I had the pleasure of interviewing Eileen Scully, founder of The Rising Tides (therisingtides.com), a consulting firm focused on improving the workplace for women. In June of 2016, she was honored to be invited by the Obama White House to participate in the United State of Women, one of five thousand global advocates for women and girls. In November of 2017, she was named one of Irish America Magazine’s 2017 Business 100 honorees. In August of 2018, she will keynote the IEEE’s first Women’s event in Tunisia. She serves as a board member and former Board Chair for the Get In Touch Foundation, and as an advisor to the Innovadores Foundation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
In my 20+ years working in and around the research and advisory field, I’ve worked with and for an impressive list of companies and clients, In doing so, I’ve learned from some of the smartest leaders anyone could ever hope to know, and witnessed first-hand the growth of a dynamic and fascinating industry.
I’ve also had the good fortune to work beside some great leaders, and some fantastic mentors. It is from these individuals that my passion for strengthening the roles women can play in each other’s success grew.
As women, not only are the demands on our professional lives extending but as our personal lives are continuing to flourish, I believe we need to move closer to a business culture that appropriately supports both. We need to help each other get to a place where the work/family debate is behind us.
Why did you found your company?
After 25 years working in and around some amazing companies, clients and colleagues, I figured it was time for me to apply all that I’ve learned in an exciting new way. The Rising Tides is focused on accelerating the success of women in the workplace.
My goal with The Rising Tides is to share what I’ve learned from working with dynamic, accomplished, intelligent women so that our associates, our daughters and our mentees can rise the tides in their organizations and lift each other, collectively. We will all benefit from sharing and improving on our own sense of professional generosity.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I talk about things that make people uncomfortable. Right now, there are so many firms jumping into this space, with offerings that are about as deep as a birdbath. The first conversation I have with my clients is always, how much are you willing to commit to true culture change? How willing are you to sit in some uncomfortable spaces?
I’m not willing to work with organizations that want to hire me to check a box and move on — I want to work with the teams that are willing to do the hard work of advancing their workplaces and driving systemic change.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
So many, and many of them have been men, partly due to the industry I was in. But two of the first were women — one hired me into my first corporate job in 1990 even though I had no experience (I had just left nursing school).
The other hired me, opened doors for me, and brought me into projects and opportunities I would never have found myself — and she doubled my salary that first year, a critical factor for a single mother.
These two women informed every interaction I had with other women throughout my career. I cannot overemphasize their impact.
How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m writing a book about women who have achieved massive success in male dominated spaces who have widened that path for others to follow. (Inthecompanyofmenbook.com)
Stories about women who have succeeded are great and necessary — but I want to tell the stories about why we can’t stop there — why we need to use that platform to make the journey less horrible for the next ones.
The women I am profiling are amazing, some names you know, some you probably don’t, but their stories transcend industry and there are learnings for everyone. I can’t wait to share their stories.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
“Be truthful and transparent in your narrative. Otherwise people will fill in the blanks for you.”
This is perhaps the best singular piece of career advice I ever received. See, I dropped out of college when I discovered I was pregnant and decided to become a parent. When prospective employers asked why I hadn’t finished my degree, I was intentionally vague, fearing the judgment I’d get as a single mom.
It never occurred to me that the story in their heads might be worse! And by owning my story, I knew that at least their decision was based on truth. Total game changer.
“Never ever ever be the first to quote a figure in salary negotiations. And everything is negotiable.”
Or the famous Cindy Gallop quote, “Ask for the highest number you can say without busting out laughing.”
We’re great at undervaluing ourselves. We’re also sometimes taught to be humble and grateful in negotiations for new jobs or promotions.
The minute I stopped using my perception of my worth to any organization was when my salary started growing exponentially. And when you consider vacation time, guaranteed bonuses, overachievement on targets, remote work options to all be on the negotiation table, you get closer to achieving a work:life balance that works for you, specifically.
“Don’t get too good at the things you don’t want to keep doing. Focus on the things only you can do.”
Particularly administrative or mundane things. I’m a data wonk, and for years I lived in spreadsheets instead of analysis. I finally learned that my interpretation of the numbers was more important than the perfect algorithms or pivot tables! But I’ll admit, I still get caught up in designing the perfect spreadsheet sometimes.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
I’m one of those people who is constantly reading and listening to everything I can get my hands on. Which makes it challenging to name one source that has more impact than the aggregate of them all.
That said, when I need inspiration or a lift, I go to The Moth podcast — I find that the stories shared there are so beautifully told and so honest, I am always moved (and I have reached out to many of the features and have found some new friends, too!).
The world I try to help my clients aspire to is one where we can all be authentic, we can all find our way to uniquely contribute, we can all become our best selves at work and in our lives without compromising either.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Beyonce. Her voice, her messaging, her platform keep getting stronger and better. She is so aspirational to so many of us.
I wish I could bring as much symbolic meaning into my work as she has — from the HBCU representation in her Coachella performance and funding HBCU scholarships, her response to her husband’s alleged cheating becoming a massive success and an anthem piece for millions of women, her pregnancy and birth announcements, what can’t she transform, extol, and make beautiful on behalf of and in reverence to women? I am in awe.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
(and for comic relief, my ridiculous basset hound is very popular on IG — @beukebooktherescuedbasset)