Reflections from Women in Leadership
Regina Edwards, Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and the contributions women have made, I also reflect on the milestones women have made in business and the long-awaited recognition we are finally getting. It gives me joy and hope for a future where equity becomes commonplace. That said, we still have a long way to go, but progress is being made and I am a part of this evolution.
Finance is a career field unmistakably dominated by men. So from the start, I decided to focus on what I could control, and to block out all the things around me that said otherwise. I rolled up my sleeves, did the work and proved that I had what it took. Being confident in myself and not allowing stereotypes to prevail has helped me get to my current leadership role. Believing that performance matters, being present at all times and willing to go that extra mile has worked for me.
However, while I believe that my work ethic and determination have paid off, I’m not so naïve as to think that this is all it takes. Women are where we are today by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Those women faced insurmountable challenges, some of which remain in existence today–gender bias, stereotypes, equity, and diversity challenges to name a few.
When I arrived at Exponents 26 years ago, I came with intention. I wanted to put my stamp on what was a relatively small agency that outsourced its accounting function. I worked hard to build a full-fledged finance department staffed up to meet the rigorous demands of the non-profit industry. My reach has also increased to include Human Resources, IT and Fundraising. It’s been a ride and I’m not done yet.
What would I tell a young woman today about leadership? Don’t change who you are to fit a mold or try to please. Do your best, always present yourself in a way that is uncompromising, remain unwavering in what you want for yourself, and know your worth.
Last but not least, when you get there, lead by example. Be an example for the others that will come behind you and undoubtedly walk in your footsteps, whether you know it or not. Be true to yourself!
Samantha Lopez, Executive Vice President & Chief Operations Officer
Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate the vital role of women in American history. This year, I find myself reflecting on the challenges faced by women in the workforce. I also find myself looking back on my own career achievements and the experiences that have brought me to my role at EXPONENTS in an executive leadership position.
When I began my career, I had the good fortune to work under a series of female leaders. These mentors modeled very different styles of leadership, from leading through fear and intimidation to leading through vulnerability and nurturing. What has stayed with me from those lived experiences is the firm belief that my gender didn’t limit my ability to lead, and the knowledge that there is no one effective style of leadership.
The challenges faced by women in earlier generations and in more male-dominated fields (such as science and technology) have lessened, but not been fully eradicated. We deal with barriers of a more subtle, insidious nature… a slight condescension, overtalking, being mansplained to, or having your ideas reworded as if you were unable to articulate your thoughts.
Women are conditioned to be polite, so many of us experience difficulty asserting ourselves. We are wary of feeling as if we’re being rude, or being painted as aggressive. In my opinion, this conditioning is a significant contributor to the gender wage gap. Many women are not comfortable with asking for pay increases and promotions because it entails being assertive about one’s accomplishments, which can feel braggadocious or obnoxious.
Trust me when I tell you, men never feel this way. They are aware there is nothing impolite about knowing your value!
For leaders who are also women of color, these issues are compounded by societal bias and stereotypes. It has been my experience that these negative aspects are offset by modeling potential and possibility to our agency’s participants and staff, which I find to be one of the most gratifying aspects of being a leader.
Leaning into feminine energy by being able to nurture staff and provide them with a safe space to develop while guiding with a firm hand has been an effective personal leadership technique and has allowed us to continue to flourish during unprecedented times.