Zappos Execs Kristina Broumand and Karlyn Mattson on the Importance of Women Supporting Women

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

Over its 20-year history, Zappos.com has emphasized the importance of having an inclusive culture, which includes a dedication to empowering women. Among its employee-led initiatives is a grassroots program that focuses on women’s leadership development, networking and onsite events, including a monthly speaker series.

Here, two female leaders from the Las Vegas-based e-tail company share their thoughts on career challenges and triumphs: Kristina Broumand, senior corporate counsel, and Karlyn Mattson, GM of merchandising strategy.

On the most significant barrier to female leadership in fashion and footwear:

Kristina Broumand: “As women enter and advance in the industry, it can be daunting to forge their own path if they are seeing a lack of other women at all levels of leadership. So it’s important to seek out connections and development opportunities both inside and outside of the workplace in order to gain the skills and expertise necessary to grow into leadership positions.”

Karlyn Mattson: “Barriers exist as a direct reflection of a company’s priorities. Organizations that prioritize a leadership team with diverse representation — to reflect their most important constituent, the customer — are the ones I expect will attract top talent. Most importantly, it will give them a competitive edge in their ability to best understand and respond to their consumer.”

On the biggest challenge for the next generation of female leaders: 

KB: “Over time, the way we communicate and work with each other changes with each generation and can cause major conflicts if all generations aren’t willing to evolve together. It can be easy to discount a new generation because of their lack of work experience, but I’m always looking for opportunities to learn from the next generation to find new ways to experience the world and work smarter.”

KM: “The most common question that I get asked is how have I been able to manage all of the demands of being a working woman and, in my case, largely a single mom. I don’t see those challenges as necessarily changing for the next generation, so knowing your priorities and having a strong support team in place is definitely imperative. I have also tried to explain that the challenges or stress did not intensify as I progressed in my career, the work just shifted from ‘doing’ to ‘leading.’ Delegation becomes an important skill to learn.”

On the experience when working under — or leading — men:

KB: “I’ve been super fortunate to have worked with and for men who have recognized my ability and talents, and I’ve been even more fortunate to have a partner at home who has helped me recognize my self-worth and be more confident in bringing that forward at work. What I’ve learned is that men and women alike can fall into sexist traps, but a good leader will always rise above. If you’re not feeling like those around you value your worth, it’s time to act differently or recognize that the environment may not be the best fit and move on.”

On supporting the next generation of women:

KM: “I have tried to support this generation through my actions. I overtly exemplify my priorities, whether health and wellness or the important moments in my children’s lives. If one of my kids had an important event at school, I would leave to participate in those moments, partly to ensure my team heard that permission from me for their own families. I also try to mentor, share and listen so that I can help women navigate in their own terms — whether they have a family or not — through overt and always confidential support.”

On a powerful leadership moment:

KB: “One of my favorites is an experience I had outside of work with the Junior League, a volunteer organization where women support each other while improving the community. I had a fellow volunteer essentially ask me ‘what if I can’t fill your shoes’ when I offered her a leadership position. I was flabbergasted, but I also seized the moment to let her know I would be there to train and support her along the way. That moment has stuck with me and reminded me of the importance of not just elevating others to leadership positions, but also giving them the support to succeed.

KM: “One of my best friends, a former leader and mentor of mine, received a ‘CEO of the Year’ award. Several people spoke in her honor, and it was a testament to her vision, courage and ability to build extraordinary relationships that has led to record-breaking growth and financial performance. And what made this award so significant was to witness her personal leadership evolution and impact — and, more significantly, to know that she achieved all of this while enduring several personal losses, including the death of her spouse.”

Advice for women negotiating a salary increase or promotion: 

KB: “Do your research, know your worth, keep track of your work and accomplishments, and be ready to advocate for yourself. Early in my career, I read several books on salary negotiation. What I learned is that if you focus solely on salary, you’re missing out on opportunities to negotiate for other perks. For example, maybe there are budget constraints related to a salary increase, but room to ask for additional vacation days.”

KM: “Preparation is the most important advice that I would give. Prepare your position thoroughly but, most importantly, anticipate the other person’s position so that you are able to respond to any challenges.”

On the impact of the #MeToo movement:

KB: “I think back to my time in graduate school, as well as early in my career, when my male counterparts made certain comments or exhibited behavior that made me uncomfortable and in some ways encouraged a culture of fear I never fully recognized. My hope is that for the next generation, those uncomfortable situations not only happen less but also become easier to address head on in the light rather than buried in the shadow of fear.”

On the best — and worst — professional decisions they’ve made:

KB: “The worst was staying too long in a position that constrained me, where I had stopped growing. I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I left and kept having nightmares I was still there. On the opposite end is my best professional decision, which I’ve made every time I’ve moved to a new position in my career. With each move, I followed my instinct and looked for the best opportunities for growth and learning, even when it meant taking a pay cut or what could have been considered a step down in position.”

KM: “[The best] was to seek out a work environment that challenged me. It really stretched me as a leader, and I grew in that organization more than at any other point in my career. It was incredible to be surrounded by people who were smarter than I was — the learning curve was extraordinarily steep, but I was blessed with some of the best leaders (all female) I have ever worked with, from whom I learned so much, and who believed in my potential and put me in increasingly demanding roles.”

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