2020 Honoree

Melanie Steiner

Board Member, US Ecology

“…I have learned from many great people that having a positive mindset is the most important thing in life. You can have everything and be miserable, and you can have nothing and be happy–it is all a matter of perspective. It sounds trite, but in practice it can be tough to implement…”

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

I like this Ayn Rand quote I just read that goes like this: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” As women, we tend to wait for power to be bestowed upon us rather than just owning our own innate power and going for it. I strive to achieve this on a daily basis but it’s not easy.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic?

Women are inherently collaborative which is a critical strategy to combat the pandemic, and which isn’t happening nearly enough.

Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?

Women globally tend to suffer the consequences of disruption, poverty and crisis the most, as the ones who naturally keep the family unit intact. You can read on a daily basis about the heroic acts of women on the front lines, in the home, and everywhere important work is being done.

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?

It’s not that I consider gender equality a separate workstream in my life; rather, it is baked into everything I do. Someone once told me that it is important as women to ‘lift as we rise’ and that is what I try to do every day.

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

Stop mistaking confidence and arrogance – qualities more often found in men – as key leadership qualities. Many ‘female’ qualities are actually more positively correlated with good leadership such as collaboration, active listening, problem-solving, multi-tasking, innovation and a transformational mindset. Instead of having women ‘lean in,’ have men ‘lean out,’ and let’s promote new qualities!

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

It’s not one specific story. It’s living with the challenge of always being underestimated. I have had many men scoff at my ambitions over the years; you have to disregard this and believe in yourself and your talents.

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 think a job is worth what it is worth. If we always try to get good talent in at the best possible price, women will continually be at a disadvantage. At some point, either during hiring or within the role, this needs to be equalized.

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?

Per above, the most important thing to me is to reposition our view on what great leadership is. Start promoting people based on true leadership qualities. This however, is a long term transformational goal. In the shorter term, we need to expand the pool of qualified boardroom candidates beyond CEOs and CFOs. Many companies want to add diversity to the boardroom, but there are so few female CEOs that you end up looking for a unicorn.

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

It wasn’t a defining experience for me. I always had the inner drive and ability, but it took years of growth, self-reflection and inner work on my own confidence in order for me to truly flourish. It’s like a relationship, the more you feel you deserve, the more you get.

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

I think the Me Too Movement that started a few years ago was a tipping point, less for a change in bureaucracy, but more of a moment in time for women to find their voice. I think it’s great that more women are running for office as an example. I hope this trend continues to a point where we can finally see a woman in the White House.

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

I don’t have all the answers to this problem, but I have seen firsthand the role education can play in lifting entire families out of poverty, with even just one member of the family making it to university.

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

I would love to be President of the United States for a day. I think it is the most important job in the world (if not one of the most important), and I am a very big picture, strategic person who has had the great fortune of working on complex global problems such as climate change and human rights. I would love to white board some major macro-improvements that could help people, communities, businesses, and all of society (noting that I think this would take more than a day!!).

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

I never had any real life mentors, but that hasn’t stopped me from being inspired by a lot of people. I have learned from many great people that having a positive mindset is the most important thing in life. You can have everything and be miserable, and you can have nothing and be happy – it is all a matter of perspective. It sounds trite, but in practice it can be tough to implement. I have had to build this muscle over the years, as it didn’t come naturally.

What is your favorite book?

Too hard a question! I can tell you the most recent book that I binge-read was Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime.” I love him and his story is tremendous.

What do you most value in your friends?

Down to earth for sure, loyal, and funny.

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

I have always been pretty self-critical, continually striving for more. Someone once told me that I should spend more time “living in the now” and enjoying my accomplishments for longer before setting off on the next goal. Good advice.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Confidence if it’s not real, which tends to border on arrogance and is thus more a sign of insecurity. True confidence is very different and is usually displayed as humility and kindness. The problem is that often people can’t tell the difference and don’t know what they’re actually looking at.

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