3 Female Executives on Setting Women up for Success at Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 24, 2021

Published March 12, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

International Women's Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. To celebrate, we interviewed three inspiring businesswomen to learn about their stories, successes, hardships and advice to other professionals. Keep reading to explore the importance of setting women up for success in the workplace.

Celebrate Women's History Month with us by visiting indeed.com/betterwork, where you'll find job search resources, tips and inspiration for working women.

Women in leadership roles today

A 2019 study by Korn Ferry looked at the top 1,000 U.S. companies and found that only 25% of C-Suite roles were held by women. Of this 25%, only 6% were chief executive officers (CEOs). Also, only one Fortune 500 company was led by a woman of color.

While we still have a long road of progress ahead, our three interviewees made it clear that women continue to make important strides in the workplace today. Read on to learn about the stories of Altrichia Cook, Robin Follman-Otta and Sharonda L. Britton including the steps they took to achieve success and roadblocks they conquered along the way.

Altrichia Cook

Altrichia Cook describes herself as a natural-born leader. From the start, she was an extroverted person. During high school, Cook was class president, a National Honor Society board member, a cheer captain and homecoming queen. Before graduation, she found out she was pregnant, but this news didn't stop her from achieving great things after high school. After graduating, Cook attended college to study social work while raising her son. After undergrad, she earned her master's degree.

After working in her field for a while, Cook made an unexpected career change in 2013. She started her brand after making her own custom high-waist swimsuit and sharing a picture of herself wearing it on social media. Her social media post received such a positive and strong response, she started her swimwear line, Allusions by A.Lekay Swimwear. Her brand reached great success with her designs featured in New York fashion week and on the cover of Cosmo and other fashion media outlets. Due to her passion for business, Cook was invited to the White House for its inaugural United State of Women Summit.

She currently leads mentorship programs and works with teen moms to help them achieve excellence. She also participates in many empowering speaking engagements such as the Essence Festival.

Robin Follman-Otta

Robin Follman-Otta is a CEO, world-renowned opera singer and keynote speaker. Ever since her grade school days, she has been a goal-oriented person. She grew up in a family of women who were talented singers and she began singing and performing at a young age. By the time she was 16, Follman-Otta had started her professional career of singing, graduated high school and began taking college courses. When she was 20, she moved to Japan to perform the leading role in a musical.

Follman-Otta returned to the United States to attend Indiana University where she found her niche in opera and graduated with a degree in psychology. From there, she pursued a career in opera, finding that her performances during this time period would be some of the most positive performing experiences she would ever have.

Later, Follman-Otta began working for her father's manufacturing company. She started at the bottom level of the company and worked her way up to the CEO position over 10 years. Throughout this time, she experienced many challenges with the company and used her problem-solving skills to find solutions. During her career, Follman-Otta has completed additional academic degrees, given back to her community and has given inspirational talks.

Sharonda L. Britton

Sharonda L. Britton has a strong background in marketing, public speaking and consultant work. Her mother, who Britton describes as a strong, powerful and entrepreneurial woman, played a major role in inspiring Britton to achieve great things. From an early age, she was exposed to meaningful experiences and opportunities that helped her become a well-developed person.

After high school, Britton went on to become a first-generation college graduate in her family. After earning a bachelor's degree, she continued her education to achieve an MBA. Britton has worked in high-level roles at Walmart, Mars Agency and HARMAN International. She is also a co-founder of The Elle Brand. Throughout her career, she has been able to tap into her passion for multicultural marketing, with a focus on Hispanic, African-American and Asian consumers.

Britton's hard work and dedication have led her to receive many awards and recognitions. Her most notable accolades include being named as one of Black Enterprise Magazine's Top Women in Marketing, Ad Age's Top 40 Under 40 and iMedia's annual list of the top 25 cutting-edge creatives, strategists, and technology innovators.

Going forward, Britton hopes to extend her personal brand through consulting work and continue to work on her marketing organization. As an executive, Britton wants to pay it forward by creating new opportunities for those who look up to her.

Related: Creating a Workplace Mentoring Program: Key Steps and Tips

On achieving your professional goals

Throughout their careers, these women experienced both successes and hardships. They use their experience and knowledge to educate, support and inspire others. During our interviews, they shared career advice including the best ways to realize your short- and long-term goals.

When Altrichia Cook talks about her life she says, “To me, it was just the things that transpired in my life, but to other people, it was an inspiring story.” She uses the lessons she learned throughout her career to share with the young women she supports through career and life coaching. One thing she tells young mothers is, “No matter what obstacles you are faced with, no matter what storms you may encounter, you have the power to press through it and obtain whatever goals you set out to do.” Though the women Cook coaches face obstacles, she believes their dreams are attainable with hard work and support from their community.

When asked about her best advice on achieving goals, Cook says, "Connect with people who can lift you higher, who can encourage you, who can give you new perspectives [and] who can push you forward."

As a woman in a male-centric field, Robin Follman-Otta had to work hard to prove herself as CEO. Throughout her career, she has worked to see herself as "a human who has something to offer and to say," and she encourages others to do the same.

She continues, "My biggest advice is to lead with kindness in your heart, understand the goals of the individuals who you're working with and use that to fuel yourself to reaching a mutual goal." Robin says when people support each other's success, we can all be successful. When working toward your goals, Follman-Otta explains, "If you're a hard worker, and you're driven, and you're goal-oriented and you're disciplined and dedicated, success will meet you."

When asked about her approach to reaching goals, Sharonda L. Britton offers this advice: "The best way to achieve your personal goals is by ensuring you are focused on others. My greatest personal accomplishments are directly correlated to my wanting to see someone else win. It always propels me to the next level of my career. We need more women leaning in on each other and supporting other women and ensuring it's not just a hashtag #WomenSupportingWomen."

Britton also offers career advice for other women of color: "As a woman of color seeking to grow my career as a marketing executive, I have learned a hard lesson: it's important to seek help from others instead of waiting for them to reach out to you. I now know, it's my responsibility to let them in [and] build trust by sharing my unique experiences as a woman of color. The more there is trust, which is built from getting to know you, the more their brand and career equity will be put on the line to position you higher and for unique opportunities."

Read more: Setting Goals To Improve Your Career

On setting women up for success in the workplace

According to the Pew Research Center, women make up over half of the college-educated labor force. As this number grows, it will become increasingly important to ensure women have both opportunities to succeed in their jobs, and the resources and support to meet the challenge. Doing so is not only good for the careers and morale of women professionals — but research shows it's also good for business.

Follman-Otta says, "The work I produce speaks for me as a human being, and when I am working with individuals, I try very hard to not take into consideration anything but that." Similarly, Cook says she believes that a person's place in life shouldn't determine their future. Instead, the young mothers she works with should "be able to prove themselves and have opportunities for greatness."

These opportunities can start in the workplace. When employers genuinely care about their employees, including women, everyone can succeed. Follman-Otta says, "The most important thing for me now is creating a work environment where people feel cared for." For her as a leader, she explains, "It's all about starting from a good place. If your intentions start in an altruistic manner, things will fall in place."

When leading women of color, Britton says, "Learn to trust our brilliance and celebrate our magic. We want to work hard and earn the respect that everyone else works and earns. Trust us to have the same level of brilliance and embody inclusion when working with us and alongside us." She continues, "I think the most important element of setting women up for success is that women can see the vision embedded within the organization. It is about creating a culture that values diversity and translates that into its leadership and inclusion."

Cook, Follman-Otta and Britton have each focused much of their careers around giving back to their communities and providing educational opportunities for young people and employees. When companies provide educational opportunities, they create a more equal workplace where everyone has a chance to expand their knowledge. Without the right tools, it's difficult to progress in your career, but by working towards equity with support and resources, people from all backgrounds can work toward their goals.

Related: The Definitive Guide To Mentorship

On mentorship vs. sponsorship

Cook, Follman-Otta and Britton also discussed the importance of both mentorship and sponsorship for women. A mentor is anyone you go to for support, insight or guidance. A sponsor is someone in a higher rank than you at work who has leadership capital and can vouch for you to help you get promoted. Britton explains: "Both of these relationships are important but serve different purposes at different points in your career."

Each woman has a lot of experience with both mentorship and sponsorship. Throughout their lives, each has been on both sides of these relationships, so they understand how important they are for people to achieve their professional goals.

In fact, Britton has served as a mentor to Cook. Britton says that during their relationship, "Our roles often switch as she has motivated me during some of my toughest times as an entrepreneur, and when I sometimes forget how far God has brought me and blessed me, she reminds me of all the blessings I have [and] to pass [them] on to others. Those reminders are important. She is the definition of #WomenSupportingWomen."

When finding a mentor or a sponsor, Cook said facilitating an authentic connection is one of the most important elements. She says, "People should think, 'I want a sponsorship, but I also want a relationship so that we can work together and reciprocate the work.' If you ask someone for their sponsorship, you should try to add value to the relationship as well." She adds, “Never underestimate what you can bring to the table when you're trying to explore a relationship with someone who you need.”

Both mentors and sponsors should be intentional about the role they are providing in someone's life. Follman-Otta explains: "You have to give with your heart, and your thought, and your spirit and your philosophy—not just your knowledge."

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