FWD Feature | Kristi Ross

Kristi Ross | Co-CEO & President | tastytrade

What does diversity, equity, and professional inclusion mean to you?

Diversity and professional inclusion run deep for me. I have experience in two very male dominated industries my whole career: financials services and technology. However, rather than looking at that as a disadvantage, I took the challenge to compete, participate, used my voice, shared my opinions and take a seat at the table. I did my homework and made sure I had something of value to add. What I found is that male and female teams are better together. We are wired differently, it is just a fact. We have different perspectives and often different approaches. Diversity of thought is one of the most valuable aspects of building a better product, more meaningful project or successful company. Diversity of thought and collaboration breeds innovation. I have a strong belief that the road to professional inclusion and equality is a two-way street in many cases. We as women need to ask for “it”, whatever “it” is, take the time to sell it as to “why”, as much as men need to be cognizant and be open to lifting up, sponsoring and fairly measuring/compensating. The real value comes in working together and having the best of both worlds around the table.

How have you experienced and/or dealt with adversity in your professional and personal life?

When I am faced with adversity, I first try to understand “why” it occurred and then ask myself if there was something I could have done differently to shape the situation or influence it in a more positive way. I tend to be a glass-half-full person, always trying to find the take-away or lesson learned from any situation. On a personal level, I had the misfortune of losing my mother to breast cancer when I was a teenager. That was one situation where I couldn’t quite answer the “why” behind it…however, the proactive mindfulness that blossomed out of that, I still carry with me. Being health conscious and realizing that you have nothing if you don’t have your health, rings true throughout my life. Having to ultimately find my own way was incredibly empowering and the sheer nature of doing things myself at a young age, taught me resilience and perseverance and learning some lessons the hard way. I take every chance I get to provide “life lessons” to my three strong daughters…reminding them to make smart choices, be happy, be healthy, learn something new from everything you do and don’t accept what is handed to you, but rather go after what will bring you the most joy and dig deep for those answers. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t and in fact, always say you can do it…even if you can’t…because as long as there is desire, you will figure it out. Be empowered and empower others around you.

What would be one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

One piece of advice I would give to my younger self is to do as much public speaking as possible as early on in your career as you can. Take every opportunity to do it and if the opportunities don’t present themselves, seek them out or create them. An example of seeking opportunities to speak, at a minimum, join a charity, head up a committee, volunteer to be the spokesperson…an example of creating opportunities, at work find a topic you are passionate about that can fit into your company and offer up to give a presentation on it to a group of peers or another department that could benefit. Sometimes the action needs to come from within and that is where you find the most power. What I did learn early on is to take action, have an opinion and use my voice. Without those, I’m not sure I’d be where I am now. While I do have a high level of confidence now, I do feel it could have flourished faster, potentially, had I done more public speaking early on. The key to being a great public speaker and a great story teller (which is also a huge benefit in any leadership role) is practice, practice, practice!

Name three things that you do everyday to help lead you to success.

1 — I wake up everyday with purpose. If you ‘do what you love and love what you do’ it doesn’t feel like work. And if what you are doing everyday has purpose and you’re passionate about it, success will naturally follow.

2 — I have a motto: “Opportunity is All Around You…Pay Attention…But You Have to Grab It.” Knowing there is opportunity out there every single day and all I have to do is grab it, it challenges you every day to pay attention and see if you can create something that wasn’t there before.

3 — Throughout my day, I ask the question “why” to better understand the rationale behind someone’s decision and because I care what they think and how they derived at it. In turn, I always try to make sure I am sharing the “why” behind our company initiatives or projects or my decisions so that when that person comes across a situation, they feel empowered to make the next decision knowing they understand where we are headed and they understand the “why” behind it.

4 — (Can I add a 4th?)…Working-out in some capacity and eating healthy, as best you can, each day builds a strong body and mind. You function better, sleep better, handle stress better and think clearer. (Although, I’ll admin, black coffee can help too!)

5 — (And a 5th?) — Be fearless!! Take risks!

Who inspires your professional ambition? Why?

I have been an athlete my whole life, playing volleyball, basketball, track and then softball in the summer. I’m highly competitive. So, when I see someone who has great accomplishments, I often ask myself, why can’t I do that…how can I do that…or I want to aspire to do or be like them. “Who” is a great question, because “who” is actually a combination of several people. Taking the best from the best. I want to be bold like Elon Musk, I want to have eternal energy like Howard Tullman, I want to be transparent like Sheryl Sandberg, I want to trade futures like Tom Sosnoff, I want to give back like Melinda Gates, I want to dunk like Michael Jordan did…and while I may not play for the Bulls or build a tunnel across America, what inspires my professional ambition is the passion behind what each of these individuals do every day. What I have taken from each one of them collectively is the inspiration to “follow your passion” and not only do it, but “BE IT”. Your passion will define you.

What is your favorite book? Or the one you’d recommend most?

I have a few favorite books. Outside of Steve Jobs biography, there are three books and one article that I would recommend to anyone.

* What’s Your Story? by Craig Wortmann — Knowing your narrative, your company’s narrative, your industries narrative…knowing and being able to articulate each of those is critical to your own success. Shape your story so that people know how to interact with you, as well as your company.

* Brief by Joseph McCormack — While this too is about crafting an effective message, narrative or simply an email, it is about effective communication as a whole. I love the saying, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” So true!

* Yes, And by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton — Plain and simple, a positive mindset spurs creativity and collaboration, which is at the core of what I believe drives innovation.

* Confidence Gap in the Atlantic — I distribute this article to every person I mentor. I have shared this with women in our company, my daughters, male managers alike. This 17 page article is an incredible depiction of what happens in the workplace, at no fault of anyone. However, it enlightens readers to be able to identify, properly assess and lift up and encourage their employees, male and females. Confidence matters! Confidence does not equal competence, but rather often equals perceived competence. Building confidence is important…in yourself, your employees, your children.

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