Mary Deelsnyder is a vital part of the female business community here in the Twin Cities. She is a talented designer, a fearless entrepreneur and, in her free time, she acts as a megaphone telling the stories of businesswomen across industries via her blog, Women I Work With. I had a great time chatting with her about her blog and what running it has taught her about empathy and leadership.
Q: What led you to start the Women I Work With blog?
Originally, it was because I worked in a hyper-stylized culture, which I loved, and each day was a runway. I was curious about women I worked with, their sense of style and what they thought about when they curated their wardrobes.
I really just wanted to write about fashion and design, but the interviews took a different turn. Women would confide in me with intimate stories about their successes, failures, hopes and dreams. I don’t publish all the details because I feel like some of the conversations should remain private.
I also discovered that some women were reluctant to be featured and they would share that with me, but eventually come around and agree to do it. The reluctance is usually about not feeling good enough to be photographed. Why do we do that to ourselves? It surprised me because I see the beauty in the women I ask to participate. Unfortunately, we don’t always see ourselves as others do.
This blog that initially was just going to be about fashion and design has uncovered a community of women and my deep sense of connection to them.
Q: You’ve said you never expected how the project would involve putting people in vulnerable positions. What has the project taught you about the importance of empathy?
Whenever I would interview a woman, she would ask me when we were going to see a feature on me. I would brush it off because I never intended to be featured. I decided that it was only fair to put myself through the experience. After being photographed, interviewed and having an article published, I had a better understanding of the experience and why some women might be reluctant and nervous. It’s vulnerable to put yourself out there. It has deepened my appreciation for each woman who decides to participate.
Q: How important is empathy when it comes to building successful teams?
So important. We empathize with our customers to ensure we design great experiences, develop great products and provide great services. It’s interesting that we rarely consider empathizing with our co-workers. Empathy is important for building successful teams because it helps you understand intention, which builds trust. If you have a team that trusts each other you will have a high-performing team that can move fast.
Q: Why do you think it can be difficult for women to ask for what they want?
I know my difficulties are based in the societal expectations that persisted during my formative years around how a woman should act. I’m very direct – I know what I want and how to get it. When I show up like that, I get called names like bulldog, bitch, difficult, bossy, a piece of work, a pain in the ass – the list goes on. I was once called a dumb little twit to my face by a man, who reported to my dad, because I told him I thought he was wrong and wouldn’t do what he told me to do.
These words are difficult because they trip me up and offend the core of who I am. They also make me mad because they are a lazy attempt to marginalize me and other women like me, which can make it hard to ask for what you want. They do not accurately describe who I am as a professional and the value of my work. I would prefer to hear descriptions like ambitious, persistent, innovative, competitive and effective.
I suspect that the men from my past had never encountered a woman like me who would take them on, so they took shortcuts with their language. I’m not sure why this language persists. But I need to learn how to brush it off and correct the language in the moment.
Q: More companies are talking about doing good, but it’s often little more than lip service. I advocate for how important it is to take “brand purpose” and turn it into actual brand action. How important do you think it is that companies move beyond basic philanthropy and actually get involved in advocating for and making the lives of their customers better?
I love this mission. It’s essential for brands to take philanthropic action. If companies don’t authentically invest here, they will have a difficult time competing for talent and customers. Younger people are choosing to spend their money with companies who have committed to “doing good.” I think we’re seeing the beginnings of the potential fallout companies can experience if they don’t get this right.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from a female mentor?
Trust your gut.
Q: I think you are a rock star in the business world. If you were an actual rock star, what would be your stage (or band) name?
Follow Deelsnyder on social media at:
Facebook: Women I Work With