A 2021 women’s leadership study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that American women held 41% of corporate management positions, and women continue to fight underrepresentation when it comes to board positions and CEO roles. They also face gender bias, harassment, and opposition to their management styles.
Here’s how one MIT Sloan alumna has pushed back on those statistics and used what she’s learned along the way to help those behind her.
Samantha Joseph, MBA ’09, senior advisor for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships at USDA, chair of Samaritans, Inc. board of directors, vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston board of directors; formerly head of outreach and engagement for the Vaccine Equity Initiative with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, director of corporate social responsibility and sustainability at Iron Mountain.
Given what you know now, what would you tell your younger self about being a woman in your industry?
Since graduating from MIT Sloan, I’ve been very fortunate to do work that I’ve found challenging and meaningful. I spent 10 years in corporate social responsibility before joining the Biden campaign. Just as that was ending, Massachusetts needed to stand up COVID vaccine operations overnight, and I got the chance to help lead the efforts. Recently, I was honored to be selected as a presidential appointee, fighting hunger and climate change by developing partnerships with faith leaders on behalf of USDA.
There is always a reason to keep working, but what I’ve learned is that you have to look for the reasons to put your work down, too. To match the time and investment you make in your career with time and investment you make in your personal life and relationships. No matter how rewarding and fulfilling your career is, there will be many ups and downs. Having meaningful, stable personal relationships will be a big part of how you succeed and accomplish your goals in the long run.
Who was an ally or mentor for you as you’ve navigated your career? How did they specifically help you get to the next level of your professional development?
Catherine Braun, an executive coach and partner at the Center for Leading Organizations, has been a coach and mentor for over 10 years. Catherine’s genius is her ability to ask thoughtful questions that help me harness my own inner wisdom. By doing that, we don’t just address a short-term challenge, she guides me to build the skills and confidence that have helped me at every major decision point in my career.
Can you give an example of a time you’ve experienced or witnessed gender bias? How did it affect you professionally? What impact did it have on your job?
In one of my roles, I was the only woman on the team for several years in a company dominated by male leaders. While my male teammates were seen as go-getters and ambitious, I was seen as pushy and aggressive for the same work style and approach. This limited my trajectory at the company. It was an eye-opening experience and has impacted the type of work environments I have sought out since then.
What is the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in your professional life? In what unexpected ways did you grow from it?
Women often do invisible work in every aspect of our lives. We need to stop volunteering to do that work, and we need to take credit for it when we do it, especially in the workplace.
What’s one specific way you tend to your well-being, and how do you encourage well-being among your staff?
I often end up in roles where there is a lot of pressure and time sensitivity to getting things done. Between working on the presidential campaign and leading vaccine equity work in Massachusetts over the past few years, it was hard to put work down. In the early months of the vaccine program, we knew people were going to die waiting for their turn to get vaccinated, and every extra dose we could squeeze into the day could save someone’s life. I didn’t always get the balance right for myself, but I did work hard to ensure that my team felt supported, valued, and that they had time off to recharge each week.
What’s one skill or behavior women can adopt to make their career path more successful and more manageable?
There are so many barriers that are out of our control. Though it may be hard, it is important to recognize and break the barriers we create for ourselves. Take the risk in a meeting, apply for the job that feels like a stretch, negotiate your salary every time you start a new job, ask for what you deserve. And whenever you are in a position to do so, lift other women up as well.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about workplaces, societal norms, or public policies that would most benefit women in the workforce, what would it be?
Every company would offer a minimum of six months of paid parental leave, have salary transparency to ensure all women are paid equally, and would cover the cost for women to freeze their eggs so they can have a child at the right time for them.