#SWAAYthenarrative

Rhonda Vetere On Owning the Conversation In and Outside of the Boardroom

Business

As a woman who works in the technology industry, you can imagine that I've found myself outnumbered in my fair share of board rooms. Often I've received questions of how I've responded to the lack of respect that comes with being the only female in the room. However, I've simply never thought anything of the difference in gender. For me, everything is based on performance.


From the start of my career I rooted myself in confidence that transcended my outward differences that were obvious amongst those of us in the boardroom. Don't get me wrong, nothing was handed to me at any point in my career. It was simply instilled in me to work relentlessly for whatever I wanted.

In most industries women are severely outnumbered, but that doesn't mean we bow out of the competition. Rather, we take charge of the conversation and spur impactful necessary dialogues without fear. As a woman who finds herself outnumbered in the leadership levels of business, I have to take charge and lead with bold honest confidence. This requires having respectful conversations within the workplace.

Taking part in issues that are pivotal and essential for women today is our responsibility as leaders in the workplace. As women, we need not be afraid of backlash that could come as a result of differences of opinion. The key, in fact, is to not be afraid. If what you're discussing and fighting for as a woman for women is something you believe to be right, fight for it.

Taking part in issues that are pivotal and essential for women today is our responsibility as leaders in the workplace.

It's even more essential now than ever to take part in conversations within our world. Whether those conversations are rooted within the boardroom or transcend themselves to the media, we are essential players in the success and history of our communities. If you happen to be the only woman in a male dominated workplace, you've accomplished a significant achievement. You now have a responsibility to lead by example. Your leadership should be a reflection of the issues you hold dear, thus your narrative needs to be heard.

In an era that continues to evolve, being honest and bold in the face of such change is essential. Simply because the media shows a male driven narrative, doesn't mean that as women we have anything less to offer. Owning the conversation is imperative, don't sell yourself short on the basis of something as basic as your gender. I feel that I've thrived in the workplace because I've always been authentic and unafraid of any hard work. Hard work is where the fun is, after all. Most importantly, owning our own voices is our responsibility.

When taking part in conversations in the boardroom or in the media, learn to disagree with tact. To receive respect comes by first giving respect. The best leaders and employees alike are those that can be nice to people, regardless of differences. This does not mean that you have to be friends with everyone, but you should start from a platform of respect. Along with such is the importance to encourage others in the workplace to express their opinions. Again, as a woman in a leadership role you're a direct example for men and women in your business. Encouraging other women through your actions is another form of expression.

Courtesy Of Rhonda Vetere, photographed by Studio 5600

The big takeaway is that regardless of what field of work you're thriving in, or what worldly situation you're amongst, you have not only the right but the distinct responsibility to take part in discussions that affect you as a person. Separate the gender stereotypes from your identity, and act simply as a human that has a desire to be involved in the decisions that directly impact you. Women need to be bold and let me reiterate, unafraid as they conduct themselves in the world. Live your life with bone deep confidence that radiates outwards. Your eagerness to join discussions in and out of the workplace only further demonstrate your unapologetic authentic self.

To be a successful woman in any avenue dominated by men, you have to carry an attitude lacking fear and soaked in confidence. Being prepared for anything eliminates the need for fear. Try your hardest to place as little emphasis as possible on the difference in gender between you and your co-workers. You're all professionals trying your hardest to perform your best daily. Your gender doesn't affect your ability to think, create, or excel in any way at all. If anything, you're better for the tenacity that we as women have built within us. Remember, keep the fire in your belly and keep your focus on results not gender.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.