Women in Power: Sperry’s Katherine Cousins on Leading With Inclusivity and Empathy

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.

Katherine Cousins is an outdoor industry veteran joined Sperry in May 2021 as global brand president after spending a majority of her career at Timberland. Prior to joining Sperry, she most recently served as the VP and GM of Kodiak, Terra and Work Authority at VF Corp, a position she held for more than three years.

Below, Cousins shares why it’s important to listen to your inner voice and why she chooses to lead with inclusivity and empathy.

Leadership mantra:

“I think a lot about an inclusive and empathy-driven model of leadership — listening to all different parts of the organization — and trying to be really inclusive. I also think about grit. I’m [almost a year] into my role, but I’ve definitely seen clear grit in this team and an incredible amount of resilience as they’ve gotten through a tough couple of years with the pandemic. This is my first time running a brand of this size and a lifestyle brand. We have international opportunities and aspirations. For me, it’s stretching beyond what I had done previously at VF and taking on a bigger team and a bigger business.”

Most significant career barrier and how I overcame it:

“The most significant barriers arise when other people’s expectations and your own expectations of your career path don’t align. For me, growing over the years, it was really recognizing that it mattered what I thought. People’s feedback is important and they have constructive guidance and mentorship, but it’s also important to have a vision of where you want to go and not necessarily listen to every single thing that everyone said. In my own career journey, it was having the confidence to make change when I needed to or to reach for something new or to articulate where I thought I should go.”

Advice for women just starting out:

“Listen to your inner voice. What is your vision for your path? Especially for women, that’s really important, to understand their value, their worth, what they contribute. For me, it took some time to figure out where do I want to go? And sometimes my belief in that path was different than what others thought. I wish I would have heard earlier don’t be afraid to leave, don’t be afraid to jump, take a risk. I knew it intuitively, but it was always scary to make those moves.”

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