‘We’ve Got You’: How Supportive Environments Helped These Women Grow
‘You know how a bottle of water at Disney World is $4.99, or something crazy like that. But if you go to Walmart, it’s 99 cents. It’s the same water, it’s just a difference in the environment. If you’re feeling like 99 cents, go somewhere that makes you feel like $4.99.’ says Elizabeth MacEwan, production services lead for global revenue enablement for Cloud Software Group.
Elizabeth MacEwan transitioned from a high school and college librarian into the corporate world in October 2021.
Around the time she transitioned into tech, first at Citrix then to Cloud Software Group, she was dealing with a medical issue and knew her previous employer in education “would not be OK with it, so I would have ignored it.”
“But my team said, ‘Oh, we’ve got you. Go for that appointment,’” said MacEwan, production services lead for global revenue enablement for Cloud Software Group. “My boss saw me online on a day I was on PTO and said, ‘What are you doing?’”
If she had not been in that environment with the team that she had, with the boss that she had that she knew cared more about her as a human more than the work she produced, she believes she would I’d still be walking with the medical issue, “or maybe not walking around.”
“I can actually say that making the decision to transition my career and ending up on such a supportive team probably saved my life,” she said.
Being in a healthy, caring work environment is crucial for both professional and personal growth. And while typically change starts from the top down, it’s important to remember that supporting co-workers and peers at the same level can lead to change.
“To have the psychological safety and the trust that that team provided for me, it was phenomenal,” MacEwan said. “Now I want to recreate it anywhere I go. I got a taste of what it can be like to work in that type of environment. I think everybody should have it and I think anywhere I am, I need to strive to create it.”
At CRN parent company The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel Leadership Summit West in Palm Springs, Calif. this week, Jacquie Rives, WOTC community leader for The Channel Company, hosted a panel of women to discuss the importance of supportive leadership and healthy work environments.
Rives was joined by Stephanie Durden, partner community marketing manager at Eaton, Alexandra Matthiesen, chief marketing officer at Pillr and MacEwan.
“Let’s talk about the word leadership, or the word leader,” Durden said. “Most of the time when we hear that word, we think about the person that’s occupying the C-suite, or the person that has direct reports assigned to them. And by all accounts, that’s true. They are a leader. They are in a leadership position.”
But leadership is so much more than the “traditional corporate hierarchy,” Matthiesen said.
“I believe leadership is a mindset,” she said. “It’s how we show up for others and it’s something that’s truly accessible to everyone no matter your person, personality or role.”
Leadership centers around how people show up for others, the environment that’s created and the day-to-day efforts to maintain that space.
“In my work, I want to create space and time for people that feels inviting, safe and secure,” she said. “What I’m talking about is psychological safety.”
Psychological safety not only has the natural human benefits, but it is good for business.
“It’s creating an environment that feels safe,” she said. “And as a leader, I know that one of the most meaningful things I can do to forge a psychologically safe environment is being willing to go first.”
One of the core tenants of leadership that is so often forgotten is that leaders go first, especially in times that are challenging.
“I want to lead with vulnerability,” she said. “When I show up as a human in my organization, I invite other people to do the same. I need to be willing to go first. I want to create environments where people feel that they can show up day over day as their authentic person where they can deliver on behalf of the organization as their authentic person. And when they start and close each day, knowing that they will be cared for and respected and valued as that authentic person, for me that is leadership.”
It’s also important to create spaces where people can ask for the things they need and want. Matthiesen, although she has a C-suite role, struggles with asking for things that she needs. But even though she finds it challenging, she knows it’s still important to create spaces where others can ask for things, “where they can express their true reality.”
For Rives, this is the first time in her professional career that she has a woman leader.
“I have felt completely encouraged to be myself, even if that means being my goofy, poor joke self,” she said. “But I appreciate the leader that she is because she just asked me to show up as myself.”
Creating that healthy environment may not come with the “gigantic paycheck or the fancy title,” but it could be the difference between whether somebody ends their day in tears, or ends their day with a smile on their face and feeling valued and feeling scene,” MacEwan said.
“Even if that safe space doesn’t quite exist for you at the moment, until you’re in a different place you can help create that safe space for those around you,” she said. “You can be that connection, that safe space, that person who lets other people be authentic.”
Durden said it’s about recognizing that everyone has a greater potential. Where we are today is not where we can be tomorrow or next year.
“As a leader, we need to help the people on our team to be the best that they can be,” she said. “We need to make sure that we see the potential and help pull out those qualities. Potential and support… we needed it. If we’re in a position as a leader or just as a teammate, let’s make sure we do that for others around us.”
When MacEwan experienced her medical issue, it made her realize that is an environment is supportive, don’t hesitate to leave.
“I spent too long in my previous career in a really toxic situation, and that’s time lost,” she said. “That’s 12 years of constant stress and constant trauma. So don’t be afraid to say, ‘All right, I need something new.’”
She then used a simple bottle of water as an analogy for women to know their worth.
“You know how a bottle of water at Disney World is $4.99, or something crazy like that. But if you go to Walmart, it’s 99 cents,” she said. “It’s the same water, it’ just a difference in the environment. If you’re feeling like 99 cents, go somewhere that makes you feel like $4.99.”
For Andrea Gitchell, senior vendor programs manager for Pax8, MacEwan’s story resonated with her as she went through a similar experience in her career.
“It’s not necessarily where you are, it’s the environment that you’re in,” she said. “Now I’m at Pax8 where I feel like I’m $4.99.”