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6 min read

International Women’s Day came and went on the 8th March, and was hugely successful in putting the spotlight on and raising awareness on gender diversity. But let’s face it, one day is not enough to change centuries of inequalities. For change to occur we need to take steps, both little and big each and every day.  

So to end out March (Women’s History Month), I’d like to share with you a series I’ve written focusing on women in leadership roles.  You might wonder why this is so important to me. Well since I’m a numbers person, let me answer this question with statistics:

Less than 10% of executive directorships are held by women in both UK FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies.

And only 15% of executive positions are held by women in US Fortune 500 companies.

I’m sure you agree that these numbers need to change if we are going to truly achieve true gender diversity. While at Reward Gateway nearly half of our leadership and senior management roles are held by women (there’s more on that in our latest Diversity Report), I know other companies struggle with the split. It made me wonder how other women found their way into leadership roles at other companies outside of ours.

To answer this question I’ve kicked off the series with the question “how did you become a leader?”, asking women who are in leadership roles. Here’s a little introduction from each of these powerful women about how they got their start, and their defining moments when they became a leader in their respective organisations. Please feel free to share these with women in your organisation to help and inspire them, and create future leaders for the world we live in today:


Claude Silver - Chief Heart Officer, VaynerMedia

I’ve always been a natural leader and coach, team player, and cheerleader. Even at a young age, I knew that “helping” felt unlike anything else. To serve was a reward. Coupled with my natural curiosity about people, it became a passion for “unlocking” others. At the time, though, I knew it only as feeling good whenever anyone I cared for felt happiness.

Like many, I had difficult moments in my teens and early 20s. Those experiences were formidable, and enough to kick anyone down for good. Yet, at 25, I decided to not allow events to define me. It’s something that I remember clearly, and it happened in part because I remained grounded in those stirrings from early on. Through emotional pain, I discovered power in my internal pilot light.  This quote from "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak sums it up for me.

“And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, ‘Be still’ and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.”

So, I arrived at my purpose in a nonlinear but natural way. And, that’s what I do for others:  teach them how to look for purpose within their own journeys. I want to help people come out of negative “trances,” as it were, and find their internal compasses, ones that lead them in a more fulfilling direction and are rooted in their specific experiences.


Shelley Lavery - Group SVP Sales, Reward Gateway

I found an area of business that I love, which for me is sales, and then I worked bloody hard. I focused on the present, doing an amazing job of today knowing that tomorrow would look after itself, and that's worked for me. The opportunities along my journey have found me, not the other way round. And when they've come my way I've always said yes, even if they've scared me.


Cathy Thorpe - President & CEO Nurse Next Door

I started as a sales associate at the Gap and worked my way up over the years. I ran the Canadian organization for Gap and Gapkids for four years. I then ran a Canadian kids clothing company for three years. I consulted for a few years when my kids were young, and then joined Nurse Next Door three years ago. I joined as President and became CEO in 2016.

I used Nurse Next Door for my mom a few years ago and loved the concept. I then got to know one of the founders and his family. It is a disruptive company that is deeply rooted in its purpose and values. It is fun everyday helping people stay at hom. I became a CEO because I love leading people and this role allows me to do that everyday.I want to disrupt the business world with a self led approach to leading others. I represent bold kindness in my leadership style and I am a strong proponent of free will and giving people the space to thrive!


Ana Yordanova - Head of Support Bulgaria, Reward Gateway

I started out my career as a first line support advisor and climbed my way up one step at a time.  Looking back I can outline two major factors that kept me on track: my strive to maintain a thorough understanding of my project’s and the company’s goals and targets, and my readiness to take the necessary steps to get my team there. I believe that anything is possible, it only requires a mind open for change, one that never settles with the average and is always on the lookout for improvement opportunities.


Kylie Green - Sales Director Australia, Reward Gateway

I’ve made a career of “batting above my average” as I call it, bringing bucketloads of passion and determination to my roles. In each role I've been in, I've made it my mission to learn everything I can, to be the very best at that role. This started as a 15-year-old cooking fries at McDonald's, and carried into brief roles in training, recruitment before starting a career path in sales over the past 19 years. I always put my hand up to work on stretch projects in order to learn and grow. This put me in a great position to step into a leadership position at API and then at RG.

And here's what's to come...

You’ll hear from these women next week in the next edition in our women-focused series with some more insight into the challenges they’ve faced. But to end this blog I thought I’d answer the question myself, so you can learn a little more about me as well. So what have I done to get to be a woman in a leadership role?  I started out my career as an entry level Compensation Analyst, working at the university where I went to school.  From here it took me quite a few years of hard work, with my break coming when I went to work for Gap.  They took a chance on me, giving me the opportunity to move from the U.S. to the U.K., and letting me expand my role into the world of international rewards.  This gave me the experience and confidence to continue my journey up the career ladder, with more years of proving myself along the way.  

What’s clear from these women is that there’s no right or wrong way to become a leader — but it always starts with passion, confidence and courage. Tune in next week for more stories, and let me know if there’s someone you admire on Twitter @DebraCorey1. I’m always looking for more inspiration!

Debra Corey

Debra Corey is an author, world-class speaker and HR consultant, paying it forward by inspiring and helping others around the world to bring out their inner rebel and drive strategic and meaningful people and business change as the Chief Pay it Forward Officer at DebCo HR. Her career spans 20+ years developing and delivering HR strategies in a rebellious way, pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo to truly drive employee engagement.

Reward Gateway Advisor

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