Women’s Equality Day: A Celebration of Female Leadership

Over 100 years ago today, the 19th amendment to the constitution was certified, granting women the right to vote. Today we recognize this important milestone in history with Women’s Equality Day.

It’s not only the right to vote that we celebrate and remember each year—this day calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equity in the workplace and beyond. It’s a time to pause and think about how women have advocated for themselves to create a world that is more inclusive and representative.

We know there is no limit to what women can achieve professionally. And when organizations respect and honor the vast range of experiences and expertise that women bring to the table, teams flourish. Here at Delta Dental of Arizona we are fortunate to rely on the skills and knowledge of female leaders across our company.

There is still a lot of work to do in this space, but there have also been great strides made by women that continue to inspire future generations. This Women’s Equality Day we are excited to share the voices of our own female leaders as they talk about what this day means to them and why we must continue to push for equity across industries.

Jolean Fleck, VP of People and Organizational Development

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

I think about the responsibility we all have to create workplaces where someone’s gender in no way predicts their level of success.

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

I’ve been very fortunate to have leaders who allowed me to observe business situations play out before I was able to make much of a contribution. Think about how much more confident you feel about performing a task if you’ve watched someone else do it first. I never turned down an opportunity to get involved with projects outside my area of expertise. I’d make copies or coffee if it meant I could watch and learn.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

I had a wonderful grandmother who worked for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). She was a person who held everyone around her to a high standard. So, she was a great fit in quality control. She was probably the first person I noticed who connected her identity and personality to her work and she found a lot of personal satisfaction in her professional life.

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

Leadership can’t make high quality decisions without good information. And good information considers input from a variety of different perspectives. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that those who think differently or have a different background feel comfortable voicing their thoughts. Good leaders want the benefit of diverse experiences outside of their own.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

The three most useful pieces of advice that I’ve ever received are:

  1. Build a constituency
  2. Be a playmaker
  3. Leave everyone better than you found them

Lettie Lagunas, Workforce Management Supervisor

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

It means that everyone should have a chance, no matter where they come from.

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

Having the right leaders along the way who believed in my abilities.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

As a Latina, I would have to say Jennifer Lopez. She is, in my eyes, a down to earth, multi-talented person who has faced so many obstacles and is still on top of her game.

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

We need more women in leadership roles because they have a different set of skills that they can bring to the table. Women can bring cultural and structural differences to teams that drive effective outcomes.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

I would have to say, stick to it. Don’t give up and show your confidence. Shine bright light like the stars you are!

Kristi DeWitt-Quintero, Director of Small Business & Individual Sales

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

To me, this day is one of deep gratitude for the women who led the Women’s Suffrage movement and overcame all the adversity and negativity they encountered. Through their sacrifice, we got the right to vote in 1920. And this was just the tip of the iceberg. We still have a way to go toward equality, diversity, and the right to equal pay. By continuing to strive and make a difference, I believe we can make this a reality one day.

 As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

I think my varied professional background and high level of empathy have helped me the most. I work with my teams like I’d like to treated – with open and honest communication. I’ve learned how to both lead and to be led. Empathy and being able to put yourself in others’ shoes is essential. I’ve had poor leaders and I’ve had good ones, and I’ve used these experiences to build on positive habits and try to avoid negative pitfalls. I’ve always praised and mentored my teams, because without a team who feels supported and cherished, you’ll go nowhere fast.

 Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

My parents have truly inspired me throughout my career. My hope is that I’m a combination of their greatest qualities: creativity, innovation, kindness, and contribution. My father is a pilot, an inventor, and a goldminer. He even invented a machine that collects fine gold! My mother shines in a totally different way as an innovative leader in her industry.  Educated as a nurse, she served at a non-profit organization in the 1980’s as the first sex education teacher in Alaska. She created her job, built her own unique curriculum, and compiled all her own materials. I learned to be a self-starter and how to create my own future from both of my parents. 

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

I think that women may have a different perspective when it comes to various industries. I think in general that we tend to think 2, 3, 4+ steps ahead to see the ramifications of how decisions not only affect industry stakeholders, but what the ripple effect is on others. In my opinion, we’re agile and patient when it comes to complex problems, and we’re willing to collaborate to come up with solutions.  

Dr. Heather Schnieder, Dental Director

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

Women’s Equality Day is a reminder of unity. No matter your age, sex, race, or pronoun–I have always believed that we are all one and that there is great power in standing together as a beacon of light in the world. To me, this is a day in which we can look out at one another and appreciate the many ways in which we have all advanced together. And hold space, respect, and honor for our paths and all the beautiful things we have and have yet to experience.

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

Hands down, when I look at my career, I believe it has been my uninhibited, genuine, and warm inclusion of others that has helped me become successful as a leader. Being the place in which people experience belonging. Being the environment where people can feel safe to be vulnerable and lead with their heart. That’s where the best comes out in people…where they feel safe, seen, heard, and valued for their uniqueness.

 Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

Along my journey I have been inspired by a few people. One hero was my high school theater teacher, Mr. Siler. Working with him is where I was first exposed to the feeling of belonging and of being truly valued for who I naturally was. The impression he left on me was carried forward as I found myself desiring to encourage, uplift, empower and support others in the same way he did for me. It’s nice to be in the presence of someone who brings out the best in you by holding a mirror to your ability and capability and encouraging you to grab hold of your dreams to make them your reality. 

 Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

I feel that we need more women in leadership roles across industries because we are natural born nurturers and creators who lead strong teams and provide strong examples that benefit everybody. I feel though, that we simply need good people in leadership roles across industries. Natural born encouragers who seek joy and success in the collective joy and success of life around them.

 Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

There are no limits beyond those that you create for yourself. Be true to the call of your wild heart, investigate every interest and find yourself wildly fulfilled in doing so. Life should be created and enjoyed, so be sure to do ALL the things that make you feel expansive, free, and excited! We have just this one moment. No other moments are guaranteed. So, live right here and now and don’t get caught up in who you aren’t. Just be who you want to be right now.

Barbara Sanchez, Customer Service Supervisor

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

For myself, Women’s Equality Day means that we are all striving for equal representation and opportunity regardless of our gender. Women have had to fight to get to where we are at now, and we have come a long way, but we still have a way to go. Having a day dedicated to the equality of women shows that there was a time that women didn’t have as many equal rights as we do today, and it shows how far we have all come.

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

What allows me to be a successful leader is having compassion for my teammates. I strive to have a high level of integrity in my personal everyday life and in my work life as well. Having integrity allows me to become a better person each day, which also gives me some of the tools necessary to be a better leader for my team. By having empathy, it shows my team that I understand, and I want to be here for them every step of the way. I want them to know I am always here for them during their moments of need. I strive to have mutual respect and understanding between myself and my team and by doing so it allows me to become a better leader each day.

 Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

Someone who inspires me is my daughter. Through many trials and obstacles, she has never given up. Because of my daughter I always want to be a better person, and to never say “I can’t.”

 Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

It’s important for women to have leadership roles because women need equal representation. As a woman, I want to have equal rights in the workforce. It shows that no matter what gender a person identifies as, they are all treated the same. And it gives equal opportunity for all not just some.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

A few words of advice I have for women, whether they are just starting in their careers or are well established is to keep going. Even when you may feel like you can’t do it, just know you are amazing, and you can! 

Jeanette Watte, Customer Service Director

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

When I was transitioning from school to the workforce, it was a period in time when women’s liberation was hot and heavy. I saw some older women working in positions like phone operators, but my friends were climbing telephone poles for the telephone company instead. In the late 1970’s I would say it meant I could do whatever a man could do. I soon realized, this wasn’t the case yet and I had to slow my roll. Now, I can say it means opportunity.

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

Having a passion for people and the enjoyment of connecting with them and a genuine desire to see them succeed both professionally and personally.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

I know this sounds so cliché, but my mother inspired me. She was the best stay-at-home mother a girl could ask for. I never saw her as less than my dad. She managed the money and the household. My uncle used to say she wore the pants in the family. She is the one who taught me the foundation of what I needed so I could be the leader I am today.

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

I think it is important to not only have more women in leadership, but more diversity in general.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

Do what you’re passionate about and recognize and use the gifts you’ve been given to the fullest. Don’t forget it’s not all about work!

Leslie Hess, General Counsel, Chief Compliance & Risk Management Officer

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

I think it is a wonderful time to acknowledge the heroic women who risked their lives and families and fought so hard for women to have the right to vote. I think it’s truly a day to reflect with sincere awe and appreciation of those suffragists whose passion motivated them to fight to change all the lives of the women who came after them. I thank them for their strength, resolve, and unrelenting determination in fighting for all of us. 

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

Compassion. I learned early to be a caretaker and nurturer, sensitive to the needs of the people around me – watching and learning from the other women in my life. Seeing my employees as fully functioning adults who have complex lives outside of work has allowed me to acknowledge and appreciate the multitude of their life experiences and allowed for me to have a broader view their strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and talents in ways that even they may not recognize.     

Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

My first female boss was at Merrill Lynch back in 1989.  She was an extraordinary person and a true role model and mentor. I watched and mirrored her interactions with her peers. With few exceptions, my boss being one of them, Wall Street was dominated by men in leadership roles and women in support roles. Watching how she expressed her opinions in this male dominated setting and achieve the admiration and respect of everyone in the legal department and in the business units we served, was a true learning experience for me. She had a great sense of humor, tons of humility, and she knew how to use her personality and intelligence to influence decision making.       

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

It’s hard to answer this question without stereotyping women. Also, I think about the erosion of traditional gender roles as gender evolves into more of a continuum. That said, I believe that diversity is a strength in any workplace bringing different world views and approaches to the work environment, allowing for a fuller view of situations, problems, and issues. Having more women in leadership adds to that diversity of approach and view, which I believe is extremely valuable in any organization and industry. As the traditional gender roles start to move toward the middle and society becomes more accepting of “atypical” gender norms, I think it’s conceivable that diversity based on gender may be a less significant issue over time.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

Don’t be afraid to express your opinion at work. It is important to state your opinion and share your view even if it is different and even if you are the only woman in the room. I find that even if my view or opinion is not initially appreciated, it still resonates with the persons in the room, and I often find the group leaning back into it later.  

Danielle Saucier, Director of Compliance & Privacy Officer

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

Women’s Equality Day is a significant reminder that our fight for women’s rights continues and didn’t end with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Gender equality issues are still present and the work to raise awareness continues. On Women’s Equality Day we celebrate the efforts of all activists and these continued efforts. I also feel honored to share my birthday with such an important, historic event!

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

As I think about my career, I know that my successes were impacted by the mentorship of other strong women leaders. They helped shape me and have made me who I am today. 

 Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

One person that really inspired my journey was a former supervisor – the only female leader in an otherwise predominately male leadership team – working in a male prison! She was so strong, smart, and never backed down – she was fearless! She was an inspiration and really offered a completely different perspective on things.  

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

I think we need more women in leadership roles across various industries because women leaders provide the role model other women may need to advance their own career. Women leaders also bring unique and different perspectives and much-needed change to the table, which really benefits all.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

I would recommend someone just starting their career to seek out a mentor – meet with them as often as possible – ask for advice, share ideas and talk!  Also, on a personal note of advice – I have learned over time that learning from mistakes is more important than not making them.

Susana Lesmeister, Appeals and Grievance Supervisor 

What does Women’s Equality Day mean to you?

For me, Women’s Equality Day means that I have a say in how I want my community reflected in my vote and to pay homage to those women who were brave enough to fight for something they believed in. As a middle school student in the 1970’s, the Equal Rights Amendment movement was in full swing. Growing up in Southern Arizona, I don’t recall hearing or reading about woman’s suffrage, much less about the 19th Amendment in my US History class or if so, it was limited. I remember going to a salon with my mom and reading a magazine called ‘Ms’ that only had advertisements geared towards women. The articles inside provided more substance than how to make a better meatloaf –  they talked about how to get and maintain your own credit cards, bank accounts and how to find a job if you were recently divorced or widowed. Amazing!! That was over forty years ago and I still remember the magazine.  This August 26th, I will make a donation to an organization that not only benefits women, but those that are marginalized in our society.

As you think about your career, what do you think has helped you become a successful leader?

I think my success as a leader lies with the people who have learned from my experience, ideas, and knowledge and in turn share with me their experience, ideas, and knowledge. This sharing back and forth allows them to gain experience and confidence and to take what they know on to better opportunities. I’ve never been one to hold back what I’ve learned from someone who will benefit from it going forward. 

Tell us about someone who has inspired you along your journey.

I have been fortunate to have had a few mentors in my life and it is hard to choose just one. These mentors have been women who came from various points in their lives. They were fearless, self-starters, highly motivated and able to ask the hard questions and didn’t take “no” for an answer.  

Why do we need more women in leadership roles across industries?

There needs to be different opinions and abilities in all industries. There needs to be a balance in strengths in the workplace that eventually benefits all employees. Women are used to balancing several aspects of their lives on a daily basis. So it’s important to allow women a seat at the table to express their ideas and provide their opinions, whether it be as the head of a construction company, auto manufacturer, or Fortune 500 company.

Can you offer a final message of empowerment or word of advice for women just starting their careers?

Read something everyday.  Whether it is a short paragraph, short story, or novel. Read a technical manual and Google every word you don’t know the meaning of. I promise, one day you will be engaged in a conversation and will be able to contribute something to it!

 

 

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