Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.
Isadora Versiani knows firsthand that hard work can be one of the most effective tools for countering setbacks and clearing life’s hurdles.
The design director of Andre Assous and BCBG Max Azria gave birth to her first child when she was 18 years old. Still, the Brazil-born Versiani managed to pay her way through college and blaze a path into the fashion industry.
“The best decision I made was early on in my teenage years [when I chose] to pursue a degree,” said Versiani, who spent eight years at Andre Assous before being promoted to also oversee footwear design for BCBG Max Azria this year. (Vida Shoes, the parent company of Andre Assous, acquired the shoe license for BCBG Max Azria in 2019.)
“I had my first son very early and struggled with the idea of going to college,” Versiani added. “With the help of a very supportive family and a lot of hard work I not only graduated with two degrees in arts and fashion, but was able to pay for school in full while working weekends.”
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Here, Versiani talks overcoming resistance, negotiating salaries and how women can have it all.
What’s the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?
“The lack of female CEO’s. Young women joining the workforce should have someone to look up to. The fashion industry is still dominated by the boy’s club. I work with so many passionate and hard-working women, however the number of females in high positions still doesn’t seem balanced to me. Fortunately, I am seeing a change in women fighting for higher paying jobs and positions. I know I am doing my part by acknowledging and praising my female co-workers who have worked hard to be where they are professionally.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support them?
“As a mother of three — [including] a daughter — I want to show my children that it is possible to be who you want to be. Nothing comes easy — but hard work does pay off. With a full-time job that requires traveling abroad, I am insanely busy. [However], I have gone back to my high school and am planning to returning to [The Fashion Institute of Technology] in New York to talk to students about my path in the fashion industry. I want my children and the next generation to know that you can indeed have it all — whatever ‘having it all’ means to you.”
Have you encountered resistance when working under — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?
“Yes, I have been blessed with genes that make me look younger that I am — but in the work place that has worked against me. I have seen resistance when meeting men that wouldn’t acknowledge that I am the creative behind the brand. But the harder you work, the more successful and stronger you will be. And then the men who didn’t shake your hand a few years ago because they thought you weren’t in charge, will know who you are.”
What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced?
“I think the most important thing about leadership is to treat everyone [with] the same standards and to communicate always and often. I love to collaborate and I understand that people have different backgrounds and [that] inspiration can come in unexpected ways. From an intern to an assistant to another design director, I appreciate everyone’s opinions. Feedback should always be encouraged.”
What advice do you have for women negotiating a salary increase, promotion or other challenging issue at work?
“Ask for it. As a woman, an immigrant and Latina, I was also so afraid of negotiating my salary or a asking for a promotion. I didn’t think I was worth it. But I know now how that asking for a raise is important not only for my career, but for the women behind me. It is everyone’s job to close the gender gap.”
“Some good advice I have heard is to keep track of your weekly and monthly accomplishments in a list and when the time is right, ask for it. Go for the bigger number that you can think without laughing.”
How has #MeToo changed the professional landscape and your workplace specifically?
“In my 10 years in the fashion industry, I have come across sexism. Luckily, I work in a very inclusive place and have only experienced sexism while abroad in factories. We work in some countries filled with ‘old-school men’ that don’t think women should be in the business end of the industry. My answer is to treat everyone as equal. Speak up with you see a co-worker struggling and keep teaching women who are joining your team to be strong and to stand up for themselves.”