As I sit here with my morning coffee, the reality of my new role as Chief Executive Officer of InnovateMR is setting in. After the last 18+ months of mundane pandemic routine, home-schooling, and countless zoom calls, today should be like any other day, but it is not. Today is met with immeasurable excitement and anticipation that is unlike any other day of my professional career. In this moment, I’m thinking back to all the pivotal occasions that have shaped me into the leader I have become, the amazing privilege of corporate stewardship that I now possess, and the countless people who have had their hand in my journey. Most importantly, I’m reflecting on what this appointment means for women.
If our paths had crossed during my childhood and you had asked: “What will you be when you grow up?” The answer “CEO” would not have been the response. Sadly, this type of role wasn’t something I even considered. As a child, leadership positions were held “firmly and squarely on the strong and capable shoulders of men.” This was the social construct that the world fed to me as a young person, and it informed the worldview I had for myself and other young girls like me. Whether it was the highest office of American politics or C-suite executives at thriving corporations, women lacked representations that could serve as tangible models by which to emulate. Even recently, the top 50 CEO list of SaaS-based technology businesses was released, and only 3 female executives were featured. An astonishing 6% of the CEOs listed are female, a massive disparity given our population and the amazing contributions of women in business. So, where did things change on my journey? When did my “can’t” turn into “can”?
As a young girl, teachers would often convey to my parents that I was too blunt, too social, and lacked the important skill of “reading the room” to understand my place and when it was appropriate to offer my opinion. To this day, I have carbon copies of my report cards from elementary school where examples like Ms. Baxa’s feedback still sting all these years later: “Lisa is a precocious child who finds it difficult to guard her opinion; she spends far too much time socializing with her peers.” Cheers to that, Ms. Baxa! It wasn’t uncommon for my teachers to pin notes home on my jacket with unfavorable feedback about how I wasn’t complying with expectations. However, my parents encouraged me to remain authentic to myself. This, above all else, was what they wanted for their daughter. Little did I know then that these observations would later shape me into the person I am today. They would drive me to prove the naysayers wrong, to harness a seemingly negative course of behaviors into what I now consider critical superpowers in leadership.
I very much believe that children are a product of their parents – to know me is to know Geoff and Joyce Wilding. I grew up in western New York, aptly known as the “rust belt” of New York state. Unlike the commercial flash and affluence of New York city, western New York is 6 hours and a world away from the thriving metropolis that our state is known for. In many ways, my hometown has passed its peak – a place that had once been seen as the epicenter for industrialization and manufacturing was later met with crushing economic depression and of course, horrendously long and dismal winters.
My father was an auto mechanic – he would come home each day covered in grease and smelling of gasoline. There was never a doubt that my dad worked tirelessly to provide for his young family – his weathered and callous hands revealed his story. My dad immigrated to the United States from northern England. He sailed into New York City on the Queen Mary with a few hundred dollars in his pocket and a dream for a better life than the one he had just abandoned. Shortly after, my father met my mother, Joyce, the daughter of dairy farmer who was told that her lot in life carried two options: to be a secretary or to be a mother. Like my father, my mom grew up incredibly poor – she had two outfits: one for church and the other for school days. The children would make fun of her repetitive fashion choice and often bully her for the rubber bands which kept the soles of her shoes firmly attached to her sneakers. As young parents, they worked incredibly hard to provide for my older brother Greg and I, and at times we struggled to make ends meet. While my upbringing was met with some challenges, at the heart of our family was the strongly held conviction that hard work and persistence trumps everything else. My parents’ work ethic was on display for my brother and I every day, and I learned from their example that creativity, hard work, and tenacity were the keys to the life I wanted to live.
While my need to socialize with others often landed me in the penalty box as a child, these dynamics later evolved into an insatiable curiosity to understand and connect with people. In essence, connecting, and I mean TRULY CONNECTING with others is a superpower that many fail to celebrate or practice. As professionals, I very much believe emotional intelligence is highly undervalued and a lot of life’s conflicts or tensions can be eliminated by simply investing in others and demonstrating empathy. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so we can LISTEN MORE and SPEAK LESS!
As I reflect on my professional journey, I’d like to thank all the incredible and bright people I have met along the way, who shared their hopes, dreams and fears with me. Your stories and perspectives have inspired me beyond measure. To the countless mentors and leaders that I have had the privilege of learning from; thank you for making my journey truly rewarding and meaningful. And to the amazingly talented InnovateMR team, whom I now have the privilege to lead: I want you all to know that I will never take my role as your CEO for granted. I will bring my full self each day, to the exciting growth ahead of us, and to your personal and professional journeys. As a company, we enjoy an X factor that is truly special and exceptional– collectively, we have designed the blueprint for our success and it starts with empathy: empathy for our clients, for our survey participants and for each other. And for the countless women who believe their course is set in life: I challenge you to disrupt the status quo, be fearless, and be heard. The Ms. Baxa’s of the world may not understand you, but I promise, others will.
Lisa Wilding-Brown is the Chief Executive Officer of InnovateMR, working to build the industry’s most powerful and intuitive research tools, celebrate a culture of inclusivity, and continue the team’s uncompromising dedication to delivering high quality insights to amazing clients.
InnovateMR is a fiercely independent sampling company that delivers Faster Answers™ from business and consumer audiences. As industry pioneers, InnovateMR connects organizations with market research audiences around the world to support informed, data-driven strategies, and identify growth opportunities. InnovateMR has built its reputation on a relentless pursuit of customer delight. Stop working with vendors, and start working with a partner dedicated to your success.