Women Crushing It Wednesday | Lesley Robinson

It’s time for Women Crushing It Wednesday, where we sit down with a woman in our community and celebrate how she is crushing it! We’re so happy to welcome Lesley Robinson for our February #WCW. 

Tell us about yourself! Who are you, what do you do, and what motivates you?

Howdy! I’m Lesley Robinson, a passionate advocate for empowering students – especially women – to find the best path to their own destination. My higher education and nonprofit management background have equaled a career supporting students (and early-stage entrepreneurs) to have innovative experiences with impact embedded — whether here in the U.S. or abroad.

Currently, I am the inaugural Director for the newly launched Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. The KS WEL Institute strengthens the next generation of courageous, creative female leaders who will change the world — in business and beyond.

I have worked with the Chanel Foundation’s “PowHER in Tech” project and INCO’s Global Academy training program to support recruiting, retaining, and providing equitable access for women in the tech sector. I am an active member of Beam (previously Women@Austin) and Young Women’s Alliance in Austin. I am also the proud mother of a dinosaur-loving 3-year-old girl. I serve as the PTA Co-President at INIC Preschool, a Spanish immersion school in south Austin.

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from Colorado State University. My dissertation topic is focused on gender-aware approaches to teaching entrepreneurship education in higher education.

 

In your recent webinar Leadership through Virtual Mentorship, you spoke about how being a good leader also makes you a good mentor. Where do you suggest women who are just entering the workforce start building their leadership skills? 

When I think about leadership, it is always evolving depending on the people I admire. Some come and go, and some have been a constant for a long time in my life. The leaders that have stuck around have become mentors to me — whether they know it (or even know me) or not. The leaders to mentors in my life have been former bosses, teachers, peers, celebrities, elected officials, and influencers that have sparked something in me. That spark has always been lit by whatever my focus might be in that particular chapter of my life or career. I often remember these leaders for their accomplishments, but sometimes, I admire these leaders for their failures.

I believe that failure is necessary. The leaders who have encouraged and challenged me to find the beauty in failure have been the most influential. Ultimately, to me, leaders help foster new ideas and growth within ourselves. The truth is, I believe there is a leader in each one of us.

For those just entering the workforce wondering where to even begin developing themselves into a leader, I think, at the most basic level, leadership has to be defined simply as the capacity to lead and generate a following. You need to be someone who cares about a cause and then has enough courage to ask others to join you in that cause. To do this, I believe that leaders become great by building the following leadership skills:

  • Exceptional communication skills – enabling them to share their vision of the future with others
  • Motivational – able to get others on board and work hard to achieve shared goals
  • Mission-oriented – embody a purpose bigger than themselves but also are able to balance not letting their ego get in the way
  • Great listener – willing to respond to feedback from others and admit when they’ve made a mistake
  • Eagerness to learn – a commitment to continuous improvement that fuels productivity for themselves, and others

Especially for women, adaptability will be crucial to becoming a strong, courageous, and creative leader. Great leaders need to be open and willing to change. Leaders need to get involved, show interest, take the initiative, and allow themselves to discover where they thrive but also where they need to improve. As important as it is to know where your strengths are, I believe that knowing your weaknesses and areas of improvement is your real superpower for becoming a leader.

My past experiences have instilled in me the ability to adapt to whatever environment I’m in.  Adaptability and resilience have allowed me to develop a growth mindset. In my option, sticking to the status quo lends itself to vulnerability. I like to get uncomfortable, try new things, and create an environment of “you do you.” But also, “I got you.” My advice is to surround yourself with leaders who can evolve into mentors — who are invested in creating a safe environment that allows you to be your true authentic self, try things, fail at something, and learn as you go.

 

Women can often deal with imposter syndrome feelings or that they aren’t good enough in their career, much less feeling confident that they can mentor someone effectively. How can women overcome these feelings of doubt and become confident in their mentorship abilities?

What we know about imposter syndrome is that it is prevalent among women. I’ve had it, I have it, and the cycle comes and goes with no magic cure for getting rid of feeling like an imposter. Are there triggers? Maybe. What I’ve found, and the advice I can give, is that somehow imposter syndrome has diminished for me as I’ve gotten older. Why? I think because I’ve taken the time to understand better: my strengths, my weaknesses, the role I play on a team, the voice I have on specific topics that are important to me, and the confidence to surround myself with mentors and coaches who remind me just to be me.

In my time working with thousands of students over the years, I do think there are some “promising practices” to help manage the feeling of being an imposter:

  • Name it – Take a step back and know that you can better understand how to manage imposter syndrome and keep it away when you can first identify how it feels – and how it shows up.
  • Know your good and not good – Take the time to inventory what you’re great at, good at, and okay at. Be honest with yourself. You can’t be great at everything. Focus on the great and good things when you need a confidence boost.
  • Recruit a hype squad – Create a community that knows you well enough to support you (and hype you up!) when you need it most. Ask for help! Have a presentation to give; take some time beforehand to talk to someone who can be a cheerleader for you. Did something not go as planned? Reach out to someone who will listen and encourage you to shake it off and try again. A support system creates validation. Sometimes, you need your feelings to be validated before you can move on.
  • Know your worth – Not every presentation, meeting, email exchange, or interaction is going to be the best. There are going to be bad days. What’s important to put into perspective is that your worth isn’t tied to every single action. Self assess the situation and have a decompression strategy for putting your value back into perspective. For me, it’s a walk with my dog while listening to a great podcast. Transform your mindset to have a healthy view of the bigger picture.
  • Ask for feedback – Find a colleague or peer that can give you an honest assessment on how you show up in meetings or present yourself to a room full of people. They’ll notice things that you aren’t aware of and hopefully give you constructive feedback on how to show up better for yourself.

 

As an advocate for active mentorship throughout one’s career, what is your suggestion for people who are uncomfortable in the virtual realm to work on building their confidence and connections with others?

When building connections with others, whether virtual or in-person, my primary advice is to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” I’ve found that the following eight “promising practices” have helped me build confidence in networking — which has ultimately led to meeting and connecting with some pretty stellar mentors in my life:

  1. Get inspiration from your inbox – Mentors can be influencers. Like a podcast, blog, or Instagram account? Find the value in learning from someone who may never know you but aligns with your career goals and aspirations.
  2. Look around instead of above – Your peers and colleagues can become active mentors in your life just as easily as higher-ups. Peer mentors might have more to give because they may be more invested in succeeding alongside you instead of being seen as in competition with you. Subscribe to the mantra that “the rising tide lifts all boats.”
  3. Be more than just your resume – Don’t limit yourself to being just a one-pager. Be dynamic, authentic, and approachable. Be memorable! Know what makes you you. After all, everyone else is already taken. Open yourself up and share distinguishing qualities.
  4. Always ask yourself what you want to be when you grow up – Your dreams and aspirations should continue to grow as you read books, listen to podcasts, meet new people, attend conferences, join membership organizations (like HERdacity) , and attend networking events. Which leads me to…
  5. Drink a lot of matcha lattes – I’m not too fond of coffee, so I like to set-up matcha latte informational interviews to meet with people I think are interesting and/or have interesting jobs or career paths. Pay for their time/experience/perspective by buying their drink.
  6. Know yourself and know your leadership potential – Be self-aware. Who are YOU? Really? What makes you tick? What gets you up in the morning? What are your interests and passions? What are your strengths and, more importantly, your weaknesses?
  7. Master the “forwardable” email – Know someone who knows someone that you want to know? Send them an email that they can forward to make the introduction. Don’t be afraid to help someone help you. Make it as easy as possible for them to help make the connection for you.
  8. Create your personal brand statement – Also known as your elevator pitch. Be prepared to answer: I am… I help… I understand/do… So that…

 

As the Director for the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute, where do you start when creating programs for women entrepreneurs? What are some of the core issues that you see women entrepreneurs struggle with, and how do you create programs to support women in their entrepreneurial journeys?

Through the KS WEL Institute, our mission is to empower women to lead and encourage the world to follow. The KS WEL Institute supports a curricular and co-curricular effort to provide students with promising college-to-career pathways, especially women and creatives underrepresented in entrepreneurial roles. With that always in mind, I work to create an environment of community, diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment that redefines leadership and entrepreneurship by growing the number of women-owned and women-led businesses in Austin and beyond.

To do this, I’ve been very intentional about creating the KS WEL Institute to be for students and by students. As a leadership institute, students help develop the mission, vision, and strategy of what the KS WEL Institute needs to be to address the gaps women often face when becoming leaders.

In response, we create programs that support women in their entrepreneurial journeys in three ways:

  1. Empowering students to become leaders – through speakers, role models, visibility, representation, and celebration of success.
  2. Building community – and creating connections both within UT and externally.
  3. Equipping students with tools, workshops, and curriculum for gaining intentional skills, practice, and internships.

Because the students’ voice is at the center of the KS WEL Institute, we create programs and content that addresses current issues students face — in real time. A great example of this is our student-curated blog, em*bold*en, written by our Student Advisory Board. It inspires me to watch our students become leaders amongst their peers by finding their voice to address today’s challenges. My job, role, and focus become how best to amplify our students’ voices through the KS WEL Institute so they become empowered to lead.

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