In celebration of Women’s Equality Day, we spoke with seven amazing ladies from Team Enlightened to hear their personal experiences as women in the workplace. Read below for their successes, relatable struggles, and inspiring advice!
Brooke, Influencer Marketing Coordinator
She was part of the team back when we had only 7 flavors and 7 team members (including her)! After graduating from NYU she returned to Enlightened to work with our social media influencers and teach the in-house team all about nutrition. She’s currently pursuing her masters degree in Clinical Nutrition and is on track to become a Registered Dietitian.
Jen, Director of Sales (East)
As one of our original 4 team members, Jen joined the team back in 2015. She studied biology at NYU and was so passionate about Enlightened that although she had already accepted a spot in her dream grad school program, she stayed on to help Enlightened reach the success it’s achieved today! She’s constantly traveling and is a huge reason why you can find our ice cream in so many stores.
Gemma, Financial Controller
Gemma moved from a small town in England to New York in 2010. She’s worked in finance for nearly 20 years, leads a team of five in the Enlightened office, and is a supermom to two sweet boys—Alade and Maximus.
Koudi, Junior Accountant
Originally from Togo, Koudi moved to NYC in 2010 and joined the Enlightened team over a year ago. She handles customer payments and deductions as an integral member of the Finance team. Fun fact: Koudi speaks 4 languages! English, French, two dialects from Togo and she’s currently learning Spanish.
Lily, Director of Brand Strategy
Lily’s close relationship to brother and CEO, Michael, is part of what makes Enlightened such a tight-knit, family company. She witnessed Enlightened grow from an idea to a nationwide success and started on full-time after graduating from Yale. Now, she wears many hats as our Director of Brand Strategy.
Elaine grew up in China and moved to New York in 2014 to pursue a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing. Hidden talent: she played the accordion for 12 years.
Rose, Office Manager
Rose is a proud Brooklynite and the glue that holds the office together. She wears many hats by managing consumer packages, contributing to marketing efforts, and planning events for the team. If you have a question, Rose is the person to ask—whether it’s about work or the best way to spend a day in New York.
Who are your female role models?
My mom. She balanced a lot while I was growing up and it’s always been amazing to me that I can look back and say that I had this amazing childhood, especially now being an adult and knowing how responsible you have to be to take care of your adult things and also have a child on top of that.
My mom. She’s a single mom. She’s been my rock since I was one and she raised me single-handedly and financially supported me my whole life. She’s a business owner and she works seven days a week. She’s like a rockstar. I also think Michelle Obama is amazing, of course.
My mom would be number one. She’s amazing. She’s my superhero. And Maya Angelou! I really love her.
Definitely my mom and my sisters—three amazing women with take-charge attitudes who aren’t afraid to speak up. They’ve each forged their own very different path. If I’m feeling hesitant to confront an issue or stir up conflict, I take my cues from their ability to tackle problems by being direct and addressing things head-on.
What does equality mean to you?
Whatever guys can achieve, I can achieve. Males and females should be given equal opportunities.
There’s a graphic I always think of that says something like, equality isn’t giving everyone a stool and letting them sit on it, it’s giving everyone the appropriate stool so they’re at the same height.
Equality, like kindness and responsibility, is something to strive for and practice constantly. It’s not a destination, but a continuous process. It’s about acknowledging that not everyone is starting out on a level playing field—because of gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic background, ability, or other factors—and doing what we can to lift one another up and make sure we’re hearing multiple voices and perspectives.
Being treated the same as everybody else, it doesn’t matter if they’re male or female.
How do you empower others at Enlightened?
Being the manager and heading the team as Controller, I think that in itself is empowering for me because it’s the highest position I’ve been in in my career.
In terms of leading the team, gender aside, it’s passion that matters the most. It’s about being motivating, supportive, and passionate. If the passion dies out, the ship sinks.
I try to curb language that’s not confident, like “I think” or “sort of” or most of all, “sorry.” (I’m definitely guilty of all of this as well and try to fix it when I notice myself doing it.) Even if there’s a little bit of fake-it-till-you-make-it going on, the way you express yourself impacts how confident you are in your opinions and decisions. Also, as a brand, many of our consumers are women. In the wellness industry, though it’s getting better, people (especially women, but men, too) are often addressed through fear, shame, or negative feelings. There’s an emphasis on what is wrong or missing and a lot of promise of transformation, which people internalize, consciously or not. So we don’t use that kind of language. We’re not about transformation or becoming somebody different, but rather about celebrating who you already are. I think that resonates with everybody, but I think it’s especially important for women to hear.
What is it like being a woman at Enlightened?
In a lot of other jobs, I’ve always felt like I had to act a certain way. Like I had to be the cute, dumb, young girl who laughs at everyone’s jokes. Here I feel a lot more comfortable being able to speak my mind and contribute ideas. I don’t feel like I need to hold back.
I definitely have felt a bit of relief working here as far as diversity and equality goes. I think we’re a very open-door company. I’m gay and I feel amazing being gay here. I’ve felt more open about my personal life than I’ve ever been in the workplace which is incredible. I’ve always felt extremely validated and that’s amazing.
We’re really good at providing female equality. I think I get most of the opportunities the company provides. I never feel that I’m treated unequally because I’m a female.
What has your experience been working in a male-dominated industry?
When I go into a room, the person I’m trying to convince is almost always an older male, and I have two things that I feel can work against me. It’s my age, because I’m young in this role, and it’s the fact that I’m a female. It’s difficult, but I know the foundation of what I’m doing so well that those things are irrelevant. You can’t question my knowledge based on my age or my gender. It has nothing to do with it. It gets in your head a little bit, but that’s the last thing I want to have happen because it’s just counterproductive.
In England, I was working at a large company with a very old-fashioned mentality. My male manager there had a company car that he was supposed to make available for employees to do the company banking. However, he would not let me drive his car as he said it was too powerful for me, and it goes without saying that my male colleagues could!
When was a time you experienced or witnessed inequality?
Before coming here, I worked in a very small fishing village in England where I got promoted to my first managerial role. I got to see everyone’s payroll and there was one other lady on the management team who earned half as much as all the men…and she had been there a long, long time. Then I came on, earning even lower than her. I think because it was my first time being a manager, managing a team of four, I was just grateful for that experience and that promotion.
Where I’m from you’re raised differently. You’re raised to be submissive to men or anyone older than you. Here, you’re raised to be your own person. You don’t have to make yourself any different to please other people.
Although it has been improving a lot, in China there’s still a big difference between having a boy and having a girl, especially in small towns and suburb areas. Growing up I did feel inequality in the different ways my grandma treated me and my male cousin. I only have one male cousin, but he is like a treasure to the family.
At a previous job, I definitely felt that certain departments were heavily gendered one way or the other. Be that intentional or not, it happened over time. For example, the accounting team was primarily women and the engineering team was primarily men. I saw over time that they were really structuring the departments that ended up being primarily men. They had an upward mobility program which allowed people to move up after being there for a certain number of years and I appreciated that, but strongly felt like the departments that were primarily women didn’t have those opportunities. I really wish, and this is my one regret, that I would’ve pointed that out.
When speaking with people at trade shows, sometimes they will assume that I (or Jen or Alex, our sales directors) am not in a position to give them meaningful information and will turn away from us (in the middle of a conversation!) and towards one of our male colleagues standing next to us. I don’t think it’s intentional or even conscious, but it speaks to how deeply ingrained inequality is, even in subtle ways.
What advice do you have for women just starting their careers?
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If you’re hired somewhere it’s because they think you’re qualified. If you see a job that you know you would be really great at, go full speed ahead. Don’t hold back.
Don’t settle, don’t be nervous to ask for more, and demand what you deserve. Demand it and know that you will not seem weaker for doing that.
As a Muslim woman and an African woman, we don’t really promote equality between men and women. I’m married and I had to work really hard to make my husband understand equality and now he understands it better. My advice is don’t let any man make you feel like you’re less or like they’re better than you.
Try your best. Don’t be scared by men. Fight for it.
I want to hug every woman starting out and tell them “trust yourself and be more confident” because sometimes that’s what I need to hear too. You are strong and you are powerful!
Don’t expect inequality in your working career, so that you won’t tolerate it.
It can be very hard to jump into the professional world, and no one really tells you how to do it, but that’s because there is no one right way. You’ll find yours. Don’t beat yourself up when things get hard, and keep challenging yourself.
Telling our stories is important, so we thank all seven women featured for being so open and willing to share!
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