2019 Honoree

Deirdre Fitzgerald

Executive Vice President, Global Apparel, New Balance Athletics

“Education informs and empowers. A quality education must be accessible to everyone and be properly funded. I question the current cost of universities and don’t fully understand the expense rationalization.”

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

I believe there is a connection to self-confidence and support. I grew up in a family with two professional parents. I think the role my father played in supporting my mother’s career goes largely unacknowledged and is critical to how her career evolved, how our family functioned, and how I have approached my professional life. I have been fortunate to have had strong role models and mentors. I work to pay this forward with my family and colleagues. Ultimately, I would say to be a “power women” is to be a woman with support, confidence, and ambition.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

I work to be an advocate, an influence, and a role model. Gender equality varies significantly around the world. Whenever I travel, I meet with women leaders in the countries I visit and connect informally. I appreciate the expectations young women have of me and prioritize my availability accordingly. I coach women to be confident, ensure they have honest counsel and advocacy in the work place, and to not delay their ambition.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?

I think in any conversation where there is real progress to be made you will get further faster with a diverse debate. With respect to climate change having voices and leaders who are mothers will streamline the conversation tremendously.

Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? (According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030.)

Without question, prioritizing action and funding is imperative. The dialogue needs to shift from what to how and industries have to play a role in resolution.

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

It’s a toss-up between RBG and Anna Wintour. I mean, come on. Both are such accomplished pioneers who have defined their own style and confidently led for decades. I love the concept of being a justice and the structure of the law—-the thoughtfulness of written opinions and the precedent a ruling establishes. On the other hand, fashion is amazingly powerful and has provided women with an outlet for expression and significant career opportunities.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I have a tremendous appreciation for women who have been transformational—-Coco Channel, RBG, Gloria Steinem, Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Katherine Graham, Angela Merkel—-I could keep going. I don’t identify with a particular woman, rather I am inspired by the strength of many.

Why or why not? In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

Undoubtedly, the number one action is access to education. There is an undeniable connection between women’s reproductive decisions, her education, and her independence. As a mother and female executive, I feel strongly that women should continue their careers when they are starting a family. Personally, I think it is a big mistake to delay ambition and relinquish your ability to be self-sufficient.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

Blocks happen, and when they do, you need to address the challenge. Your approach is so important. I remind myself of two things: first, I learned this from a wonderful colleague whose father repeated this to her–it means intellect over emotion. Secondly, understand how your voice is heard in a conversation. How you show up matters.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Absolutely. Basing compensation decisions on previous pay perpetuates the gender wage gap. It is well documented that women earn less and are less likely to negotiate. A nationwide ban would be a big step in the right direction.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

There are the obvious examples of progress, which is encouraging. However, the progress is against a background of very concerning moves against a women’s right to choose. I learned, recently, that my mother was fired when she reached six months in her pregnancy, this was the law and an acceptable practice. With that in mind, when we review progress over a long period of time, there is undeniable change. The current political climate bothers me, but I am confident it will galvanize new leaders who will drive great transformational change.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

I can’t point to a singular moment. I have always been ambitious and I have always wanted to be the master of my own destiny. I can sincerely say that, over time, my sense of obligation toward enabling women and the responsibility of my role has become more tangible. As I mentioned, I grew up with two professional parents and spent the first 20 years of my career in businesses with many women leaders. Since becoming part of the sport and athletic industry, the gender issues have become more obvious and the responsibility heavier. When I first joined my current company, a new colleague said, “You have a great opportunity to define women’s leadership.” I thought, I’m here to do a specific job and lead a business. Over time, I have realized that being a part of defining women’s leadership is my privilege and obligation.

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

That’s easy. My father always counseled–take the high road.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?

It’s dimensional. First, women need to stay in the game and not delay their ambition. Companies need to be intentional with hiring and promotional practices. The only way to make real progress is to identify the gap and construct a measurable plan to drive an increased presence of women in senior leadership roles. It is the right thing socially and economically.

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive?

Education informs and empowers. A quality education must be accessible to everyone and be properly funded. I question the current cost of universities and don’t fully understand the expense rationalization. This needs to be addressed.

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

I don’t know if I have a single favorite—-perhaps Mrs. Dalloway. I love to read and have read some great books this year—-becoming tops the list, but also An American Marriage and Educated are favorites.

What do you most value in your friends?

Honestly, intelligence, humor, and forgiveness.

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

I regret when I waste time worrying about silly things and it detracts from my time with my family. In others, I have no patience for people that aren’t truthful or try to BS. I value straightforward, honest communication.

What do you consider the most over rated virtue?


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