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."
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.