How WomanUP panelists define success, handle double standards, and make change

June 12, 2020

Last month, we held our first ever WomanUP workshop via Zoom featuring Libby Kyles of the YWCA, Leah Wong Ashburn of Highland Brewing Company, Cristina Hall Ackley of Ginger’s Revenge, and Jennifer Pharr Davis of Blue Ridge Hiking Company. Today, we revisit some of the most inspiring words from that workshop, both from the panel discussion and from our attendees via the chat function.

On risks and struggles, and how they define you

Cristina: Leaning into risk has is scary, but can make such a difference to just do something, even if you do it scared. Over 10 years ago, I was a VP at a startup in Nashville. I had a great job working for two women that were awesome, but I felt called to do something different. So I quit my job and went backpacking for 3 months. Leaning into risk by taking that trip and making that decision was what ultimately led me to starting Ginger’s Revenge. I try to notice now when i’m fearful of something, and lean into it. Usually, it’s an indicator of something I should do.

Jennifer: When you think about the most memorable times from on the trail, you assume they will be the beautiful mountaintop moments, right? But so often it’s the struggle and what you get through that you remember. I think it’s the same business-wise. I’m really proud of keeping the company viable when I had kids and I was nursing. That was really difficult. I think that COVID has the potential to be another one of those defining moments long-term that we will be the most proud of.

On where to find support and inspiration to push forward

Libby: I’ve been inspired by lots of people, including my grandmother. She used to live at 13 velvet street, which is no longer a street in Asheville. As I was growing up, she always instilled in me that it was very important to come back to Asheville, and to remember the core people who poured into us, so that we can pour back into them one day in return. And then I have this 10 year old daughter I want to change the world for. She inspires me to break down barriers and push forward when others say you can’t. I’m very motivated to do things because I want her road to leadership to not be so rocky.

Susan S.I think it’s part of my personality to want to do things myself and my way. My significant others and my daughter support me in those efforts.

Christine P.: Working with Asheville’s local business owners inspires me. Their grit & will to succeed excites me, especially in times like this. I’m all in. 

On self-reinvention as a way to handle challenges

Libby: Some challenges are really internal. For example, as a black woman in leadership, I always am aware of the image of the angry black woman. I’m always working, no matter what arena I’m in, to dispel the stereotype of the angry black woman. That’s one of the things I had to get over for myself. The other is that when you are coming from a teacher background and going to a CEO of the YWCA, you have to dispel the ideas of who people think you are. People knew Libby Kyles the teacher, but not Libby Kyles, CEO of the YWCA. I had to reinvent myself so people would see me for who I was.

Cristina: Like Libby, a lot of it has been internal. As a business owner and as a leader, your strengths are amplified, but so are your weaknesses. It has affected me in my personal life as well as my professional life. One thing I continue to learn about is setting up appropriate boundaries. I’ve been in customer service for so long I have this incredibly accommodating personality, which doesn’t always work in professional settings or certain situations. So I’ve re-learned how to draw boundaries, how to protect my own energy, how to say no in a radically candid way that is also beneficial for the other person. It’s not something I have fully figured out, but it’s something I actively learn every day.

On double standards between men, white women, and women of color

Jennifer: I think of single moms who are entrepreneurs a lot. The system is not set up for women, and it’s hard. I think also, the double standard applies to trying to work as a mom and still be fully available and there for your kids. I travel for work a lot as a speaker, and I get all the time, “isn’t it hard? Don’t you feel guilty? What about your kids?” I have a brother who travels as much or more for work as  I do and he never gets asked those questions. I see a lot of double standards. The system is not set up well for women; we need to work together and support each other, and voice those frustrations. Things need to change.

Leah: Cristina and I are in a very male-dominated industry [of brewing].  I’ve been verbally “‘pat on the head” by men in the industry, and been seen as not the “true” leader of the company. But those folks are going to retire before I do, so I’ll outlast them. [laughs]

Amber M.: I’ve been literally pat on the head….it’s the worst.

Susan S.: I’ve been asked by men “who is the decision maker?” when inquiring about my business.

Libby:  Of course there is a double standard. Not just with women being relegated to the world as nurturers, but how much women are paid versus what men are paid. But there is a double standard in a different way. There is a double standard between white women and black women in leadership, too. Every turn, every corner, there is always some sneaky little thing that keeps us separated versus drawing us together. When you are a black woman in leadership, if you have a strong tone, you’re considered angry, or aggressive. But if you’re a white woman, then you are well-skilled or a good communicator. It’s really important to pay attention not just to the double standard between men and women, but the double standard between white women and women of color.

Yvette J.: This is very important, thank you for addressing this. We have to work to bring awareness to an everyday reality: double standards systemically and structurally for women and women of color.

On the language of leadership

Cristina: This was a difficult question for me to reflect on. It’s little things. It’s the language we use to describe women leaders. The tendency to use “bossy,” or the b-word versus the language used to talk about male leaders. I think a lot about what that means for kids, and how words matter when we encourage them. I have a friend who has a wonderful, vibrant, two year old. She’s constantly chasing her around, and she says, “I have to keep remind myself that I’m raising a future leader.” What can we do as a community to help young women and little girls embrace the parts of themselves that are leaders, and dispel some of those words like “angry” or “bossy” so that they can be vibrant leaders.

This was adapted and condensed from a live event. To watch the full recording, click here

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