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IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Debra Schwartzfarb

IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Debra Schwartzfarb

Brad Law IWD2021


Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you? 

It means that in situations where you know something needs to be said, even if you don’t feel personally confident, you must still stand up. Sometimes women will hesitate to challenge a situation if they don’t feel they have the support they would like. I have found that many situations will not change unless we stand up and challenge them, even if we feel we are out on a limb by ourselves. I also think it means to choose thoughtfully, not everything is “a thing”. People will respect and listen those who challenge the relevant and important issues. 

How can female leaders ensure they get a seat at the table? 

Creating a diverse internal network will help to get women a seat at the table. Great work and strong results alone may not be enough. Networking is critical and making that network broad and deep is the key. By forming genuine relationships across, up and down an organization you create a net of support that can hold up against various organizational circumstances. We tend to keep networks small and tight and then find a reorganization or resignation of a key supporter can weaken the network. Go out of your comfort zone of connection and it will reap rewards even beyond a seat at the table! 

What are you really, really good at? 

I believe I have strong emotional intelligence. I understand people and what motivates them. By listening carefully and being able to successfully “put myself in others’ shoes” I am able to form trusting relationships. That gives me credibility and allows me to influence and move things forward in my work. I also try to be aware of my own emotions and what my personal triggers are so that I won’t allow my own “stuff” to get in the way of what others need. I am not always perfect at it but I try very hard to see things from all points of view. 

What has held you back in your career to date and how did you come to overcome that barrier? 

I would say a lack of confidence and belief in myself has held me back. I was with my first company for 20 years and while I learned a lot and had many opportunities, I should have left earlier and expanded my experience. My fear of not being good enough outside of that company stopped me from taking a chance and moving on sooner. While I don’t have regrets I learned that you need to take a risk and trust yourself. Over time I have gotten more confident in myself and what I can offer. This last year has been a real test, as I have been looking for my next opportunity and am determined to find one that really suits my strengths rather than just taking a job. I am more confident that I have ever been but it’s taken time to get there. 

Why is it important that we “choose to challenge” and call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping? 

By keeping quiet and looking the other way we silently condone the behavior. Sometimes we forget that we are all leaders and role models to someone else. Our action or inaction speaks louder than any words will ever speak. I believe as women it is our obligation to other women to stand up and speak up when those things occur. When male colleagues see that we are not going to sit by quietly and allow it to go on, they will hopefully start to change those behaviors. Hopefully one day women will not have to challenge anymore, but until then we must use our voices!

Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.