Girls’ Lounge during CES.

It’s time to tell that “‘b--ch inside your head’ to shut up,” said Shelley Zalis—quoting DDB CEO Wendy Clark—during one of the panels held at the Girls’ Lounge at CES on Wednesday. Zalis, founder of The Female Quotient, was making a point that to persevere professionally, you have to ignore the voice in your head that makes you question your worth.

Zalis, whose company is dedicated to empowering women in the workplace, was joined by executives from companies including Hulu, Spotify, Oath, and Viacom. They discussed with candor the difficulties of being a woman in male-dominated workplaces and shared suggestions on how to avoid career burnout.

Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand officer for WWE, said she often suffers from imposter syndrome, feeling like she doesn’t deserve to be recognized for her career and accomplishments.

Lauren Wesley Wilson, the founder and CEO of ColorComm, echoed McMahon’s sentiment.  She said never thought she would be creating a company, which is dedicated to advancing women of color in the workplace, and said it took a lot of help from mentors to get it off the ground.

Here’s what else the high-power female executives had to say about some of the biggest issues they face day-to-day in two panels at the lounge, titled “Strong Women: How to Rise Into Leadership in Male-Dominated Industries” and “Work, Life, Wellness: How Strong Women Avoid Burnout.”

On being a working mom and not feeling guilty:

Karen Philipps, EVP ad Solutions at Viacom: After I had my first [child], when I got up at 5 o’clock to get my train… my peers gave me those strange looks … So, I would give myself the pep-talk. We are the hardest critics of ourselves. Sometimes you have to keep the noise out.

McMahon: People are going to talk about you...you have to look inside yourself. Look yourself in the eyes and know that you’re a good person doing everything you possibly can (as a parent). I think what we need to do as people is invest in one another.

Elaine Paul, CFO at Hulu: I think it speaks to the importance of diversity at all levels. If you have a boss who has been a new mom, it will bring something to bring the table. You can re-write the rules of what performing is.

Zalis: I have a no regret policy. I learned that later in life. No one is going to remember I didn’t take maternity leave.

Dustee Tucker Jenkins, global head of communications at Spotify: (after sharing story of how her 1-year-old son split his lip open as she left for Spotify’s earnings in Sweden) I cried the whole way to the airport and I called my girlfriend and she said, ‘You know what, he’s never going to remember this…’ You might feel like the worst person in the world right now, but it’s OK. You have to give yourself a break, because we all make hard choices everyday.

On standing your ground against male coworkers:

Valerie Bischak, EVP ad solutions at Viacom: In a leadership role, there are points where it becomes more apparent what meetings and really important decisions are you not a part of. The only way to make that impact is to just ask. On a daily basis, if I think I belong in [a meeting], I’ll ask.

There are certain things that I think tactically you can do without changing who you are.

McMahon: I’ve been told I’ve emasculated men in the room before. I was just owning my opinion and fighting for it .. Know who you are and be yourself. Have your voice in that room, show up in that room, don’t let yourself be a wallflower. Be everything that you are.

Rachel Lynch, senior manager regional marketing manager at Braze: [I ask myself] what is it that breaks me? It’s not necessarily large things. It’s really the small things. I work really closely with our sales team; it’s a lot of white males. I’ll say something and the head of sales will repeat that. How do I work through that? I’m on a journey. It’s much more than those daily or weekly meetings. It’s about being able to communicate how I’m feeling.

On saying “no” to your boss:

Karen Schmidt, VP & head of B2B marketing at Oath: I may not  be able to go to a conference because I just can’t travel, but I can send someone on my team to represent me… and not only is that giving me the space that I need… but I’m also creating the access that one of my teammates may not have had otherwise on their own.

Philipps: You need to take a minute and prioritize how important that thing is to where you want to go to. [It’s] truly a marathon and not a sprint. Where you work and who you work for is really important. I set a good example for people on my team. There are young women on my team, who feel like they have to say ‘yes’ to everything.

Deidre Smalls-Landau, global chief cross-cultural officer at UM Worldwide: You can balance saying ‘no’ and saying ‘yes,’ but when you’re present, you’re present. I make a concerted effort in my everyday practice...There have been situations where I’ve said ‘no’ and felt good about it because I knew I wouldn’t show up 100%.

On fighting burnout:

Tucker Jenkins: I worked at my prior company for almost a decade and I loved it every day until I didn’t. I had done the things over and over again and it became so routine I lost the energy and enthusiasm. I had to have a really tough conversation with myself and [decide if] I was ready and willing to make a change.

Philipps: The aspect of team is so important. You cannot be a one-man army. For me, I feel like I have one of the best teams in the business. Surround yourself with people who you truly trust in a culture that supports that.

Smalls-Landau: Being introspective and recognizing what is self-induced for versus actual.

Schmidt: For me, I’m so fortunate to have leaders that pushed me... and having a team I know that I can count on. Looking holistically at your mental and physical health, your team and your work. Is it fulfilling?

Catherine Muldowney, VP of programmatic sales at Clear Channel: Being able to ask for help. Don’t be so hard on yourself. When you’re starting to burn out, this is a moment where you need to ask for yourself. Also, talking to your boss about it. Just because you’re asking for help or resources or you need to take a pause, does not mean you’re not good at your job, it just means you need help. It’s hard for everybody here to realize you need help.

On taking care of yourself:

Lynch: This year, I focused a lot on starting acupuncture and also meditation. The big thing I’m getting out of it is that every day, twice a day, I have to sit and stop to meditate. I’m creating a practice and checking in with myself and that has helped me.

Philipps: I personally just really like to sweat, I need to run or swim or whatever it may be and I like to do that in the morning. I started working out in the morning and it has become for me a ritual. I think about my list of things to do. It’s just my time.

Muldowney: I volunteer every Saturday with an organization called Minds Matter. You work with a child that’s from a low-income, high-achieving program for three years… and they you’re able to help them get into college. For me, that helps me feel like I’m cultivating another part of myself.

Tucker Jenkins: I have two little kids… between them and my husband, who is a partner at a law firm, it’s a little bit of constant chaos. I am ruthless about prioritization… If there are things that don’t add value to my family or my everyday life, I don’t do them.

Comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.