2023

Cyndi Zabieboylo

President & CEO National MS Society

“A ‘Power Woman’ is confident, able to be herself and acknowledge and demonstrate her strengths. A Power Woman recognizes the challenges put in front of women and leverages her talents to succeed without changing who she is, without apologizing.”

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

A “Power Woman” is confident, able to be herself and acknowledge and demonstrate her strengths. A Power Woman recognizes the challenges put in front of women and leverages her talents to succeed without changing who she is, without apologizing.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take toward empowering women and gender equality? (e.g. affirmative action)?

Childcare access still disproportionately disadvantages women. As a society, we need high quality, affordable childcare that is universally available and celebrates the community it takes to ensure all families can thrive, regardless of their composition.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State outlawed this practice, should it be nationwide?

Yes. Basing salary on a previous position can perpetuate systemic imbalances, and the practice should be outlawed.

What was the defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today?

One defining moment in my life was when a college professor emphatically expressed his belief that I was extraordinary. Until then, I did not realize the omnipresent self-doubt I carried. His encouragement helped me recognize and contextualize my self-criticism.

“Legislators, priests, philosophers, writers, and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of woman is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth.” Simone de Beauvoir. Is this still a major stumbling block on the 21st century road to equality?

There is no doubt that cultural expectations and limitations put on girls and women affect their belief in their abilities and feelings of worth. This has a negative effect on everyone. Stereotypes and imposed expectations limit our ability to reach our potential because of the implicit and explicit biases.

What is your mantra? What phrase or parable best describes your approach right now?

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” (Arthur Ashe) It’s a pragmatic outlook. While there are many things outside our control, we can control the next action we take. Rather than dwell on challenges, embrace your talents and all resources available.

How would you describe the changes in the political landscape for women over the past five years?

Women are more visible—for better and worse. For the better, especially in sports, women are more respected. Athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are gaining spectators and are able to show vulnerabilities while maintaining a strong public image. The Barbie movie opened opportunities for nuanced conversation, which is a good and much-needed step.

Women are often placed in binaries. Strong and emotionless or weak and sensitive. How do you subvert these limitations and connect to all sides of womanhood?

The binary stereotypes are changing! Women in the public eye present as increasingly more multi-dimensional. To maintain the momentum, we need to understand our own biases and recognize how these show up in our interactions and characterizations of people.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I have always wanted to BE someone else for a day —more than just having their job. It would be amazing to understand someone else’s feelings, their viewpoint and to have their experiences from the inside out.

What advice would you give to any aspiring Power Women?

Get to know and embrace your strengths. Seek real feedback from someone who will tell you the truth. Share with trusted advisors how you want to be perceived and get feedback about how you are perceived. Embrace the feedback—it’s likely to hurt but will be an important data point. Seek to recognize behaviors that are in your way, then learn and practice the behaviors that will move you forward the way you want. Remember that while you cannot change the past, you can always control the next action you take.

What steps do you take to obtain a healthy work/life balance?

I strive to work on what is most important and urgent, prioritizing work that helps others move forward independently. I plan and make time to accomplish personal activities, locking it in and sticking to personal commitments. I recognize when I am struggling to make progress at work or do not feel fully attentive in personal time, and I take a moment to breathe deeply, make note of the stuff that is getting in the way and commit to focus on what is in front of me, to make progress.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Billie Jean King or, more broadly, Rosie the Riveter.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best everyday advice I’ve received came from my mother: “never wish your life away.” She shared this when I would say something like “I can’t wait for…” or “I wish I didn’t have to…” My take-away is that every part of life is precious. Experience and openness to experiences, from wonderful and pleasant to uncomfortable and painful, are valuable and an opportunity to grow.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

I’m an avid reader of a variety of genres and enjoy learning as well as getting lost in a story of fiction. I’ve enjoyed reading aloud to my children who are now grown. Dr. Suess was an amazing writer, and I am delighted with the simple, relatable messages of many children’s books.

What do you most value in your friends?

I value memories of shared experiences. I appreciate and respect knowing that we are committed to our friendship. We pick up where we left off, even after long gaps in time when we haven’t been in touch.

Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?

“Deplore” is too strong of a word. A trait in myself that is not my favorite is my impatience – interrupting people when I think I know what they are about to say or what they think. In others, lack of passion or commitment to doing a job well.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

A virtue, meaning a high moral standard, can’t be overrated unless it shows up as self-righteousness. I think it’s important to seek first to understand various perspectives, to recognize our own biases and how they are reflected in our behaviors and attitudes, and to learn and grow with deeper understanding of other people’s perspectives.

“Get to know and embrace your strengths. Seek real feedback from someone who will tell you the truth. Share with trusted advisors how you want to be perceived and get feedback about how you are perceived. Embrace the feedback—it’s likely to hurt but will be an important data point. Seek to recognize behaviors that are in your way, then learn and practice the behaviors that will move you forward the way you want. Remember that while you cannot change the past, you can always control the next action you take.”

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