2021 Honoree

Helen Aboah

CEO, Urban Zen

“To support and increase the presence of women in high level positions will require a shift from commitment to action. With that in mind, companies should give more women the opportunities to cultivate the skills necessary for such a role.”

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

A “Power Woman” is someone who builds others up. A “Power Woman” understands it’s not about “me” but the “we”. It’s only through collaboration and community that we can support the success of other women.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?

The pandemic emphasized how crucial the leadership qualities we often find in women are. Skills such as being a strong collaborative partner, problem solver, identifying opportunities and then presenting a clear strategic path forward, all while being empathetic. These inherent skills are critical to how we serve customers and our employees moving forward. They are brand and culture defining qualities.

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?

Gender equality is critical for society but also to the global economy. A startling recent report by Bank of America estimates that we lost $70T from inaction of US businesses and political leaders around workplace diversity and inclusion. Companies with above-median gender diversity on their boards report a 15% higher return on equity, while racially diversified workforces often show an 8% higher return. Therefore, we must continue acting on our commitments to gender equality.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take toward empowering women and gender equality?

As a society, we should listen and act on what women are asking for. Give women the platform and the freedom to do the work.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?

One thing I have noticed throughout my career is that in challenging times, whether it was a financial crisis in the county, or a hard time for the company, men never held back from asking for a deserved salary increase and women did. I had to push through any uncomfortable feelings and request salary increases because my contributions merited it. Every time I got a raise, promotion or a new opportunity in my career, it was at an inopportune time.

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

Asking previous salary history in job interview can contribute to any pay gap if a company doesn’t already have an audited corporate salary structure based on experience and the role, ensuring coworkers at the same level are compensated fairly between each other. Policy or a national ban doesn’t replace the need to be educated on what the market salary is for an equivalent job and a similar size company so that when asked what your salary expectations are, you aren’t asking for less than you can be making.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom 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?

To support and increase the presence of women in high level positions will require a shift from commitment to action. With that in mind, companies should give more women the opportunities to cultivate the skills necessary for such a role. For example, promoting females to roles that have P&L responsibility or providing stretch assignments is a great pathway to removing the glass ceiling and intentionally developing talent for a C-level position.

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

A defining moment in my career was when a successful retail and fashion leader noticed my drive and work ethic and decided to mentor and sponsor me for the decade I worked for her. She often says it was an easy decision for her to support me in my career because I worked hard and was successful in every role, but I don’t think all that would have been possible if she hadn’t given me all the stretch opportunities, global product oversight, and P+L responsibility but more importantly provide a safe place to make mistakes.

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

“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” It’s a Chinese proverb someone shared with me. A great reminder to be present.

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

Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea”

What do you most value in your friends?

I value their integrity.

Which trait are you most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

I’m honest to a fault. Whether in giving feedback or in speaking to myself. After all these years, it’s still uncomfortable because once I’ve honestly communicated something, someone usually has a decision to make.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

A virtue displayed only in times of convenience.

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