6 Female Leaders Who Will Inspire You to Kick Butt at Work (Photo Essay)
Women hear a lot about inequality in the workplace: how much less we’re paid, how little opportunity we’re given and how much harder we have to fight for our gains.
We should hear more about women who are doing awesome work.
Women can expect to earn more money than men in some jobs, and we’re more likely than men to be in management positions in about one-third of the industries measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We found some of these women running businesses and in leadership positions -- and generally kicking butt -- around the Tampa Bay area.
They shared their stories and advice for others wanting to follow in their footsteps.
Lisa Gilmore, Owner and Principal Designer of Lisa Gilmore Design
“Having free rein (over the style) is pretty cool. Having new clients coming in because of it is very rewarding.”
Gilmore went straight from high school to college, where she studied interior design. She worked for independent designers in Central Florida and Chicago, then moved back to Florida in 2011 and launched Lisa Gilmore Design, her own full-service design firm.
She thinks the industry leans more toward women but is seeing more men get into it, noting various facets of interior design like architectural design that aren’t all about “pretty frilly things.”
She says women may be well-suited for the work because interior design, especially residential, is so personal. “There’s a lot of rawness to it, so having compassion … is helpful in this industry.”
She jokes, “I’m not only a designer, I’m (also) a marriage counselor, a financial planner, a mediator…”
She works adjacent to the male-dominated construction industry, where sometimes “you have to overextend yourself a little bit to prove that you understand (construction).” But she’s seen that improve in her 10 years in the field.
“We’re in a really cool time that there are so many women business owners; it’s really uplifting. Everyone kind of cheers each other on.”
Brooke Boyd, Founder of Hype Group
“There are a lot of choices in life as a woman that you need to make. … You can really balance life and work… definitely don’t be afraid to do it.”
Boyd studied public relations at the University of Florida before moving into the advertising world professionally. She started the creative communications agency Hype Group in 2009 at age 26, bringing design, social media, public relations and branding under one roof.
“Anybody can get a degree in anything and be good at it,” she says, but she credits her combined background as making her qualified to run the unique firm.
While she hasn’t faced direct discrimination in the industry as a young woman, she does encounter people who don’t expect her to do her job well because of her age and gender.
She’s happy to prove them wrong.
Erin O’Neill, People and Culture Manager at The Penny Hoarder
“Don’t listen to the naysayers and the power-takers and the poopheads. Just forge it and do it and be a boss, and don’t compromise who you are.”
O’Neill took an unconventional path to her position leading The Penny Hoarder’s unique HR department, but she makes an uncanny fit for her self-created position.
She came up on the financial side of business and joined TPH as part of its accounting staff. But as she was handling both HR and accounting for the startup, she eventually leaned toward HR. She says this surprises a lot of men who chose straightforward numbers over complicated people.
“HR is literally about the human, not about the work product or the hard skills… it’s really about them as a person. Women are better nurturers, they’re better supporters of people in different circumstances and they have a more sensitive ear to some of the issues that arise in HR.”
The biggest struggle of her job is finding the right “balance of TPH family and family-family.” For both, she plays the always-needed role of mother.
“I’m a mom … A lot of moms have this perpetual sense of guilt: I’m not doing enough,” she says.
“I’m not doing enough at home. I’m not doing enough at work. I’m not doing enough for myself. And notice where I put myself… And I can’t tell you why we do (feel that guilt), but it’s real. And it’s not because we’re trying to be martyrs. It’s because it’s a real thing.”
But she does her best to remind herself what matters -- or her family will.
“There are some weeks I burn the midnight oil too much, and my 4-year-old will remind me of that.”
Angela Lanza, Senior Manager of Event Marketing at Amalie Arena
“I really haven’t experienced any difficulties… I think I just had really great leaders showing me the way along the way.”
Lanza started school as an international business major, but quickly realized she needed a creative outlet and landed in advertising and public relations.
Though leadership is statistically dominated by women, she’s seen a balance of genders in her field. She thinks it has less to do with the industry and more to do with the subject you’re promoting.
For example, “I come from a background where I really enjoy theater and events and Broadway, so this fit in perfectly. But not so many men tend to really like theater.”
She credits much of her success to the mentors who have helped her throughout her education and career. She recommends that anyone coming up in the field take on internships and talk to people in the industry to learn what the work is like.
It may be intimidating, but she insists, “All you have to do is ask. I think a lot of people are willing to take that time. You don’t know what you like or don’t like until you’re actually in it and try it.”
Maureen Famiano, Executive Producer of Great Day Tampa Bay
“With producing, you can craft an entire show. It’s a blank slate, and you can craft. I like the creative part of it.”
Famiano oversees the WTSP/Channel 10 morning entertainment talk show “Great Day Tampa Bay.” She’s been in TV news for 33 years, following a traditional path from reporter to anchor before producing.
She lights up describing her work with the show. “It’s about showcasing great (people) doing great things. … Applauding people who aren’t looking for it.”
To explain her success in the business, she says, “It’s truly skill-based and creativity-based. It’s about what you bring to the table, your ability to think outside the box,” which she says she does a lot (maybe to the chagrin of her team).
She doesn’t feel any pushback against her authority as a woman, not even in this newsroom where her predecessor was a man. But she is aware when she’s speaking to the board or higher-ups that she’s often facing groups of all men.
It doesn’t deter her.
“It’s about being passionate,” she says. “Be aggressive. Believe in whatever you’re trying to tell people, and the rest I think will take its course.”
Kristina Alspaw, VP of Tourism for Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce
Kristina Alspaw has a knack for getting jobs that don’t exist.
“When I noticed tourism was such a huge up-and-coming sector in St. Pete (Florida), and neither the city nor the Chamber had a position focused on the visitor experience once they were here, I met with the head of the Chamber.”
She conducted a study to prove the need for a focus on the visitor experience. “He loved it so much, he created a job for me.”
She later moved into a similar position in Clearwater, Florida, which hadn’t existed in years.
Alspaw’s job is increasingly important as tourists rely on word-of-mouth, rather than marketing, for destination recommendations. While the city still markets itself, it also understands the need for her position, which focuses on what happens once visitors actually get there.
“It’s all behind-the-scenes things that you assume just happen on their own. We’re the ones behind the scenes,” she says.
Alspaw’s team does everything from running visitor centers and managing special events to connecting community businesses for cross-promotion and advocating to local government on behalf of local businesses.
She says the hospitality industry is pretty balanced between men and women, though some sectors tend to attract more of one gender or the other.
“I feel very lucky to be in an industry where women are not treated differently or separate,” she says.
She credits past generations for making progress and paving the way for women in leadership positions now. “The gender gap and the wage gap is continually diminishing. I’m excited, because for the first time, we’re in a generation where shattering the glass ceiling is absolutely a reality.”
She also thinks sometimes “women’s greatest challenge is other women.” Women in business can compete and keep each other down, she says, often more than even men keep women down.
“You as a young professional (woman) have a choice as to which side of that wall to be on,” she advises. “You can fight with each other and sabotage each other, or you can assist and mentor each other.”
Your Turn: Who are your favorite lady bosses? Give ‘em a shout-out in the comments!
Heather Comparetto (IG: heatheretto) is a photographer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s exhibited her photographs internationally, loves the ocean, and enjoys coffee and tacos (but not together).
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).