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Get your red suits on ladies, Kathryn Heath wants women on top of the corporate ladder

Kathryn Heath, a women's leadership and career coach, spoke at the Bobby Boyd Leadership Lecture on Tuesday evening. 

Kathryn Heath, a women's leadership and career coach, spoke at the Bobby Boyd Leadership Lecture on Tuesday evening. 

On Tuesday, Kathryn Heath addressed a crowd of students, faculty and community guests for the annual Bobby Boyd Leadership Lecture at the UNC School of Social Work. In her bright pink blazer and skirt, Heath discussed how women can take ownership of their careers based on her latest New York Times Bestseller, “Break Your Own Rules.”

As a founding partner of Flynn Heath Holt Leadership, Heath currently serves as a leadership and career coach, specifically for women. She explained why her work is critical in the current political climate through a visual representation of the gender representation gap in corporate America. 

Referencing a model known as the "red suit vision", Heath described a typical suite where company executives meet. If, theoretically, the men wore gray suits and the women wore red suits, Heath said only 2.2 people would be wearing red suits in the suite. To make matters worse, Heath noted that one seat would be the designated “pink seat” for human resources, which is dominated by women but does not hold as much power. 

Heath has found that her former position as senior vice president and director of First University at First Union bank, now Wells Fargo, gave her key insights into the ways of modern corporate America. She called on women to understand corporate systems in order to gain influence.

“If I deeply care about something, how do I drive that change in an organization wherever it is where you want that change to come,” Heath said. “Figure out who’s going to make the decision.”

After outlining the problem, Heath jumped into the solution by presenting six assumptions that women should forgo to be successful. Heath empowered women to take center stage, be politically savvy, play to win, project personal power, find “both/and” solutions and proceed until apprehended. Gracefully interlacing these points with personal stories and research, Heath called on women to set ambitious personal goals.

“I think the world would be a better place if there were more women leaders,” Heath said. “I really do. And that’s why I work on it.”

One women in attendance, Carolyn Clabo, works in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in communications and development and serves as the assistant to Nobel Laureate Aziz Sancar. Clabo said this lecture inspired her to apply Heath’s principles in her own work.

“It’s a win-win if the workers, especially for the female employees, are letting the organization know what are their strengths,” Clabo said. “A supervisor in charge of the workload can assign those individuals with the types of projects that they’re thriving and engaged. If they’re an engaged employee, they’re going to be performing at a higher level.”

Meredith Odinak is a second-year graduate student in the UNC School of Social Work. As someone who is on the brink of fully starting her career, Odinak appreciated Heath’s advice and emphasized why it’s important to take initiative.

“Personally what I think is really important is teamwork within wherever you’re working,” Odinak said. “So being able to take ownership and take pride in what you’re doing helps to not push yourself forward but to push your work forward.”

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