Laura Heltebran

Chief Legal Officer, Wheels Up

First, we must deepen the female leadership bench within our organizations – women should be a significant part of the leadership pipeline. I try to do my part and more than 50% of my team are women. Second, we can vote with our wallets and direct external spending power toward female owned businesses and vendors that demonstrate a real commitment toward the advancement of women.

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

A Power Woman is an authentic mix of intellect and soul. Strategic, smart, kind and intuitive, we are inclusive and seek to accomplish through influence and lifting others up. We choose collaboration over competition, holding the door open for other women coming behind us, and we prioritize our responsibility to pave the way for future generations.

What benefits and advantages does a company with positive gender equality have over a male dominated workplace?

There is such a strong case for gender diversity at the board and executive level, including countless studies that show companies with the highest representation of women in leadership report better financial performance than those without. In a capitalist society it defies logic that the shift isn’t happening more quickly, if for no other reason than the numbers prove it should.

Is there one particular issue in your life you are passionate about? Something that overrides all of your objectivity.

I have had a variety of passions in my life, the most recent of which is working on getting my private pilot’s license. My flight instructor also works with a rescue organization that flies dogs from kill shelters to our area for adoption. One look at his videos and pictures of their happy, rescued faces and wagging tails and I was a goner. I would love to put my pilot’s license to use in a way that helps others (two or four legged).

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

Providing access to education is the single biggest effort to be made. We need to ensure our girls have real opportunities for education, and we need to tell them they can be anything they want to be.

What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?

First, deepen the female leadership bench within our organizations – women should be a significant part of the leadership pipeline. I try to do my part and more than 50% of my team are women. Second, we can vote with our wallets and direct external spending power toward female owned businesses and vendors that demonstrate a real commitment toward the advancement of women.

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

Like most women I have had many moments that highlighted my gender being either exploited or perceived as a handicap. It is like death by a thousand cuts. The small moments combine and become a constant mental talk track that tells us we must work harder and be smarter than male peers, and even then, merit-based reward is not guaranteed. I think the most disappointing moment was when I had confirmation that all the men at my level were compensated better in every compensation component. Literally, every single component.

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?

I believe companies should pay what they think a position is worth. In addition to being the right thing to do, it makes business sense. It is short-sighted to pay less based on past earnings just because you can, and likely leads to employees getting great job experience only to be hired away by a better offer. Separately, it is a mathematical fact that if we do not require this, the pay gap will endure where prior earnings are used.

Should the USA reduce its role on the world stage?

I really hope the United States continues to rally our allies and democracies across the globe to tackle the challenges we face today, including climate change and human rights. We owe it to the world and future generations to suit up and show up as the global leader that we know we can be.

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

My journey has been such an interesting series of experiences it is hard to pick just one. I grew up in Saudi Arabia which was amazing for so many reasons, and during those years I developed an appreciation for other cultures and a global perspective that has served me well. I tend to think of my life in chapters: the Saudi years, the college/law school years, etc. There are career chapters and chapters on my children. Each chapter has defining moments, and collectively those moments have shaped my journey and the person I am today.

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

This is an interesting year to ask that question. On the one hand, female representation in political office continues to rise which is encouraging. On the other, recent events have eroded women’s rights. It feels like one step forward, two steps back.

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If not why not? If so why is it prohibitively expensive? Also, who should decide on the curriculum?

My answer above applies here – education should be the top priority for all societies. Education can lift people out of poverty, which will create a flywheel effect on economies.

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

Music brings me joy and I would love to be James Corden in Carpool Karaoke and line up as many of my favorite singers as we could fit into a day: Elton John, Lady Gaga, Madonna, U2, Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bruno Mars (who wouldn’t want to belt out “Uptown Funk” with him?), Ed Sheeran and Jennifer Lopez, just to name a few.

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

Being a great leader isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. Have the confidence to hire people who are smarter than you and dedicate yourself to helping them realize their full potential. Everyone wins in the end.

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

My current favorite is “Take Back Your Power” by Deborah Liu. Her general premise is women can learn to thrive amidst gender bias. I love the idea that women can redirect energy spent being passively angry and frustrated and turn it into energy spent on successfully navigating an uneven playing field.

What do you most value in your friends?

I have a close circle of female friends (you know who you are) and we are fiercely loyal. We lift each other up, in moments of celebration and in moments of difficulty. Behind every successful woman is a tribe of successful women who have her back, and these women are my tribe.

Which trait do you find most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

I am an introvert at heart and being extroverted is a learned behavior for me.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Confidence can be highly overrated and is often mistaken for competence. The world could use a little more humility.

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