International Women’s Day

March 7, 2019

In honor of celebrating International Women's Day on March 8, we spoke with leaders within the firm to discuss the achievements and challenges women face in the workplace and beyond. Participants included:

Kelli Klindtworth, Expert Practitioner - Portland

Prasanthi Duddu, Business Analyst -  Atlanta

Navid Ahdieh, Managing Director and Client Executive - Charlotte

Isabella Farrell, Analyst – London

Kelly Slothower, Associate Vice President - Atlanta

Aly Gonenne, Manager - Atlanta 

What does feminism mean to you?

Kelli: To me, feminism is really about humanism. It is taking a look at the playing field to ensure it is level, and that gender doesn’t play a role in determining our opportunities.  

Prasanthi: Feminism to me means equality and freedom of choice – having equal opportunity, choice and recognition in whatever we do. It’s something that society should be taught and be made aware of; that women should not be pressured to do or behave in a certain pre-defined or stereotyped role. Giving women the freedom and choice to do things that they want to is feminism.

Navid: Resilience, grit, solidarity, courage and hope. These are all words that characterize the people that I’ve had the privilege of knowing and caring for deeply as they’ve persevered, and helped others persevere, through gender-based inequality and other prejudices that stand in the way of women as they pursue their full, self-defined potential.   

Isabella: To me, feminism is about being a champion of gender diversity and supporting and empowering women to be the best they can be.

Kelly: Feminism is about the ongoing effort and movement to overcome antiquated perceptions and role of women in our society. Ultimately driving toward acknowledgement of our differences and seeing value in those regardless of gender. That means being included, heard, respected (and fairly paid) for our thoughts, perspectives and ideas.   

Aly: Is feminism a movement to promote equality of the sexes? Sure. Deeper than that though, I see feminism as a way to address two hidden traps that create barriers to women’s success: systemic institutional impediments and unconscious bias.

What woman inspires you and why?  

Kelli: I am inspired every day by the women that surround me at North Highland – Mindy Bostick, Maria Spilker, Pam Brown, Blair Kerr, and Samantha Motta (just to name a few) all have incredible stories, skills and talents, and they generously share themselves and their perspectives in ways that help us all grow.

Prasanthi: I am inspired by a lot of men and women (the list never ends) – different aspects in different people inspire me. Inspiration starts at home. My mother has been a huge inspiration and part of my life. I've seen her juggle so seamlessly and efficiently between work, home, kids and having her own fun with friends. At work, Latha Jasthi, my first manager, who's inspired, helped and provided me with equal opportunities to grow in my career.

Navid: My mom.  She is my hero and a hero to many others. She shaped my understanding of gender equality and the need for me to take personal ownership of my biases and gaps in my awareness. In Iran, she persevered through violent oppression and institutionalize inequality. When she brought our family to America, she harnessed her resolve and fought to build a business that created jobs, provided safety, and supported the education of many women in a small, underserved community for over 30 years. Her latest fight is to recover from a stroke she suffered 3 years ago. These days, I am inspired when I see her gather every ounce of concentration and strength to share what is on her mind, in a single sentence. My hero. 

Isabella: I’m sure everyone says this but without a doubt my mum! She inspires me by making sure I have every opportunity open to me and for managing to raise a family whilst working. She’s just a super mum in general!

Kelly: A few years ago, I heard Connie Chung, the first woman to co-anchor one of America's major networks, speak at an event. She talked about how in the 60s and 70s women were pitted against each other for the one “woman job.” Even after all these years, there are still remnants of that unhealthy competition among women. Therefore, the women that inspire me are the ones helping other women behind the scenes, championing and mentoring others, slowly reversing the trend that’s undermining all of us.

Aly: At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s my mom. As a lifelong educator, she was highly empathic – and fiercely dedicated – to everyone who touched her life. From teaching unwed teenage mothers in inner city schools, to raising three kids, to reaching out to high school students at risk (many of whom called her their mom away from home), she was extraordinarily dedicated to her focus of building a greater community around her. 

What have been some of the biggest struggles and triumphs for women in business?

Kelli: By far the biggest struggle is the illusion that we can or need to have it all. We allow the world to pull us in so many directions that frequently we find ourselves apologizing for who we are and what we want. We make it hard on ourselves and each other. We are living in changing and triumphant times with more women than ever filling new roles and challenging the status quo – now we just need to give ourselves permission to break the chains of our own making.

Prasanthi: Some of the biggest struggles women face is finding their equality, pitching their achievements and juggling between work and home – there’s hardly time for self-care or relaxation! However, triumphs for women in business include freedom to make choices and decisions, financial independence and better control of their lives.

Navid: The daily battles I witness women in business overcome, and inspire others to overcome, begins at the start of every day and doesn’t appear to end until long after business hours. We’ve certainly seen significant improvements to fundamental rights (in business) that are triumphs and meaningful steps towards equality. But fundamental rights are insufficient. We need fundamental change in perspective, and we need intentionality in addressing dynamics both inside and outside of the business world.   

Isabella: We’re making waves within business, with more female representation at the executive level, however this is far from complete. We need to ensure that not only are we pushing for an equal split in the very top jobs, but that we are also feeding this through into all levels of seniority and ensuring the right policies and provisions are in place to help women get there.

Kelly: When women push the boundaries of being ”sugar, spice and everything nice” they can end up branded “bossy” or “unlikeable” at work. It is exciting to see more representation of gender in congress, on stage and in the c-suite. Having more examples like this makes the path more likely for those who follow. A century after we won the right to vote, it feels like there is some significant momentum happening – and we need to build on that because there is still work to be done.

Aly: The biggest triumph I’ve seen is in the groundswell of support to think through – and take action to reshape – the institutional rules and norms/mores/folkways to even the playing field. In contrast, unconscious bias remains a huge struggle. It takes extreme commitment to focus, find and dig out every tendril and every root of unconscious bias from the cultural soil in today’s business world. 

How can we celebrate International Women's Day every day - and all year long?

Kelli: Find ways to appreciate the people that surround you every day. Being generous with positive feedback and intentional about making sure that you spread happiness and encouragement. Not just to women, but to everyone.  

Prasanthi: Every day is Women's day and we can celebrate it daily. As women, we should try to lift each other up instead of pulling down and celebrate each other's achievements and accomplishments.

Navid: By recognizing that the fight for equality is long from over. By realizing how our daily actions either contribute to winning the fight against sexism or allowing the struggles to continue. By changing the ways we work to be more responsive and relevant. 

Isabella: By celebrating all the great women in our lives! And by making sure we call out when we fall short of providing equal opportunities for women.

Kelly: Become a mentor to a woman you believe in. Hold yourself accountable for helping her succeed. Start today and support her all year long.  Based on my experiences, I’ll bet you’ll get more than you give.

Aly: I see this year’s theme (#BalanceForBetter) as a way to say that I have a role in shaping our enterprise. Rather than “celebrate” it, I see the theme as a prompt to call out unconscious bias. I often ask myself, “If you made that remark about a man instead of a women, how would that sound to your listener?” 

If you could pick a woman from any point in history to talk to - past or present - who would it be?

Kelli: Lucille Ball. She was a pioneer for women in comedy and honored the importance of female friendship. She pushed the envelope before the rest of us knew it was a possibility.

Prasanthi: I’d choose Melinda Gates! Her ideas and the amazing work she and Bill do through their foundation inspire me a lot. I absolutely love her thoughts on how data can impact and change our lives and impact the policies organizations make.

Navid: Globally and historically, sexism has been the most persistent, oppressive, and demoralizing form of hatred and intolerance we’ve known throughout civilization. I also believe it has been the crucible that has forged women into the most powerful, insightful, and creative forces for growth and sustainability. There are many amazing women to talk to and learn from. Today, I would choose Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She has been an amazing force for change in our country. But, the first thing I would do is apologize for being so star-struck when I met her years ago at LaGuardia and referred to her as Justice O’Connor (in a high-pitched voice). 

Isabella: Ella Fitzgerald – not just because I think she’s one of the greatest singers that ever lived, but because she was such an inspiration for a whole generation of women.

Kelly: I’m so honored to live in a time when there are female role models all around me, so this is a difficult choice. I tend to gravitate toward the rebels and fighters, so I’d choose Malala. Speaking out on behalf of girls right to an education made her a target in Pakistan. She was shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. Undeterred, she continued to fight for education and equality, ultimately winning the Nobel Peace Prize at only 17. Her advocacy work and non-profit will deliver lasting change around the world.

Aly: There are so many amazing women through time that I’d want to talk to a few for various reasons. For starters, I’d love a time machine so that I could talk to Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, and Catherine the Great.  And, while we’re dreaming, book me some time with Oprah!       

For more about International Women’s Day and the women who inspire North Highland, view our latest video

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