SPEAKER Carol Seymour Spotlight
Global Executive, Speaker, Author and Founder of Signature Leaders and TWOthroughYOU
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your role?
I grew up in Ohio, in a large family where my parents encouraged and supported us to be the best we could be. I knew at an early age that I had an ability to connect and relate to all kinds of people, and found that gift translated well into the start of my career as a sales leader. My early roles were in industrial manufacturing, and I was the only female in the division and the entire industry. My early success launched me into management and executive roles for several global organizations, such as Chief Marketing and Commercial roles at Accenture, Spherion, MeadWestvaco, and DBM. I also did a decade of work in private equity funded companies running critical transformations. While building the premier senior executive networking organization, World 50, I had the privilege of listening to and building relationships with more than 1000 C-suite executives and hearing what we needed (or lacked) in leadership. They requested that I create a unique program for top female leaders, and five years ago, I jumped into this personal passion area with a focus on accelerating and developing top talent. I had never been an entrepreneur, which was scary, but the support for the Signature initiative around the globe has been amazing. We have more than 700 top female leaders as alumni. My role as Founder and CEO is simple…I try to make every engagement with a candidate a lasting and ongoing experience where we can support them as they move through leadership AND life. Today, more than 100 market-leading companies share and support this passion, including Cargill, ADP, Ahold Delhaize, Ingersoll Rand, Adecco, LinkedIn, Coca-Cola, UPS, Heineken, Bunzl, ING, and Hyatt.
Why is diversity important for you?
I started my career in the decidedly unsexy paperboard industry, and in an environment where traditional, male dominated “command and control leadership” was the norm. I had few role models that were female, but there was also very little diversity of culture, experience, or even thought, which we now know as Cognitive Diversity. Early in my career, I felt that different perspectives needed to be shared and heard for the entire group (and company) to benefit. I also did not feel like I “hit my stride” until I got into an environment that valued differences. This was the real wake-up call. We cannot bring our best selves to work if we have to walk through the office door and worry about fitting in or being someone that the company wants us to be. Bringing all of our gifts, our whole self, to the organization is a “win/win” for the company and for the individual. The diversity gap is still big and wide in most companies, and until we get diverse senior leadership teams in place, we can’t enrich and enable the organization to hit its stride either.
What is your perspective on LEAD and what advice would you have for us?
I’m excited to see the focus and attention that LEAD provides to career women so they can be supported and excited about accelerating their roles. My advice would be: as an organization, focus your energy on a few really great things you provide that exemplify your brand, and make your members big advocates of that value.
Tell us about something innovative you’ve done recently related to diversity?
I have a personal passion around the need for women to have real sponsors. We have plenty of mentors, and they provide great resources, encouragement, and insight. But sponsors pave the path for those behind them, advocate on their behalf, which women often have difficulty doing themselves, and open doors to new growth opportunities and high-profile assignments. There are plenty of women that have the capability to lead companies, if they are given the chance. Sponsors provide those chances.
In March, I launched a campaign called TWOthroughYOU. This initiative has two objectives: 1) point the spotlight on how important Sponsors are for advancing women in their careers and 2) provide a tangible, actionable way to give women more Sponsors.
Our website, www.TWOthroughYOU.com, encourages and supports leaders to simply pick two women behind them to sponsor. TWOthroughYOU then provides ideas, resources, and blogs to help you in your journey as Sponsor or Sponsoree.
It is my hope that through a grass roots campaign, we can create a significant impact on getting more women up the ladder more quickly than waiting for companies to formalize and structure programs. I hope that, someday, the title of Chief Diversity Officer goes away because we no longer need programs and initiatives to fix our environment. I hope those of you reading this will join us. Go to the website, make your pledge, and start making a difference. Two is Doable, Two is Actionable, together we can make an impact.
How important is diversity within your organization?
As an organization of only 5 people, we don’t have a big sample size, but my team consists of two men and two women, and my business is women-owned, so I think that’s a good start!
Every day, our focus is on diversity because that is what drives our business. It is at the core of all of our initiatives, programs, and thought leadership.
What is your biggest achievement related to diversity?
In a world that seems more divided than ever, we can learn so much more about ourselves by examining others’ stories and perspectives. Each of us has a unique “signature” and we should be proud to share our perspectives with others. Because sharing our stories just might be the spark to help change another. I wrote the book, Wisdom Warriors, Women with the Courage to be True to Themselves, to capture hundreds of examples from current and former executives. The stories in this book are authentic, real, down-to-earth, and honest about their vulnerabilities and their missteps. They are deeply personal and enriching. We can watch and learn from those around us, and no matter if we are female, male, black, white, Millennial or Baby Boomer, the ability to understand events through different lenses makes us all better. I did not realize how much the book would impact individuals’ lives and how the book would catalyse so many conversations.