Kim Meninger: Empowering Women to Expand Visibility, Increase Assertiveness, and Build Confidence

Naturally, Kim and I met at a Lean In Event, where we had the pleasure of listening to Sheryl Sandberg speak about women at work, and how we all need to do better both within and outside of the workplace to cultivate more equitable societies. I later discovered that this notion was the premise of Kim’s career as well as the passion and energy that drive her business. The mission of Executive Career Success, LLC is to empower business leaders to strengthen their leadership presence, build their influence, and master critical communication strategies to realize their career advancement objectives. While this mission applies to professionals of all genders, Kim is intensely devoted to her work in empowering women to find their inner strength. While Kim and I have collaborated extensively both one-on-one and in larger groups, I know that many in my network who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Kim, would greatly benefit from her insights and perspectives. Without further adieu, I (virtually) introduce Kim Meninger.

Miss Independent: Tell me about yourself!

Kim: I grew up moving every two years because my dad worked for the car industry and was often transferred to new locations. I was born in Massachusetts then bounced around to New York, New Jersey, Michigan and even spent a few years in Mexico. Ultimately, after my parents divorced, we came back to Massachusetts just before my junior year of high school and have been here ever since. Moving was often painful but it’s made me a great networker. I’m currently married with two boys, ages 5 and 9. We live in Groton, which is a lovely New England town about an hour northwest of Boston.

Miss Independent: What has your career path looked like? What led you to ultimately start Executive Career Success?

Kim: When I was growing up, I was 100% sure that I would become a clinical psychologist one day. I overloaded on psych classes at Boston College and took two years off after graduation to get some additional research and clinical experience. But, because I wasn’t in a position to become a full-time student, I switched gears and joined EMC where I spent almost 10 years managing partnerships of various types. During that time, I had the opportunity to build and manage a team of people who provided partner support to the inside sales organization. It was during this time that I realized how much I enjoyed developing and mentoring other people. It was also during this time that I completed an MBA at Boston College where I focused my studies on organizational leadership. I left EMC for Monster in the hopes of joining a smaller company where I could make a bigger impact, but I never felt aligned with the vision and strategy. In 2010, I left when my older son was born and started my own coaching business. Starting Executive Career Success felt like the perfect opportunity to bring my psychology and business experience together. It also allows me to be the resource to women that I didn’t have during my career.

Miss Independent: What is the mission of Executive Career Success?

Kim: The mission is to empower women to become more confident, visible and influential so that they can make a bigger impact and advance to higher levels of leadership. Having spent my own corporate career in a male-dominated environment, I experienced first-hand the unique challenges facing women in these spaces. In some cases, we encounter external roadblocks in the form of structural bias, gender stereotypes and other barriers. In other cases, we undermine ourselves through self-doubt, a reluctance to self-promote, etc. My goal is to help women more effectively navigate both types of challenges so that they can better achieve their own definitions of success.

Miss Independent: What does a typical working session look like with your clients?

Kim: All of my client sessions map to an overarching set of goals that we define at the outset. This ensures that we are focused on the highest priority objectives and highest value action steps. Typically, we meet for one hour each session where we start with a debrief on what has happened since our last meeting. Have there been any new developments? Did they follow through on the action steps we discussed last time? Are there any questions or concerns? We, then, focus on any current challenges/goals. Are they preparing for an important meeting? Are they experiencing conflict with a colleague? Do they need support on anything? This segment is generally a balancing act between immediate and longer-term goals. We wrap up with action steps the client will take before we meet again. This provides them with clear guidance and creates greater accountability for following through.

Miss Independent: How did you become inspired to specifically focus on building confidence in young women?

Kim: I’ve had my own confidence struggles my entire life. Moving around a lot did a number on my confidence because I was always the new kid trying to fit in. I had a really hard time being authentic because I just wanted to be liked. As I got older, I battled Impostor Syndrome, the “disease to please” and other mental roadblocks that consumed a lot of unnecessary energy. Because I’m fascinated with psychology, I’ve always been committed to my own personal growth and development. This allowed me to overcome a lot of these obstacles and build my own confidence. I want to share these strategies and insights with women as early in their careers as possible to help them avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered.

Miss Independent: What do you feel are some of the biggest barriers facing women nowadays?

Kim: Impostor Syndrome is a huge barrier! So many talented women feel undeserving of their success. This has a ripple effect on their willingness to build strategic relationships, fight for their ideas, seek greater visibility and ask for what they deserve. I attribute part of this issue to a lack of psychological safety in the workplace. When we don’t feel a sense of safety and belonging, we don’t show up authentically, take risks and vulnerably engage others. We still have a long way to go to change the systemic gender bias that is built in to so many organizations. My hope is that we’ll continue to make progress at the macro level but we can’t wait for that to happen. We have an opportunity right now to empower ourselves through greater self-awareness, confidence building and  increased communication and connection. We also have to recognize that we have the power to leave situations that don’t work for us. If we work in organizations that don’t value us for who we are, we owe it to ourselves to leave. When more and more people decide that they are unwilling to tolerate bias, toxic cultures and other issues, companies will feel pressured to make changes more quickly.

Miss Independent: What are some small things women can do on a daily basis to boost their presence in the workplace?

Kim: Visibility is critical to women’s ability to advance to higher levels. Unfortunately, because of confidence issues or the way we’ve been socialized, many women prefer to avoid the spotlight and hope that their work will speak for itself. It doesn’t! To help women reframe self-promotion more positively, I always say that self-promotion, when done strategically, is not self-serving; it’s a service to others. What I mean by this is that we are all hired to bring our unique strengths and skills to our teams and if we choose not to share those with others, we deprive them of an opportunity to leverage our value. So, to boost your presence in the workplace, look for opportunities to be of service to others. Think about how your work might benefit people in other departments and proactively share it with them. Look for opportunities to support or mentor colleagues. Share your ideas in meetings, particularly when there is senior-level or cross-functional representation. When we think of it as being of service, self-promotion has less of an ick factor.

Miss Independent: What do you think are some of the biggest unconscious biases holding women back in the workplace and how can we address them? 

Kim: The idea that women are either likable or competent (not both) is a big unconscious bias. This makes it very difficult for women to authentically rise through the ranks. The backlash we experience when we advocate for ourselves is another challenge that can make it harder for us to get promotions and raises. And the idea that women are “emotional” and can’t handle tough feedback keeps many women from getting the mentorship they need. Stereotypes exist for a reason and, if nothing changes, we’ll continue to perpetuate those stereotypes. One way to address them is to notice them. If we get uncomfortable with a woman leader’s behavior, ask ourselves, “Would I feel this way if she were a man?” We also have an opportunity to break down biases by being more intentional about how we show up. The more we advocate for ourselves and seek increased visibility, the more mainstream those behaviors will become and the less they’ll be seen as violating gender norms. Again, we also have to be willing to walk away from outdated environments that hold women back.

Miss Independent: How are men affected by these unconscious biases? How can we all be part of the solution?

Kim: Men are absolutely affected by unconscious bias as well. Men have less flexibility in their career paths because they’re typically seen as the breadwinner and pressured to advance and make as much money as possible. For men who want greater work/life balance, or who don’t want to be executives, this is very challenging. I’ve worked with a lot of men who want work environments that allow them to spend more time with their families. But there is currently a stigma against men who take advantage of parental leave and other family-friendly work options. We need to start humanizing the workplace and recognizing that people are not robots. We don’t check our identities at the door – we want to work in environments where we can be heard and respected. We want to have full lives that include much more than making as much money as possible. Most people don’t want to work 24/7 but feel pressured to be on standby at all times. If we can all come together and have honest conversations about what we as humans, not men and women, need, we can come up with solutions that work for everyone.

Miss Independent: I’ve noticed that when women make a mistake in a male dominant field, it’s often assumed that the error was a result of gender, as opposed to a simple human error. How can we address these types of generalizations?

Kim: Whenever someone is a minority in a majority culture, they, sadly, often find themselves representing their whole group. This is a difficult one to overcome until we come to terms with our own unconscious biases. The ideal solution is to create enough diversity that people aren’t put in a position of being an “only” within their organizations. In the meantime, those of us who are outside the situation and see it happen have an opportunity to speak up and call it what it is.

Miss Independent: Women are often pegged with administration work that’s not in their job description (e.g., ordering lunch, taking notes, making room reservations, printing, copying, etc.) How can we address these tasks without seeming unwilling, but also demonstrating that such tasks are not often handed to our male counterparts?

Kim: This is a very common challenge. Women should not be bogged down with administrative work that takes away from their ability to engage in higher value activity and leaves them at a disadvantage when compared with male peers. If you’re asked to do these types of admin tasks, agree the first time and say something like, “I’m happy to do it this time. Going forward, let’s rotate so that these things don’t fall on one person.”

Miss Independent: How do you feel the #MeToo movement is affecting our workplaces and the way in which men and women interact?

Kim: The #MeToo movement brought to the surface a really important issue and started a long overdue conversation. I do worry, though, that it has left many men fearful of engaging women. For women, I recommend driving relationships with male colleagues, leaders and mentors, recognizing that they may be more reluctant to take the lead. And for men, make sure your policies are consistent. If you don’t feel comfortable having lunch or dinner alone with a female direct report, don’t eat alone with a male direct report either.

Miss Independent: What can women do to be better mentors to other women?

Kim: All of the women I know are incredibly motivated to support other women. Sadly, though, there are still women who feel threatened by the success of other women. We have to stop looking at career advancement as a zero-sum game. Now more than ever, we would all benefit from adopting an abundance, rather than a scarcity, mindset. A scarcity mindset leaves us always feeling like someone else’s gain is our loss. This leaves us feeling anxious and threatened. In reality, there is plenty of opportunity for everyone.

Miss Independent: How can women be better advocates for other women in the workplace?

Kim: When you see undermining behaviors, such as women getting interrupted, others taking credit for their ideas, speak up. When you are hiring, insist on a diverse slate of candidates. And focus on providing growth opportunities to women at earlier career stages so that they are better prepared to step into leadership roles. If you’re a woman who has influence, use it to create change that levels the playing field for other women.

Miss Independent: How can we get in touch with you?

Kim: You can email me directly at Kim@ExecutiveCareerSuccess.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. I also have a virtual discussion group for women that I lead twice per month. It’s a great opportunity for women to come together to have career and leadership conversations that likely aren’t happening elsewhere. Anyone interested in checking it out can join my newsletter by texting LEADINGWOMEN to 66866, or contacting me directly. If you struggle with Impostor Syndrome, join my free online challenge where you’ll receive an email each day for 7 days with self-reflection questions and exercises to help you better understand your own experience with Impostor Syndrome and how to manage it. And, lastly, check out my new podcast, The Impostor Syndrome Files, to hear stories from women about their experiences with Impostor Syndrome.

Miss Independent: What do you do to relax?

Kim: I read a lot and I love puzzles of all kinds. I’m also an avid true crime podcast listener! I enjoy spending time with my family. Right now, we’re on a mission to see all 50 states, so we love traveling to new parts of the country.

Miss Independent: Who is your biggest role model / inspiration?

Kim: Bill & Melinda Gates are my greatest inspiration. With all of their money and success, they could have easily ridden off into the sunset but instead they chose to devote their resources to tackling some of the toughest challenges on the planet. I’m especially grateful for their commitment to empowering girls and women around the world.

Miss Independent: What has been your favorite travel destination?

Kim: This is a tough one! I absolutely loved Costa Rica. Not only was it a beautiful country but the people were incredibly kind and gracious.

Kim, I cannot thank you enough for all that you do. You are truly an incredible human being, and have tremendously influenced the positive upward trajectory of women in the world. I cannot wait for what’s to come.

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