Women Of The C-Suite: “ Leadership is an ongoing journey”, with Kristy Wallace of Ellevate Network
Be confident in yourself and in your abilities, but don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and advice. Leadership is an ongoing journey, and there’s no perfect way to be a leader, so continuing to evolve and to craft a style that’s authentic to you will resonate with your teams and your company. Tap into a community of peers. It has been hugely important for me to have other women leaders leading teams and companies in other industries but facing similar challenges. Develop a board of advisors, or a squad. Lean on each other for advice and support. While being in a position of leadership can be lonely, knowing you have a community to support you is very comforting. Finally, always look for opportunities for everyone in your company.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Wallace. Kristy is the CEO of Ellevate Network, and is responsible for executing Ellevate Network’s mission of changing the culture of business from the inside out by providing professional women with a supportive community to lean on and learn from. She directs the Network’s staff, is responsible for business growth and strategy, and works closely with Ellevate’s Chapter Leaders, Business Partners, and Champions to further Ellevate’s impact. Kristy is host of the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business and is also a regular speaker and thought leader on Leadership, Diversity, Social Entrepreneurship, Networking, and Entrepreneurialism. Most recently, Kristy was recognized as a Woman of Influence by the New York Business Journal. Kristy strives to support women and girls in achieving their dreams. She is an Angel Investor with Pipeline Angels, an organization creating capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs; a Member of the UN Women Global Innovation Coalition for Change; an Advisor for the 92Y Women in Power Fellowship for Rising Female Leaders; on the Advisory Council for the Villanova University Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship Institute; Co-Chair of the Leadership Advisory Board for the Girl Scouts of Greater NYC; and a Board Member at Workforce Professionals Training Institute. Prior to joining Ellevate, Kristy was a founding team member of Zeel.com, where she oversaw operations, business modeling, brand development, partnerships, and fundraising.Prior to Zeel, Kristy served as VP of North America Ad Sales and then GM of International Operations at Vault.com. Kristy obtained her BA in English/Sociology from Villanova University and began her career as a financial analyst at KeyBank. A passionate runner, reader and world traveler, Kristy lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with her husband and three wonderful children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Luck, networking, and listening to others who see skills and potential in you that you may not see in yourself. As an English and sociology major, I came to NYC thinking the obvious career path would be PR or publishing, and I was applying to those jobs. A recruiter I met encouraged me to apply for a job in investment banking. I got it, and fell in love. I saw so much potential and passion within business and finance. Later, a friend from school encouraged me to apply for a sales position in a startup, and again, I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit for me. When I got the offer, I still wasn’t sure I had the skillset. But she supported and encouraged me to take the job, and I did. That led me to a career in startups and technology, where I was able to build on my expertise with sales, management, leadership, and beyond.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story was our first Mobilize Women summit, a day-long event that brought together dozens of speakers, hundreds of guests, and thousands of livestream viewers. It was an event that we had a vision for, but seeing it actually happen and having that vision fulfilled was a really powerful experience. Even more meaningful was having my husband and my son in the audience, who were not only supporting me, but supporting the mission that I strive to uphold every day. I think what I learned from that experience is to believe in your vision, to work alongside others who are as passionate as you are, and to engage all of your communities, personal and professional, in the work that you do, to have an even greater impact.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I tend to ad lib a lot of my company speeches or presentations, and just say things that come to mind. Certainly, there have been times when what came out of my mouth isn’t how others interpret it when it goes into their ears. I’ve learned to do some quick roleplaying with my team and advisors before approaching important topics, because ad libbing can lead to confusion in some pretty silly ways.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve been really proud of how Ellevate has evolved as a business, from a company that’s been around for 20 years and was solving problems in a way that made sense 20 years ago, to continuing to evolve and innovate. We push ourselves to solve problems in new and unique ways, to look at the use of technology, to leverage the human connection which will never go away, to listen to our strong, passionate community, and to have the conviction that equality in business is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Leading a for-profit business with such a strong mission and values lets me see firsthand the passion that our teams and communities put into the work they do everyday. It has been not just eye opening, but a transformational experience for me as a leader.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I think a lot about the power of networks. Every job I’ve received has been through my network. Peer networks are critical in helping to navigate what it’s like to be a leader in an ever-changing business landscape. It’s becoming a digital world as more and more communications and connections move online. This digital aspect is important because of its accessibility. Working parents and professionals can still benefit from growing their networks remotely. But we also face the challenges of losing touch with human networks, and diminishing depth of interactions. I’m excited every day about combining the digital and in-person networking experience to create lasting relationships that are realistic in today’s busy world. What I’m most excited about right now is the evolution of our community to create even more touchpoints with women to connect with one another and support each other in overcoming challenges and attaining goals.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be confident in yourself and in your abilities, but don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and advice. Leadership is an ongoing journey, and there’s no perfect way to be a leader, so continuing to evolve and to craft a style that’s authentic to you will resonate with your teams and your company. Tap into a community of peers. It has been hugely important for me to have other women leaders leading teams and companies in other industries but facing similar challenges. Develop a board of advisors, or a squad. Lean on each other for advice and support. While being in a position of leadership can be lonely, knowing you have a community to support you is very comforting. Finally, always look for opportunities for everyone in your company. Lead by example in the way that you support your senior leadership team in making decisions, having their voices heard, and being able to direct important conversations. Encourage them to do that for their teams and beyond, to create a culture of inclusion and belonging that is a key part of leadership.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Managing teams can be very difficult because everyone has very different communication styles. What motivates Employee A may not motivate Employee B. How one person communicates their feedback may be very different than the way someone else prefers to receive it. The biggest piece of advice as a leader is to be aware of your communication style, and how that works in your favor or doesn’t. Learn the main communication styles of people within your team, and how you can project your style to create a connection with as many people as possible. To that end, I think it’s important that leaders be present and look to build relationships with their teams beyond the formal meetings, especially for those that you may not see on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to go to happy hour every week, but being able to say hi to someone, ask how their day is, and really care about the people who are working within your team helps to create a community that will drive your business and your success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m really grateful for the senior leaders that I work alongside — Maricella, Rebecca, and Allison. They each come from different backgrounds and experiences, and that diversity of thought is always challenging me to push myself harder, think bigger, and be the best leader that I can be. The reality is that leaders are only as strong as their teams, so when you have great people working alongside of you, it makes every day a great day to go to work.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m fortunate to use my success to amplify the voices of other women and to take actionable steps to create more equality in this world. As the host of the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business, I always aim to engage with speakers and thought leaders that have diverse experiences so that we call all draw inspiration from each other. I strive to support women and girls in achieving their dreams. I am an Angel Investor with Portfolia and with Pipeline Angels, an organization creating capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs. As a Member of the UN Women Global Innovation Coalition for Change I worked alongside leaders in business, academia and non-profits to identify pathways for women to become entrepreneurs and to gain more support for their efforts. As an Advisor for the 92Y Women in Power Fellowship for Rising Female Leaders; on the Advisory Council for the Villanova University Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship Institute; Co-Chair of the Leadership Advisory Board for the Girl Scouts of Greater NYC, I look to support future generations of women leaders.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A liberal arts degree can be a blessing. The critical thinking and analysis I learned in school helped differentiate me in the workplace and have set me up for success.
- You are your biggest supporter, so believing in yourself can propel you to greatness (however you define that).
- It is possible to be a great parent and a great business leader at the same time.
- You don’t have to know today where you’ll be a year from now, or five years from now. Just know what you’re passionate about, what you want to learn, and take steps every day to follow that path.
- Finally, your network is key to your success. Start cultivating it early and commit time every week to building ongoing relationships that will support you throughout your life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe in equality for all people, and particularly gender equality. When we see women equally represented in the workforce, that will have positive impacts on everything from business innovation to economic stability to policies that support families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” — Toni Morrison — It’s easy to get weighed down with insecurities, failure, day-to-day challenges we all face. Being able to let that go and move on will help you get where you need to go.
We are blessed that 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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Nancy Green — President Chief Creative Officer at Old Navy. She’s really inspiring. I’ve heard her speak at a B Corp Women CEO event, where she said five years ago she knew she wanted to be the CEO of Athleta, and she worked hard to get there. While there, she implemented a number of policies to help Athleta become a more sustainable business for the environment and their workforce. I’m always inspired by leaders that use their platform to create a new model of business that’s good for all people.
Thank you for all of these great insights!