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Advancing Women’s Leadership with Miriam Grobman

Advancing Women’s Leadership with Miriam Grobman

Episode 47: Advancing Women’s Leadership with Miriam Grobman

Miriam Grobman works to advance women's leadership through strategy, leadership development and organizational culture. Her career took many turns: she started off in Wall Street, moved to Brazil to work at a mining company, and finally decided to start her own business. In this episode Miriam talks to Kristy about working abroad, taking risks, creating change, and closing the gender gap.

Episode Transcript

00:00 Maricella Herrera: Welcome to the Ellevate podcast, conversations with women changing the face of business. And now your host, Kristy Wallace.

00:15 Kristy Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is Kristy Wallace, and I'm here with Maricella Herrera.

00:21 MH: Hey, Kristy.

00:21 KW: Hi. Today on the podcast, we have Miriam Grobman. Miriam is a long-time Ellevate member and a great supporter of us on social media, and just a fantastic part of the network. She's also a consultant focused on advancing women's leadership in male-dominated industries. We had a great conversation with her, super relevant, and some fantastic insights. So, excited to get to that. But before we do, I know Maricella, you have some interesting data for us from the Ellevate community.

00:50 MH: Of course I do, I always do.

00:52 KW: I know, but I love it. I love it. It's my favorite part.


00:55 MH: You know lately when people ask me what I do, I've started just saying I'm a Professional Feminist.

01:00 KW: Oh, I like that.


01:01 KW: I'm gonna copy that. Can I copy that?

01:04 MH: You can copy that. I use it mostly for dating purposes.


01:07 MH: Kind of works. Anyway, I digress. One of the things we asked our members is if companies can reach gender parity in five years. And I will preface this in that we asked this last year.


01:23 MH: Can companies reach gender parity in five years? What do you think, Kristy?

01:29 KW: No, which breaks my heart to even say that. Makes me very sad. But I think, looking at the data, and how much we've progressed in the last five years, does not bode well for us reaching parity in the next five years.

01:45 MH: I know.

01:46 KW: And I... Recent research just came out that actually gender... Closing the gender pay gap is gonna take longer than anticipated. Right? 2020?

01:56 MH: Mm-hmm.

01:56 KW: No.

01:56 MH: I think it was 2030.

02:00 KW: What? Yeah, definitely not 2020.


02:01 MH: But it is sad, and 57% of our members agree with you that companies cannot reach gender parity in five years. And 23% say they're not sure, which doesn't bode well. We have 14% of optimists in the network. I do think though that we are... It's a little-by-little and we have to do what we can everyday.

02:26 KW: Yeah. Be positive in all of this, I think, is key, to be forward-facing, forward-moving, collaborative. We all just need to work together, share ideas, think of new ideas, think outside the box. But really it's about how can we continue to move forward in gender parity and change this because... We will change it. I am fully confident that we will reach parity. And I just hope it's sooner than we think.

02:57 MH: Yeah. And it's important, I think, to make sure that we do our part. We have those courageous conversations. We've talked about that quite a bit. And also that we work together. We keep saying this at Ellevate. I've been toying around a lot with this wording and we've been doing it and sharing it since January of this year, which was a pretty great month for us, which is we believe that the more we work together, the more we work as a community and as a group just to get stuff done, we can get there.

03:34 KW: Yeah. And we have, in New York City, we have a great event coming up. A "Taking Back Feminism" event. Right?

03:41 MH: Yeah, in March. It's gonna be amazing.

03:43 KW: Okay, so you wanna share some details?

03:44 MH: Yeah, it's March 29th. It's in New York City. And we're actually gonna be live streaming it too. You can find details on our site at But the event will feature Jimmie Briggs, who's an activist, thought leader, amazing human being. We'll also have Carmen Perez and Paola Mendoza, both amazing women who organized the Women's March.

04:11 KW: I can't wait. I cannot wait. And this conversation... This Taking Back Feminism event, again, in New York City, that we'll also be live streaming is really focused on the future of feminism, how we can open our minds to conversations with other women.

04:28 MH: This event really is... It actually came along because we did a survey, where we ask our members a lot of stuff about the election... And we have the details and we can share them on some other date. But one of the questions we asked, or a few of the questions we asked were if they consider themselves feminists, and what should happen with the feminists movement. And one of the things we realized is that people don't wanna take on the word feminist and use it for themselves, because there's a lot of misunderstanding about what feminism is. Feminism is just the belief that genders are equal and that you can do whatever you want, and that there should be equality. It doesn't mean man-hating, it don't mean killjoy, and it doesn't mean any of the negative things that are portrayed in the media. That's one part of it. The other part of it is a lot of the feminist movement has also been very tied to privileged white women. And realistically, it should be intersectional, and that's the future of it. And so we are taking it back.

05:33 KW: Awesome. Well, I can't wait. I hope our listeners will join us for that event. Check it out at And onto our podcast.


05:53 KW: Miriam, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate podcast. We are really excited to have you here. For many reasons, one of which is your commitment to closing the gender achievement gap in business, and really creating a more diverse workforce, particularly at that leadership level. But I wanted to start first and hear a little bit about your career. We always ask our guests to share their story, 'cause as we increasingly see, career paths are not always a straight shot. They take lots of twist and turns, and oftentimes that can lead to indecision or confusion, or feeling like you're doing something wrong. And it's important that we all embrace how our careers have evolved and how we got to where we are today.

06:39 Miriam Grobman: Sure. Let me tell you a little bit about my career and what I'm doing now, and how it's exactly what you described. My career has taken so many twists and turns that I'm sure it also will continue doing that in the future. So I started working in the financial industry on Wall Street after majoring in Computer Science and Economics in undergrad, and thinking initially I'm gonna work in the tech industry. Not getting any jobs in tech, I went for some info session for Deutsche Bank. And I knew nothing about banking, but somehow they saw something in me and offered me the job, eventually. I worked on Wall Street for three years and it was a very good experience.

07:26 MG: You know as someone... I graduated early, I was 21 when I moved to New York from Austin. I saw the world. I traveled. I met all sorts of people, but I really didn't see myself fitting in in banking in the long term. So I left. I went to business school. I went to Wharton, and when I was graduating from Wharton, I was not sure of what was the next step. And many of my classmates were going into banking or consulting, and I knew, "Okay. I've already done banking. I don't wanna do consulting. What's next?" And this job opportunity came up, and it was in a mining company in Brazil.

08:07 MG: So I said to myself, "Okay. I don't know anything about mining. I don't know anything about Brazil. I didn't speak any Portuguese." And the job was in corporate strategy, also another area I've never worked in. I said, "Great. Great opportunity to do something new and different." So I moved to Rio, and I lived in Rio for two and a half years, working for this mining company, doing all sorts of crazy projects and corporate strategizing, like sustainability strategy, doing organizational cultural change. They threw me all the projects that nobody wanted or knew how to do, like, "Okay, the green gal will do these things."

08:48 KW: That's a great way to learn.

08:49 MG: Exactly, exactly. So looking back, you say, "Okay. There's a lot of learning to do in these processes." And then I said, "Okay. I understood. I got this experience." But I kinda wanna go back to the United Stated and do something else. And as I was doing that, I got a call from my former employer where I did an internship during my MBA, and it was a cosmetics company that wanted to set up a new partnership in Brazil. So I ended up staying for a little bit more time and helping them set this partnership they we're doing with a Brazilian subsidiary of an American company. So it's like a very crazy project of setting everything from zero and managing all the different company cultures like US, Brazil and all of that stuff. And then I came back to the US and I didn't know what my next step would be, so I went to Silicon Valley for a few months, help a friend start up, organize some of their business processes, and I said, "Okay, I definitely don't wanna live in Silicon Valley or work in tech, but if these guys have their own startup, I should start my own business too. I can do that." So then that's when I decided to start my company to focus on advancing women's leadership.

10:10 MG: And why? Because I was kind of... While I was in Brazil, I started noticing some of the differences between the way men and women behaved in the workplace. How the men advocated for themselves much more, women worked really hard, waiting for that promotion or recognition to happen. Or, you know, I saw that women and men were evaluated differently in the work processes, so a guy would be evaluated by the team and they'll say, "Oh, you know, John is amazing. He's the best on the list we've ever had. He's so talented," etcetera, etcetera. And then they'll discuss Jane, they'll say, "Oh, Jane is not quite there yet, but you know hopefully one day." I worked with both John and Jane, and I would say, "What are they talking about? She's fantastic. She's just not talking about what she's doing. She's doing the work." So all these things influenced me to learn more about gender differences in the workplace, understand what's going on. Think about what are the things that are myths and stereotypes, and what are the realities of what was going on. So when I moved back, I said, "Okay, I can take all this knowledge. I can take my experience or corporate strategy, and my experience of working with different kinds of companies in different geographies, and apply it to a question I really care about so often." So that's how all of it went down. So that's where I am right now.

11:47 KW: Thank you so much for sharing that story. I wanted to ask a question about risk.

11:53 MG: Sure.

11:54 KW: And in the context, first off, of you taking all these risks in your career, and I think oftentimes, we're faced with that decision of move to a new country, or take a job doing something you know nothing about. And that's very scary 'cause you don't... You don't know. You don't know if you'll succeed, you don't know if you'll like the city. Any advice for listeners who are in that situation where they're afraid to take that risk?

12:27 MG: Definitely. I hear this kind of question all the time. And people tell me that I'm brave. I would say, I don't feel brave. I never perceived any of those things as risks. I always thought about it as, "Here's an opportunity. I've never done this kind of thing before. If I do it, I'm gonna learn new things. If I don't take this opportunity, I'm gonna do something... " Normally, when you're taking this kind of different thing, you are not that happy with what you're currently doing. So, my perception of risk was staying in a place where I'm not happy with what I'm doing, or with the trajectory of my career. So, going for something new, you know at least you're gonna learn something different. So, that's the one thing.

13:14 MG: The next one is, you have to understand what is the real impact of this decision? Yeah, you took this chance, this risk, whatever you perceive it. What's the worst thing that could happen? In my particular case, I went to Brazil, I didn't follow the traditional careers, but I can always go and apply to work for McKinsey, that half of my class is working there. Or in all the big... Top three consulting companies. I don't know if I could go back to banking after so many years. But I could go back into a finance role because I know finance and I've had these great companies on my resume, etcetera. So, you can always go back. I think the worst thing that you could do to yourself is turn 40, 50, 60 and sit there and think, "Oh, I wish I had done these things when I was in my 20s and my 30s."

14:11 KW: Sure.

14:12 MG: I think that's where you should shift... Your risk is like being disappointed and disillusioned in the future, rather than taking those decisions right now.

14:22 KW: Sure. That's great advice. So, as you discussed, you've worked in many different countries and across many industries. What are the differences that you see, from mining, to cosmetics, to tech, to being an entrepreneur, to also the US and Brazil? Are there any big differences that stand out across that? In particular, with regards to gender diversity in the workplace?

14:56 MG: It's interesting because it's really hard to compare industries as a whole because you would see differences between one company to another in terms of those things. I would say that, if you just look at numbers... People complain about the tech industry not having enough women. Mining industry is like one of the least gender-diverse industries. I think mining... Well, the company I worked for had 13% women. And it's the big... Or the large mining companies. They are about... They are, maybe a little more, maybe a little bit less, I think aviation is the one that wins. That's the one that has maybe 1% or 2% women. So, tech is about 20, 30%. Cosmetics, I would guess it would be around 50%. Banking actually has a lot of women. But where you would... See, what happens like... I have some data from McKinsey about this very interesting... That all these industries start with a certain number of women in the pipeline. But when they get to the top of the pyramid, the numbers all look the same.

16:11 MG: They all have very few women in leadership positions. Even in banking, where you have 50, 60% women in the workforce, none of them reach the leadership roles. In my particular experience, I found mining, maybe there are not enough women, but people are not so preoccupied with this rough competition and how to prove that you are the best employee and top performer. So if a woman is talented and capable, sometimes you can get farther than a man in this kind of industry. The industry I found most sexist is the banking industry. It has this kind of very macho culture. Prove what you're worth, very much face time culture, stay very long hours, which makes it difficult for a women, not just because, let's say, if they have a family, but also I think, as people, we are less driven by simply financial returns and power.

17:14 MG: We wanna have our interest, we wanna have our free time, so women end up... "Okay, I'm not gonna... It's not worth my time being here. Let me find something else to do and go elsewhere." If I compare US and Brazil, what I... I've seen Brazil as that... There's much more appreciation of free time, family, more broader self... Self or a sense of what you want from your life. Whereas in the US, it's very much a culture of "Live to work. Show you're worth it by making lots of money, etcetera." Brazil is copying the US in a lot of things. These trends are coming in, but there's still much more appreciation for family, and stuff like that. But we're working too many hours, there's no respect of free time, weekends. So you can start having policies around that. You can limit the amount of hours people are working. For example, in the bank I used to work at, I might be remembering this wrong, but nobody used to take vacation, and until they had a policy where it said, "You have to take at least two weeks of vacation. It's mandatory." Now, looking back, it's ridiculous. Like why would anyone give up on their vacation? But we can start changing those things.

18:33 KW: We had a guest on the podcast a few months ago, Heidi Hackemer, and she has created her own company. And as part of the company, it's really interesting, you have to take vacation, or you do not qualify for bonus. And you have to sign off on your email by a certain time everyday, and you cannot work on weekends. And all of these rules she had to put into place to ensure that work/life balance. And she said it's always interesting, when she hires new people, it takes them a while to get accustomed to not letting their job control them, but reverse, you're controlling your job, and how that impacts your life. It's admirable that you saw this problem and are taking steps to fix it and to solve for it. What can our listeners do in their everyday lives to drive more equality?

19:30 MG: I think, first, you start with gaining more awareness about the issues. A lot of people I talk to, they're... And probably your listeners don't have this issue because they already are in this space. But there are a lot of people out there that... You know 85% of men don't believe there's any gender gap, or differences in the workplace between men and women. And a large percent of women doesn't believe that either. So you have to keep talking about the issues. You have to keep raising awareness. And you have to know the numbers behind, 'cause if you say something that sounds completely wrong... Let's say if you say, "Oh, only 15% of CEOs are women," and then everyone knows that the number is 3% or 5%, you sound stupid, so you need to know the numbers to sound credible. So keep raising awareness and pushing those conversations.

20:24 MG: I think a lot of the change is micro as well, 'cause I started saying earlier that change comes from the thought, but we make changes in our day-to-day in how we treat each other. So if you see another woman who is having some confidence issues, you see she's very talented, but she might not be realizing her potential, be there for her. Say, "Hey, you're really good. You're writing this... " Often I'm seeing women writing their resumes, and it's such a... Picturing themselves as almost the junior analyst intern, where they're a senior person. They diminish themselves when they had to describe themselves. If you're seeing someone working on their resume, tell them, "Hey, you did a fantastic job on this project. You're so good at this and that. Put it there."

21:16 MG: Or when they're going to talk with their boss, help them structure the conversation about why they should be promoted, what are the great things they've done. If you're in a meeting where women are being ignored, their voices are not being heard, interfere. Say, "Oh, Jane had such a great idea. Why don't we discuss this idea?" If you're hiring people, look at, "Am I always hiring men for these specific roles?" Or, "Am I always hiring women?" Because sometimes it can be the other way. Too many women, and there's no balance between the genders, so maybe we need to hire a few men for the team. So these are small changes that everyone can do every single day, and they make a big difference at the end of... Kind of scaled up effect.

22:07 KW: That's great. Thank you for that. Thanks so much for sharing that. You talked about men. Many men, 85%, I believe you said, do not think there's gender inequalities in the workplace. How do we get men involved in the conversation? And I know how important that is. It's not just women solving this problem. It's the whole community. How do we get men involved?

22:34 MG: Sure. And this is something I also talk about very often, because most of the leaders are men, so it doesn't make any sense to have these diversity conversations within HR departments. You need to have it with the leaders. So I've always worked mostly with men, and I feel very comfortable with men as colleagues and friends, etcetera. So I think men are human beings just the same way that women are human beings. If you want them to care about this topic, you need to make it interesting for them. If you go and tell them, "Oh, you're a white male privileged person, you should care about women," they're not gonna buy into this, because nobody wants to feel guilty or responsible for somebody else's problem. But if you talk to them from a point of view, let's say, of a professional, you're a hiring manager, and I mentioned earlier in our conversation, what are all the financial and market benefits of having more women in your team, they buy into this discussion and say, "Oh, interesting. I never thought about this." Or you show them, "Oh, by the way, look." And this has happened often, where men are like, "Oh, we have plenty of women in this company. There's no problem here." And you show them the data like, "Okay, we have plenty of women, but they're all in lower positions in the organization, or in support functions."

24:00 MG: So what's going on? Can we change the way we're doing things? You get them into problem solving and thinking about how to change things in the organization, they get pretty excited. And I personally heard a lot of times from men, things like, "I really enjoy working with women. They are much more emotionally intelligent... " [chuckle] They do the counter positive biases, they listen more, they're more committed. So you remind them of these things, but you also have to talk through their stereotypes. So a lot of senior men, they have wives that are not working, they're stay-at-home moms. So they tend to project that on other women, so you have to bring out that stereotype and talk about that. "Okay, well, you know, perhaps this is... " You have to be very careful how you phrase that, but a lot of women nowadays are choosing not to stay at home because they value their career, or they might have a stay-at-home husband, or they might have help from family members or hired.

25:08 MG: So you have to put your thoughts about what women want in check, and think about, are you taking some decisions with a certain bias? So bring all these trends, stereotypes... Sometimes humor is helpful. You don't wanna go and say heavy things to people, you can show a funny video. Like I often do that, I show a video where the roles of men and women are reversed, and men are asked like, "Oh, you know, you just had a kid, so are you gonna be interested in this promotion?" And the guy's like, "Why are you asking me this?"

25:44 KW: Yeah.

25:45 MG: Or a guy shows up at the party... At the office party and then someone says, "Oh, are you one of the spouses?" And he's like, "No, I work here." So you... Person laughs, but they start understanding. "Oh, I used to do... " It happened to me before where I showed this video and the guys came to me and like, "Oh, I do this. I'm not gonna do that anymore. Thank you for bringing this up."

26:07 KW: Yeah, you always hear the stories of the business leader, the female business leader who's at the board meeting and they ask her to get coffee, or can you take notes.

26:15 MG: Exactly. Yeah.

26:18 KW: So last question, we at Ellevate, love talking about our female role models, the women that inspire us everyday. Does not necessarily... I mean we certainly love us some celebrities, some women in the media, some women in politics that are doing great things, but it's the everyday women that inspire us to fight harder, to be stronger, to be better, and to believe in equality. So can you share with us your female role model?

26:49 MG: Sure, I have so many. It's hard to pick one.

26:52 KW: You can say more than one.

26:53 MG: Sure. Well, in a political space right now, we have Michelle Obama that's... Everyday's getting better and more inspiring. I'm kind of like, "Michelle, like stop making us feel bad about ourselves. You're so incredible." That's Michelle. I really love Elizabeth Warren, I read her biography and I just... Really impressive story of someone who came from nothing and fought really hard to get where she is. The Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, same kind of... Like if we have... I think we have gender issues right now, like back in her days you couldn't practice law because she was a mom, so she had to teach because of that. There are so many more, and I would say one of the selfish reasons that I mentioned earlier, why I keep doing my job is because I meet so many women all the time that are inspiring me in little ways. Like you know, they go and work in a different country and take a bigger challenge, or they have a huge team they're managing. I had a hard time managing two people, I'm like, "How do you manage 50 people? You're so powerful." Or they're starting companies, they're doing things that haven't been done before. So those little drops of inspiration then turn into this big ocean of change and positive energy.

28:22 KW: Thanks so much, Miriam. Before we leave, I'd love to just hear a little bit more about your company, who you work with, and some of the services that you provide.

28:31 MG: Sure. I have two streams of services. One is supporting big companies that wanna make a difference in terms of women's leadership, either through strategic advice, thinking about these questions that you mentioned: How do we drive change from the top? How are we gonna measure change? What are critical actions we have to take? What's the time frame? Who's gonna do it? How are we gonna cascade the change in the organization? I also give talks about these topics to help raise awareness. And the other stuff I'm working on is developing leadership programs for women, but they can be also... They are as useful for men as well, but they focus a lot on self-reflection, understanding gender differences, but also having the skills to be successful. So negotiations, communication skills, becoming an influence, or knowing how to network.

29:32 MG: I'm currently working in an online course that I'm going to launch some times this year, there's no deadline yet, but it's gonna be about strategic influence. And that's what I'm gonna talk about, 'cause I see a lot of women focus a lot on the technical aspect, like being the best at what they're doing, but not influencing the organization. Not becoming that recognized expert on all of their stuff. So, they're doing something, but nobody else knows that they're good at it. So my idea is helping them understanding, how they can navigate the organization, how they can become a recognized expert, if they have a lot of ideas and their boss is not buying in, how they can get this buy-in. So that's my short-term project as well.


30:16 KW: Great. Well, thank you. We wish you tons of success, and really appreciate you joining us here today on the Ellevate Podcast.

30:23 MG: Thank you, it was great.


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