Heather Monahan, 43
Founder of Boss In Heels (and in recovery from corporate America)
Heather Monahan is a boss in every sense of the word. After spending the bulk of her career climbing the corporate ladder, the rockstar executive and single mother decided to abandon the proverbial hamster wheel and instead dedicate her life to helping women squash self doubt. Her initiative, rightfully dubbed #bossinheels, aims to destroy the male-oriented vision of what being a “boss” means. “Become your number one cheerleader instead of your biggest saboteur,” advises the blonde beauty. “It will change your life.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
My entire life has led me to where I am today. Having struggled with my own insecurities early on and not having a strong female mentor led me to the decision to empower others and give them the insight I was always searching for. While working in corporate America and doing what I thought I was supposed to do, I stumbled upon what I was meant to do. It didn’t happen overnight it was more of an evolution over time. As I grew more confident in myself it became overwhelmingly clear what I needed to do; I needed to be the person that I needed when I was younger, I needed to shine my light so others could see. My greatest achievement is risking my comfort zone to be the person I am becoming and showing my son through my actions not just my words that everyone should live up to their potential and chase their dreams.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
You can't dress feminine and be taken seriously.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
My own self-doubt. To overcome self-doubt you must take action and develop your confidence muscle. Who you surround yourself with is everything – fire negative people in your life and watch you take off. How you see yourself is how others will see you – speak kindly to yourself, make yourself a priority, love yourself the same way you would a baby – this takes practice but it can become a habit.
Journal to see how far you have come and keep track of all of your small wins. Turn scarcity into abundance by writing down three things a day that you can be grateful for. Moving into your fear and realizing that you are okay will give you strength for your next challenge while backing away does the opposite. Speak up in meetings, speak up for yourself and speak your truth. Becoming your number one cheerleader instead of your biggest saboteur will change your life. Go for it!
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
Early in my career I was taken aside by a very stoic and cold woman who told me that I dressed inappropriately for work and needed to wear pantsuits and more formal conservative attire. I have never been a very conservative pantsuit type of girl so this conversation didn’t go well.
Time and time again in my career I have been told to look a certain way or dress a certain way and with much difficulty, I did not listen. I was sexually harassed at my first job and was told that the way that I dressed invited these types of challenges.
Years later I remember being at a company meeting and sitting in on a roast where I was tagged the “VP of Cleavage” apparently this was a knock at the strapless dress I was wearing. I excused myself and cried in the bathroom for a few minutes before composing myself and returning to the meeting. The ironic thing is in the past year as I have launched my personal brand to empower others, I have heard so much positive feedback and appreciation for my sense of style. Believing in yourself and being yourself will always pay dividends in the end but isn’t always easy along the way. Be true to you.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
The only limitations that can be put on you are the ones that you put on yourself. Make a conscious choice to challenge the status quo. I learned that Oprah was fired from TV many years ago, only to become the media maven that she is today. Everyone will be told ‘no’ and why they are wrong or not good enough, and those are the moments you pivot and find a way to make it work in spite of the negativity. If success was easy everyone would have it. Let nothing stop you in chasing your dreams and nothing will.
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.