Stephania Varalli is co-CEO and head at media of Women of Influence.
What’s Women of Influence and what does it do?
Varalli: Our organization aims to help achieve workplace gender equality by inspiring and empowering individuals. We know that the system is biased against women, and it will take time and multiple, parallel efforts to change – but what can one woman do now to advance her career? We provide the answers to that question, through articles, e-newsletters, events, awards, and courses designed to help women advance in today’s environment.
How and when was it founded?
Varalli: The company was founded in 1994, which means we’ll be celebrating our milestone 25th year in 2019. My partner and I are actually the third set of owners. Originally, the focus was on getting women together through golf tournaments. We’ve come a long way since then but we’re still making connections happen.
Why did you get involved in this?
Varalli: I first started working at the company as a freelancer. I thought I would be editing one issue of Women of Influence Magazine and then heading off, but the cause and the positive approach really pulled me in.
I was lucky to grow up with a strong, smart, entrepreneurial mother, but working on the magazine it struck me that this is a rare privilege – many women don’t have that kind of female role model to look up to and, more importantly, to help them believe that they can do it, too. I saw an opportunity to use my passion for storytelling to really make a difference. I’d been working there full-time for about a month when the owner approached my partner and I with the idea of us taking over.
I said yes immediately, even though I didn’t know my future co-owner that well, and I hadn’t even been to a Women of Influence event yet. I was too excited by the opportunity not to take a leap.
What are the key qualities and characteristics you typically see in women of influence?
Varalli: We’re trying to build a more inclusive definition of success – one that goes beyond the typical middle-aged white guy – so when we talk about women of influence, we make sure we’re representing all women, not just middle-aged, corporate, white women. So “women of influence” is a term that includes many unique individuals, and no two women seem to have the same personality, experiences, or paths to success. There are two traits that I do keep seeing, however: the ability to persevere, and a desire to help other women on their path.
What’s your advice to women on how to overcome barriers that still exist for them in the business world?
Varalli: We actually have a whitepaper, The Solutions to Women’s Advancement, that talks in depth about what women can be doing to overcome barriers in their career. There are a few actions I’d suggest as critical: Put in the time to build connections, because opportunities often come from your network; go for the stretch assignments, because they are the best way to prove you’re ready for the next step up in your career; and lastly, believe that it’s possible to succeed, and don’t give up until you do. Grit is a powerful thing.
– Mario Toneguzzi