Women in Business Q&A: Jennifer S. Wilkov, Founder, Speak Up Women

Women in Business Q&A: Jennifer S. Wilkov, Founder, Speak Up Women
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Jennifer Wilkov

Jennifer is the Founder of Speak Up Women, an event designed to support women with understanding the importance and impact that Speaking Up has in their personal, professional and philanthropic lives. Jennifer's passion for communication has led to her being a #1 radio show host, best-selling award-winning author, speaker, an award-winning freelance writer, a spokesperson, a successful book and business consultant and entrepreneur.

Jennifer's purpose is to inspire people everywhere to leap into their lives and live the life they've imagined. She believes it's in every one of us - we CAN do it.

Jennifer is known as the "Make It Happen" Girl. With over two decades of strategic planning and business development experience in Corporate America where she has led cross-functional teams and real life business ownership as a serial entrepreneur, she knows how to take any project from where it is to where you want it to be through proper planning, effective networking and sound marketing strategies that work. From introducing and building the first data warehouse at Revlon to leading a cross-functional Blue Box Council in New York City including 7 divisions at American Express, Jennifer knows how to foster teamwork, communication, collaboration and success at every level of an organization and business.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up as the curious kid who spoke up and wanted to know why things were the way they were, how people and things worked; what made people tick. Life dealt me ups and downs like the rest of us; however, some of my experiences set me apart from others early on. How I chose to handle what happened to me inadvertently put me in positions of leadership time and time again. I guess as the old saying goes - I had a lot of heart...and soul.

When I dealt with being diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 11, I got a dose of what it was like to take charge of my own well being and come up against the established ways of doing things that didn't serve me. When I challenged the healthcare professionals after 25 years of living with this disruptive health condition, spoke up, and enrolled them to help me get off the medical protocol that was mandated, they listened and I won, finding myself off all medications and living the life I had imagined - pharmaceutical free.

I spoke up at a young age about the things that I cared about, and I continued to do so as I grew up. I was encouraged to ask questions and challenge the status quo. I have walked the talk and stayed inquisitive as an adult. I have spoken up in my personal life, my professional career, and for causes and philanthropic interests. I have seen the difference this single skill has made for me - and the others in my life.

When my integrity was challenged and shaken to its core by a failed judicial system, I spoke up and said, "Hey, this isn't right," and found support from so many - people I didn't even know. I learned to ask for help - and people answered and supported me.

I am a product of my life experiences. More so, I have found it rewarding to speak up and share the learnings, gleanings, blessings and lessons with others to help them find their own paths to leadership in their lives. In that, I have found one of life's greatest gifts: we all don't get the same life experiences. We learn from one another's generosity when we speak up and share our experiences with one another.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Do what you love. Whatever you do, do it with everything you have: your intelligence, your heart, your spirit and your soul.

Speak up. Ask questions and ask for help. Listen. You don't need to know everything. You do have to want to do what you set out to do in your business everyday.

Your customers and clients will tell you everything you need to know about what will serve them and what won't. Listen to them. Listen for it. They will speak up and tell you.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Careers are a team sport. You can get farther in life and enjoy the career you imagined when you learn how to play as a team player instead of attempting to shoulder it all yourself - and don't hesitate to voice your concerns when you have them. If you see something that is not working, say so. You and the team can discuss, adjust, course-correct and together, reach the intended goal.

You may feel like you can do it all and perhaps there are days when you may feel like you can do it better than everyone else. However, you will find that when you build a fabulous team that works together toward a common goal, it will change your life - and your career.

As a leader, you must foster the foundation for the team to win: its spirit, its rules of engagement, and its core values. Teamwork works! Encouraging the voices on your team to speak up and allowing them to be heard is a huge advantage and winning pathway to reaching the objectives that you have set.

Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And she's right.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I acknowledge and affirm every day that life is a gift and today's presence is a present I get to open. Not everyone gets to wake up, see the amazing sky, hear the sounds in their world, taste amazing foods, and quench their thirst for living.

I am a believer that life was meant to be lived to its fullest. I work hard because I love what I do and the people I get to do it with. I live large because life holds so many treasures to experience, I want to experience as many and as much as I can while I'm here.

I have two things I do to ensure work/life balance:

1)Every year I do something I have never done before, on or for my birthday. This has included skydiving, hot air ballooning, getting my motorcycle license, being certified to S.C.U.B.A. dive and much more. It keeps me curious about the world around me, and it drives me to find new things that I am interested in experiencing.

2)I celebrate the full moon every month by eating chocolate on this day and this day only each month. As a result, I have been challenged to learn some great life skills. I am forced to pay attention to the ever-changing date for the full moon each month. I don't make exceptions when I miss it. I speak up and let others know about this personal practice. I have found amazing ways to experience and taste chocolate. Friends look forward to "celebrating" Chocolate Day with me and find new and exciting experiences for us to share and enjoy. This is a discipline, one I have held true to for many years - more than a decade. It is about integrity. I don't make exceptions with myself on this, even at the requests of others. If it's not Chocolate Day, I'm just not going to eat it, even if it's the only day I'm with someone or if it's their birthday or wedding or another celebration day. I have been hounded and begged by friends to eat chocolate on a non-Chocolate Day. It is a bone of contention for some, but mostly a marvel for many. It is about the agreements I make with myself - and my willingness to stay in integrity with me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Finding a way to speak up in which they will feel accepted and heard. It takes a lot of courage to do that, especially in the workplace. I have heard from women that they won't speak up at work about things they see that could be improved in fear of losing their jobs or being fired.

I marvel at the environments, companies and associations that send mixed messages by both discouraging their employees and associates from speaking up and conversely encouraging them to do it.

It has made me wonder why company cultures are the way they are - and why some leaders are beloved and others, well, aren't.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has made a big difference for me. I have been fortunate. Many of the mentors I found along the way were disciples of R. Buckminster Fuller. Bucky focused on big ideas and operated as a practical philosopher. He set his sights on solving global problems. He knew how to play big. He wrote books and reached out to society to help bring it to a greater level of being.

I have seen the influences of my mentors reap rewards in my life. One thing I know for sure is that you have to pick the right mentors.

A mentor to me is like a sensei. A good sensei wants his or her student to be so good that he or she surpasses the master and goes on to excel even more than the master has. A mentor doesn't hold a mentee back. She or he rather supports, guides and inspires those around her or him to do more, be more, create more, and live a greater life.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." She was and is still right. I admire her and her role, not as First Lady, but as a woman leader in her time when being a female who spoke up was not always welcome. Mrs. Roosevelt spoke up and made a big difference for so many.

Helen Keller said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much," and "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." She may have been deaf and mute, but she wasn't silent. She was smart and funny and knew how to speak up, even though others saw her as "afflicted". She spoke up and inspired others to find their own voices and have the courage to use them.

Maya Angelou said, "I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You have to go out and kick ass." Why do we tell so many of our girls to stay silent? I love to hear what they have to say, what they are thinking about, and what fascinates them in their world. I want girls to ask for what they want. I want them to talk about things that bother them. I want them to voice their opinions and learn that people do want to listen to them. They can kick ass. All they have to do to start is allow themselves permission to speak up. None of us have to seek permission from anyone. All we have to do is open our mouths and speak up. Now is the right time.

What do you want Speak Up Women to accomplish?
Speak Up Women is a one-of-kind conference. It focuses on one specific skill - speaking up - and providing the nuts and bolts for embracing it, understanding how to do it, and cultivating it in each individual. I founded it because I want to raise our collective consciousness to the value that speaking up brings, the change it cultivates in every part of our lives, and the difference it can make - not just for ourselves, but for all those whose lives we touch when we choose to be brave and speak up. It takes a lot of courage for one person to speak up to another person, company, group or team. Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability and natural instincts cultivated from birth to use our words and talk about what we want, who we are, what we believe, and what questions we have about what we see, hear and experience. Many of us have lost our abilities to truly connect, truly be known, and be heard.

It concerns me that our society has allowed these voices inside us to be silenced. It's time for each of us to speak up in our lives so we can truly live the lives we have imagined. Life is short - so speak up.

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