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This Tech Executive Wants All Women To Lean Out. Here's Why

5min read
Career

Rhonda Vetere is an international executive, speaker, author, and triathlete. And, if all that wasn't enough, she is also a significant figure in supporting women across the globe and "empowering women and girls to seize their moments and share their passions with the world."


You might say she likes to keep busy.

Vetere was recently interviewed by Fox Business about the role of women in technology, and as the former CTO of Estée Lauder Companies and leading IT professional, she is most definitely an expert in the matter. In this interview they touch upon various topics, such as user privacy, women in leadership, and her new book Grit & Grind: 10 Principles For Living An Extraordinary Life. One of the thorough lines of Grit & Grind is the importance of leaders and mentors for the next generation of employees, and when asked about how managers can help bring up the women who work for them, she responded "Put them in uncomfortable positions, give them assignments that are global, get them out there, mobile, and get them to, what I call, lean out."

We are all familiar with the famous words of Sheryl Sandberg: "Lean in." It's a book, a global community, and suddenly it has also become a big point of contention for women in our culture. What was once extolled as the answer to all of women's workplace troubles is now being questioned in a big way. Michelle Obama said it herself, "It's not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn't work all the time." This best-selling author, successful mother, licensed lawyer, former first-lady, and all-around incredible human being doesn't believe that leaning in is the answer for everyone. And it's not just controversies that are leading to this cultural change of heart; it's simply the fact that women are tired of being told how to behave.

Lean in is a way of instructing women how to smash their way into the business world using certain, prescribed behaviors to better succeed in a patriarchal corporate system slated against them. Now, I'm always down for some patriarchy smashing, but it's time to do it on our own terms. Marissa Orr, author of upcoming book, Lean Out, The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace, describes the old paradigm of thinking as "essentially [telling women] to behave more like men." This condescending idea that women somehow don't know how to behave themselves is tied to the "highly dysfunctional system" that has allowed forced women to take a back seat in business for years. But women like Orr and Vetere are beginning to change things, and "lean out" is going to be crucial in how the upcoming generation of women succeed in the corporate world.

So, what is leaning out all about? For Rhonda Vetere it is more than just a business strategy, it is a way of life, and it touches upon everything that she does. A huge part of lean out stems from Vetere's own history of taking risks, keeping mobile, and learning from every single experience. She understands what it's like to be the lone woman in a board room full of men, and she is deeply passionate about making sure women are not used as mere "tokens," simply to be slotted into one position or another. Rather she believes in empowering women throughout their careers by giving them opportunities to challenge themselves, driving performance and getting the results that they are truly capable of. As a mentor and leader to many, Vetere exemplifies the idea that courageous leadership is crucial to dynamic change and encouraging women to lean out.

She credits much of her personal philosophy and the strength of leaning out to the experiences she's had and the challenges she has faced while working abroad in locations such as Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and London, saying "If I had stayed in one spot, I wouldn't be the person, the professional, and the leader that I am today."

By going global and getting out of her own comfort zones, Vetere has grown immeasurably and she wants to encourage other women to do the same. "Lean in reminds me of just [going with the flow, but] in my head it's always been about getting stuff done, taking those risks, taking on hard assignments, and growing." Vetere was an early pioneer in women breaking out of traditional business roles; she understands that this is no longer the same generation that stays in one job for 20-30 years. From early on in her career she has continued to be unafraid in making big moves, allowing herself to learn and grow in a wide range of positions. Succeeding in business as a woman no longer has to mean acting like a man or restricting yourself with out-of-date ideologies.

"Lean in reminds me of just [going with the flow, but] in my head it's always been about getting stuff done, taking those risks, taking on hard assignments, and growing."

Rhonda VetereCourtesy of Studio 5800

Lean out means getting out of the "standard flow," utilizing the power within yourself to take risks and never stop learning. Women in the workplace are a force to be reckoned with, and it's time we start leaning out to face that challenge head on, wherever it may lead us. The strength is already there, and Vetere is helping women tap into it, at last: "You empower yourself every day. How you channel your energy is what is important."

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4min read
Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.