Top Women Leaders

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This year, two of the nation’s top female executives – Build-A-Bear Workshop Founder Maxine Clark and Graybar President and Chief Executive Officer Kathy Mazzarella – engaged in a conversation about Women in Leadership as part of the Walker Speaker Series. During the conversation, which was moderated by Webster University President Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, Clark and Mazzarella spoke candidly about their climb up the corporate ladder and shared their insights on how women can advance in their careers.

Don’t Let Them Win

Mazzarella, whose promotion to president and chief executive officer of Graybar in 2012 made her one of only 19 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies nationwide, encouraged women not to let anybody “put them in a box” and define what they can or cannot do.

“If I react every time someone tries to put me in a box, they win,” Mazzarella said. “If I let it impact me, discourage me or make me feel bad about myself, they win. And at the end of the day, I’m not going to let anybody win.”

Take Risks

Clark, who built her career at The May Department Stores Company, started Build-A-Bear Workshop in 1997. “A career is a long time,” she said. “You can have multiple careers. I started Build-A-Bear at 48. Your life can evolve. The journey is far better than the destination.”

While Clark took a risk when she started her own company, she encouraged the audience to grow in their own jobs and seek out opportunities. “My advice to young women graduating from college is to get a job where you can see the results everyday. You have to be willing to take risks and find ways to help your company grow.”

From Failure Comes Opportunity

“Too often, people are afraid to take chances because of the visibility of a failure,” Mazzarella said. “When you fail, there is an opportunity in how you recover.”

She went on to share a lesson she learned early in her career after she was passed over for a promotion in favor of another colleague. “The best advice I ever got was from my dad. He said, ‘They are watching you to see how you react [to this disappointment]. How you handle yourself professionally will determine future events.’”

Find a Sponsor

While some write that mentors and sponsors are two sides of the same coin, Clark explained that a sponsor is someone inside your company who is going to push you, challenge you and bring out the best in you.

“I found that the people who were really the toughest on me were the people who became my sponsors and really helped me grow,” she said. “They are not trying to hold you back. They know your strengths and weaknesses and want to make sure you are appropriately positioned to be successful.”

Share Your Expertise and Talents

In closing, Stroble encouraged the audience to share their expertise and talents with others. “The most precious gifts are the ones you give away. Anything you hoard is really not yours. It really is what you give away that comes back to you.”

Watch the Women in Leadership video.