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Women in Power: Forever 21 CEO Winnie Park Opens Up About Embracing Progress Over Perfection

As part of FN’s annual Women in Power issue, we asked 15 footwear execs who have stepped into prominent new roles this year to talk about overcoming obstacles and their advice for the next generation.

Winnie Park was tapped as Forever 21’s chief executive in January after holding the top spot at Paper Source for the past six years.

Here, she opens up about obstacles in her career, being a self-aware leader and the women who inspire her.

My leadership mantra:

“My aspiration is to be a conscious leader — to be self-aware, to be vulnerable, and to always be curious. I think these skills are particularly important as a leader when you are just trying to learn, fit in and drive change in organizations. I am keenly aware that there is so much talent around me at Forever 21 and the key is to unleash all the creative talent and passion my teams have for the brand and for what they love: fashion.”

The most significant career barrier I’ve faced and how I overcame it:

“When I was younger in my career, I strived to be perfect. At one point, my mentor and the CEO of my company told me that being perfect was getting in the way of my peers liking me and wanting me to succeed. This hit me hard but he was right. If you strive for perfection, you put up this wall, a façade, and your colleagues can’t really know the true you and you can’t ask for help without seeming weak. By not asking for help you only hurt yourself and you miss all the fun or working alongside other perfectly imperfect people who can teach you so much. It’s a lot of wasted energy to be perfect. Making progress, on the other hand, is so fulfilling.”

Advice for women starting out in their careers:

“Try to find a vocation, not just a job. A vocation is a calling, something genius. Find something that makes your heart beat fast and your mind race. Don’t focus too much on title and money as these things come when you excel at something you love.”

A leader who has inspired me in my career:

“My maternal grandmother has had a tremendous impact on my career. She came to live with us in the U.S. when I was 10. Before this, she was alone in Korea as she had been widowed when my mother was a very young child. My grandmother found herself working as a maid to support my mom. In spite of their personal hardships, my grandmother cultivated an amazing love of some of our favorite things in life – family, fashion and food. She was a single working-mother who raised an amazing woman who instilled an unbreakable family bond and inspirational work ethic that has stayed with me throughout my life. She may not be your ‘typical’ leader but she led a generation of women to follow by the example and impact she made.”

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