Propeller is proud to “walk the walk” when it comes to workplace gender diversity. With a workforce that is 54 percent female, Propeller also boasts the distinction of having a female co-founder, Amy Weeden. However, the issue of gender disparities is still a complex topic that may take generations to solve. To continue to put the spotlight on this important topic, as well as to create immediate opportunities for progress, Propeller alumni Kelly Kleespies, Amy Gee, and Casandra Jensen started Propel Her, a gender diversity initiative. The group recently hosted a public community panel in October featuring Portland female leaders sharing their unique journeys to success. Four main themes came out of the evening’s discussion: defining success, self-promotion, empowerment, and perspective.

The panel of leaders included:

Carolyn McKnight, co-founder of Impact Entrepreneurs and past Director of MBA programs at Portland State University, where she taught courses focusing on leadership and emotional intelligence for the last ten years

Heather McFarland, Former Agile Practice Director at Propeller and PDX community leader for Mercy Corps, where she has volunteered for the last ten years teaching business classes at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility

Amy McGinty, Vice President of Operations & Management Services for Avangrid Renewables, one of the largest owners and operators of wind farms and solar plants in the United States

Lori Delone, Chief Information Officer for Cambia Health Plans, a company dedicated to transforming health care by creating a person-focused and economically sustainable system

Panel Takeaways

Everyone — regardless of gender — wants to achieve success, and everyone has a different definition of what it means. The first step in achieving success is to understand exactly what it means for you. We asked our panelists their thoughts on what success means to them.

We all define professional success in different ways. How do you define professional success for yourself?

Amy McGinty: Success means “creating roles that are important to me and important to the company.”

Lori Delone: “Professional success changes a lot throughout your career. The greatest satisfaction is when you get a call and someone tells you how much you meant to them or how grateful they are that you helped propel them to another role.”

Carolyn McKnight: “Success means the social problem is addressed and the community is sustainable.”

For Amy McGinty, finding the greatest success means figuring out (1) what she is really good at, (2) what she enjoys doing, and then combining that with (3) a significant organizational need. The greatest success can be achieved when there is a mutual fit of all three. Every role that she has held, up until her most recent executive level appointment, was one that she had created for herself incorporating these three requirements. For Lori Delone, satisfaction has come from knowing she helped someone achieve career progression. For Carolyn McKnight, success means she is no longer needed.

When we hear others promoting themselves, we tend to tune them out. Self-promotion doesn’t feel comfortable and it can sometimes feel aggressive or pushy. Research on this topic indicates that women are especially hesitant to advocate for themselves. Though it may feel uncomfortable, it’s necessary to create visibility.

In an effort to assist women in progressing, programs are being designed to help women advance in leadership. Are there programs or advice you have for women to advance themselves?  

Amy McGinty: “No one’s great at talking about themselves, but you have to start small.” Start by sharing your successes and recent accomplishments with a trusted friend or colleague, and then with your manager and in team meetings, and grow from there.  It’s hard and feels uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier and feels more natural the more you do it.

Lori Delone: “Women don’t emphasize their strengths overtly. Empowering women to feel comfortable talking about what they do well is important. We need to intellectually change it in ourselves.”

Empowerment can be as straightforward as providing women with usable knowledge and practical skills to face challenges more courageously; the panelists empowered the attending audience with some inspiring and motivating words. It’s also important to have perspective. It reminds us what’s important and what’s not. It allows you to clearly see which problems are big and which are not. The final question we asked our panelists was for their perspective.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Heather McFarland: “Sometimes we wait for permission, and we shouldn’t.”

Carolyn McKnight: “Don’t give away your power and blame them for taking it. Stop the self-sabotage. Own it.”

Lori Delone: “Don’t think that you don’t have choices. It might feel uncomfortable, but consider: What’s the worst that could happen? Both times that I asked myself this question, [they] turned out to be the best decisions I made.”

Heather McFarland: “The worst thing you can imagine in business is not the worst thing in life. I needed to have an incredible collapse so I could realize where my strengths and weaknesses are. From that experience, I gained empathy. You can recover from anything.”

Amy McGinty: “Failure is one of the greatest lessons we can have in life. You’re going to get through this, and you’ll be better coming out of it.”

Lori Delone: “Pick your spouse wisely. Pick your managers wisely. It makes a big difference.”

Carolyn McKnight: “To my younger self, I would say, “lighten up!” I don’t care what you’re working on, it’s not the best or the last thing.”

A huge thank you to our panelists for sharing their invaluable insights with the Portland business community.

At Propeller, we encourage introspection. Learn what 10 pieces of career advice Propeller consultants would give to their younger selves.