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Meet Heather Stark

Heather Stark is a business owner, entrepreneur, public speaker, and feminist writer.


Her girl empowerment company, Grace & Grit, helps girls discover their worth and potential through the stories of historical women. She is the author of Her Story: A Hilarious and Heartfelt Conversation About Why Beauty Milestones Should Be Options And Not Expectations.


Heather speaks and writes about ways in which antiquated cultural expectations and societal norms have marred and scarred humanity's understanding of gender identity, beauty culture, self-care, life development, work-life balance, spirituality vs religious affiliations, mental health care, mothering, politics, and education. Her work has been featured in Motherly, Femmish, and HuffPost. She is committed to stripping down a topic to its core, revealing the point of intersectionality and its impact on humanity. She was the recipient of the Girl Scout’s Women of Distinction Discovery Award in 2018 and the 2019 American Way Humanitarian of the Year Award. When she isn’t writing, you can find her on the beach, a hiking trail, or in the kitchen cooking the latest and greatest from Pinterest.


 

What first sparked your interest in leadership? Was there an early experience that ignited your leadership path?


I have always been drawn to roles with high levels of responsibility seriously; perhaps it is because I am the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter. I like solving problems, and the idea of a full work schedule (with self-care included) was always thrilling. I like being a visionary, focusing on the bigger picture and the end goal. And I love empowering others to make a difference. In grad school, I took several courses on leadership and empathy, and the two concepts, when combined, made so much sense to me.


As a school counselor, I embraced being a support system for teachers as they grew their students, leading trainings and nurturing others when they felt overwhelmed. Investing in others lifts workplace morale, a responsibility I took to heart. I would cook for the teachers, advocate for them, listen to them, and make sure I recognized their strengths and was there to help strengthen their weaknesses. Leaders provide the stepping stones that others use to reach their goals. I can think of no better way of serving humanity than by lifting others.


Have you ever experienced gender barriers or double standards as a woman in leadership roles? How did you overcome them?


Although I haven't experienced double standards or gender barriers in leadership roles, I have experienced workplace harassment about my body, touched inappropriately and endured comments about my face being too expressive. It is rather shocking when you realize you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Many times, my default was to gaslight myself, trying to talk myself out of the fact that it was happening, which is the worst thing you can do. Listen to your gut! 


When I was younger, telling your boss about workplace harassment wasn't something you did. There weren't many protections against harassment unless it was severe. I dealt with the harassment by trying to distance myself from the man who was making me feel uncomfortable, which is hard when he is your supervisor. I confided in a trusted coworker, and we made a pact that we would always be together whenever he was near. When I got older, I would stare at the men coworkers who had made inappropriate comments and let things get uncomfortable until they walked away. I have also feign ignorance and asked what they meant. Typically, they would get frustrated and walk away when they didn't get the desired response.


What do you think is the biggest misconception about women in leadership positions?


I think one of the biggest misconceptions about women in leadership positions is that we are too emotional and overly assertive. While women have more expressed emotions, studies show that women tend to score higher in emotional intelligence than men. In other studies, when men and women act the same in leadership roles, people judge women's actions harsher than men's, even when their behaviors are the same.


Another misconception is that because there are women in leadership roles, then there must be no gender stereotypes in the workplace or that there is no gender pay gap. In a study published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office using 2021 census data, "full-time women managers earned 71 cents for every dollar earned by full-time men managers." This gap widens with varying ethnic groups.


What does empowering other female leaders mean to you? How do you try to do that in your roles?


I genuinely enjoy the company of women. I enjoy learning their stories, the adversity they overcame, and the legacy they want to leave. Women become stronger when they join forces. For far too long, our world has operated on scarcity; when women help one another, we realize how much joy and abundance there is in this world. We understand the meaning of compassion, vulnerability and courage. In these spaces, true wisdom grows, and the wisest spirits I know belong to women.


I work to empower other women by giving them space for their voices to be heard. I had a podcast that shared the stories of women; I write about women and their contributions to history and our world. I enjoy mentoring women and making time for them. Investing in others is the best way to let them know you believe in who they are and what they stand for.


Why do you think we have fewer women in top leadership roles – such as CEOs and board directors? What needs to change?


I believe there are fewer women in leadership positions because of centuries of gender bias. Women didn't receive consistent formal education until 1840, and that was only if their family could afford it and they were white. Women weren't able to have credit cards, own homes, or open bank accounts until the late 20th century, and we are still facing gender inequity in child care. Women are still expected to be the family caretakers, which delays us being able to enter the workforce and climb the corporate ladder.


We can change gender bias by showcasing women in leadership roles, encouraging feminine leadership traits such as empathy and collaboration, educating ourselves on unconscious bias, and ensuring leadership roles within businesses are flexible, inclusive, and equitable amongst races, identities, and genders.


What are the most meaningful contributions you have made as a woman leader so far? What have been some of your proudest leadership accomplishments?


This will always be a work in progress for me.


As a leader, I have built a company that empowers girls all over the U.S. and gives representation to women in history. I have written a book that reframes the toxic narratives of beauty culture and gives women a platform to share their stories. However, I am most proud of how I speak out about harmful cultural beliefs and practices, encouraging others to be authentic about who they are and their beliefs, and the cross-generational relationships I have built with other women.


If you could give young women starting out one piece of leadership advice, what would it be?


Read every book written by Brené Brown and Simon Sineck.


Closing

Leadership knows no boundaries. We encourage each of you to embrace your unique qualities and strengths, knowing that you, too, have the power to shape your community and create a lasting impact. GirlsLead looks forward to bringing you more inspiring stories and conversations that will continue to empower our leadership abilities.



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