What would you do if you weren’t afraid?


A review of Sheryl Sandberg's book.So I just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” For the most part it affirmed everything I already knew and have been on my soapbox about as well. But it reminded me that we all have to remember to use our voices every day or change will never happen. Like Sheryl mentions in the book, I have felt trepidation about being labeled a feminist or man hater, but if there ever was a time to stand up, lean in and be heard, it’s now. It’s time to not be afraid.

So as I read the book, I recalled incidences in my past where I was questioned or treated unfairly and I had to stand up and not be afraid to say no or to fight. And I’m sharing them with you so you can know that I’ve never been fired for standing up for what I believed in or for calling bullshit. I’m hoping that if you ever experience anything remotely like this that you will feel inspired to stand up, too.

Only 3% of the creative directors across the U.S. are female. I’ve been in that exclusive club and it hasn’t been an easy ride.

• I’ve been told to wear a skirt so a prospective client could admire my legs like he did in the first meeting. I wore pants in defiance.

• I’ve been told, “you’re pretty good for a girl.” I corrected him by saying I was good for a woman.

• I was told I couldn’t have an opinion that didn’t mirror my partner. I asked did he really want me to just parrot his every word or did he hire me for my brain?

• I was told the reason my name was on the door was because I was using my maiden name when in reality I was married to the other name on the door and that was how I was able to accomplish that.

• I was told I was not allowed to take personal phone calls from my children during the workday. When I answered by asking him, “What have I not done that you have ever asked me to do?” He responded by saying he wanted more and I needed to take on additional responsibility. I was already drowning with work so I told him it was physically impossible to work any harder or longer.  I pointed out a male executive above me and asked, “Why are you not asking him to do more–you pay him more and bonus him more?” He was let go within weeks.

• I was advised not to act like a typical woman, but to act like a man and make decisions right or wrong because most women vacillate. And that I needed to be tougher in negotiations even though I got the results my boss wanted through my way of doing things.

• I have been accused of being insubordinate because I didn’t change a strategy. “It wasn’t a request, it was an order,” were the words spoken. Meanwhile the male, CMO co-worker who created strategy was never spoken to. I told him, “You hired me for my brain, not to just execute and “why” is the CMO not here for this conversation as it was his strategy? Remember you have the truth on your side.

So it’s time for women to have a seat at whatever table she wants and to “lean in” and make change one seat at a time. Just think of all the things we can accomplish if we stop being afraid or doubting ourselves.

What brave first step will you take today?

6 Responses to “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

  1. This is fantastic Holly. Not to “act like a typical woman?” Wow. Will share this will my college daughter who is a senior and about to graduate, it’s perfect.

    • Thanks. I have more stories where that one came from. So important to stand up for yourself.

      Holly Pavlika
  2. Mom – this is why you are my idol and role model. The ways in which you represent yourself are inspiring to all career women. I’m so proud of how you stand up for yourself because, as you show, it always pays off in the end. Love, your daughter Kara

    Kara Gonchar
  3. Holly, you know you made the right choices in your personal life and at work when you get such accolades from your daughter and your colleagues. Lean in and fight on! Ruth

    ruth sheldon
  4. Holly, really great post. And I’ve also been told many of those similar things. The work place is not always easy for women who are just trying to do what they think is right for their client/the business. Your candor helps others know that these things happen to many of us.

  5. Having worked in a predominantly male field in my previous career, I can relate to your experiences! I’m sharing this post with all the career women in my life as well as some recent graduates.

    As women, we have so much to offer. Because we’re wired differently than men, we bring a set of skills to the table that would benefit any employer, organization, program, project or campaign.

    The key for all of us is knowing our worth and not being afraid to remind those who forget.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    Charmin Calamaris

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