Fashion & Beauty Mogul Marcia Kilgore on Her Most Powerful Leadership Moment

Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.  

Marcia Kilgore, founder of FitFlop, Beauty Pie and Soaper Doaper, is just as comfortable in the fashion and beauty industries with a series of diverse brand launches under her belt. And while her achievements stand out in a male-dominated business world, she said she typically doesn’t think about gender when  it comes to her achievements. Instead, she compares herself to other like-minded entrepreneurs.

Here, she talks about her most powerful leadership moment and how she sees past gender in the workplace.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?

“As with most barriers, it’s in the mind. Thinking you have to play the male leadership role, or believing that leadership has to be associated with specific actions, titles or power dynamics. Getting the work done and delivering on a mission of excellent value for the customer is what eventually wins. How you do that, and how you define that leadership, is really a bigger question.”

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support the next generation?

“There’s never been a time when women had more power, when their voices were being heard more, when they didn’t enter the room with a definition of success. The difficulty for me, is more for men now, who have historically had very set and expected roles and a seniority that came by default. More men are struggling to redefine themselves as equals. In support of the next generation, my companies employ a tremendous number of people from my generation, the next and the one before. To support them, we try to set a great example of leadership, customer-centric business focus, and original thinking.”

Have you encountered resistance when working under — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?

“I’ve been building teams for 25 years. It’s about personality fit, attitude, a willingness to learn, for me and for them. I like the analogy of porous versus metallic. I have a very hard time working with metallic people (who don’t want to discuss, compromise, learn, open up, accept that there are options), so they don’t last very long in my organizations. The others, who are flexible and optimistic and roll up their sleeves, they become like family (very competitive, driven, fun, smart ). This is far more complex than a male, female divide but rather about recruiting like-minded people. I’ve been so  immersed in every project I’ve had that I never stepped back to think about what it was like to be a female founder. I’ve never compared myself to my male counterparts, but rather to other entrepreneurs doing new things, building new brands, etc., whether male or female or anywhere in between.”

What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced? 

“It was on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, when I owned and ran two Bliss Spas. I had a hundred employees who were experiencing terror for the first time, beside me. Our lives had all changed. What we did at the spa — offering facials, massages, manicures and pedicures, suddenly seemed trivial. We decided to open the spas to firefighters (who could come in and shower or sleep), along with people who were searching for missing relatives. We had a client who was a therapist who came on site, and a caterer who volunteered to come and make food.  We took care of a lot of scared, traumatized, grieving, exhausted people during that couple of weeks. It helped all of us feel like we were doing something to make it better.”

 What advice do you have for women negotiating a salary increase, promotion or other challenging issue at work?

“If you’re looking for a promotion or pay rise, for a year prior to promotion, make yourself indispensable. A promotion is a new job. Be ready to interview for that job. Do your research. Look at market comp data. Make notes. Make a flow chart to prep for how any conversation might go.”

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