Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.
What is your name and title?
Malinda Gagnon, Founder + CEO at Uprise Partners.
Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.
I’m the Founder and CEO of Uprise Partners. Uprise is a consultancy and investment firm. We help business leaders launch, scale, and operate their organizations.
How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.
I’ve been in business strategy and communications for 20 years. At Google, I was fortunate to be on the ad technology organization’s founding team in the Cambridge, MA office.
At WPP/GroupM, the world’s largest media investment holding company, I started two organizations. I founded and led a consulting practice advising clients such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Volkswagen, Unilever, Land Rover Jaguar, Allergan, Walmart, and many others. I then founded and led the Product Development and Technology group to expand their technology and services portfolio.
In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left WPP/GroupM in 2017. I knew my career had plateaued there, and it was time for me to move on – but that’s all I knew. I planned to take some time off to figure out my next step. Part of that discovery process was interviewing at other companies. A pivotal moment for me was during a final round interview at a major consulting firm. They asked me what I envisioned for myself in five years. I said, without hesitation (and one could say, in this context, without tact as well!), “I want to run my own company.” It was clear to me when I walked out of that interview, that running my own company was my next step. Why wait five years?
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?
Just keep going and have faith in what you’re doing. Sometimes it may feel like each day doesn’t bring change or progress, but it does. I’m experiencing the tipping point now when all of the small right steps are adding up, and big things are happening.
What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?
Now that I have my own company, I feel that being a woman doesn’t hinder me. I can now more easily create my own destiny.
When I was at WPP/GroupM, I felt challenged as a woman more acutely. I had to advocate for myself and fight for the promotions and roles I knew I deserved. I also had to fight for the pay I deserved fiercely, and I know I still didn’t surpass male colleagues who were in similar roles.
Do you have any mentors? What does mentorship mean to you?
At WPP/GroupM, I had a few tremendous mentors. A couple, in particular, served as my sponsors as I started the two organizations that I led while I was there. Mentorship to me is a supporter, a sounding board, and offering advice. Being a sponsor is advocating for someone when they aren’t in the room. These people were both my mentors and my sponsors. I knew they had my back. I’m incredibly thankful for them.
What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?
As women, we have to stand up for what’s ours and not accept any less. If you find you’re at an organization that’s not valuing you after putting in the effort to change that, it’s time to move on. They don’t deserve you. Vote with your feet.
What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?
The big things a company can do to advance women into leadership positions is twofold:
1) Examine the criteria that go into promoting women into leadership roles and ensure that masculine leadership qualities don’t sway that criteria. Often women are not perceived as leaders because they have a different leadership style than men, which doesn’t at all mean they will be less effective – it’s just different.
2) Invest in leadership training, presentation skills training, networking, and mentorship opportunities for women. This will help women feel more confident with sharing their skills and connect them with people who can help their careers.
The little things a company can do to advance women into leadership positions are the everyday aspects of culture and make a big difference over time. These things include:
• Notice if a woman hasn’t contributed in a meeting and ask what she thinks.
• Notice if a woman is being talked over in a meeting (maybe because her voice is softer or she’s not as aggressive) and ask whoever interrupted to pause because you would like to hear what she has to say.
• Give a woman an assignment that will help her shine and earn the respect of her colleagues.
• Notice if a woman takes the task as note-taker in a meeting or starts to clean up the conference room afterward. This is not her default role and needs to be shared by everyone.
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the next year?
My theme for this year is to be a better listener and a better teacher. Each year, I set a theme for myself based on how I need to grow personally and professionally and what my team and family need from me. Here’s my blog post on why I chose it and some reflections on that.
Is there a cause that is particularly close to you? If so, why this cause and how did you get involved?
I’m passionate about promoting wellness so people can live full lives and realize their potential. We can only give from a full well. I’m a yoga and meditation teacher and have a donation-based practice called Yogamoto. It’s my passion.
I’ve been practicing since I was a kid with my mom and started taking classes in high school. My meditation and yoga practice is essential for me to feel grounded and well – physically, mentally, and spiritually. I start every day with meditation and prayer, and it makes a tremendous difference for me. It helps me show up as my best self every day.
When did your company join Pledge 1%? What does your impact program mean to you?
Uprise joined Pledge 1% in our first year of the company’s existence. It’s important for my co-founder, Brian Gagnon, and I, to commit to core values from the beginning to build the company we want. Uprise has also been quick to offer retirement and health benefits because of this philosophy. We are a team that believes in caring for each other and giving back, and I want each person who joins the team to be excited about that. It’s part of who we are.
Here are some of the things we’ve done in the past as a 1% organization:
• Sponsor Green Up Day in our local community. We promoted the event to pick up trash around the neighborhood and put on a BBQ for participants afterward.
• Financial donation to Black Girls Code
• Donation of computer equipment to a local high school
• Volunteer as mentors with multiple startup accelerators and as session educators
• Volunteer each year as judges in a local high school startup pitch competition
• Volunteer yoga teacher with Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation
What do you like to do outside of the office? Any interesting (or unique) habits or interests?
I love the outdoors – hiking, skiing, camping, riding my motorcycle. I’m also a yogi and yoga teacher.
Are you reading/listening to anything interesting at the moment? Please share your most recent favorite book or podcast!
I’m listening to a Pema Chodron book called Smile at Fear. She’s such a wealth of wisdom. I read a lot of her books.
What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?
I’ve worked remotely for many years to this past year hasn’t been a difficult transition for me. My top tips and tricks for dealing with remote work are:
• Set work boundaries for yourself – with both time and space. Have work hours and a workspace. Even if that workspace is a corner of the room, and at the end of the day, you close your computer and notebook and push in your chair, that’s enough to signal that work is over. We tend to work longer hours when we work at home, and that can lead to burnout.
• Over-communicate and pass the baton with your colleagues. Remember, with remote work – out of sight is out of mind. Stay connected. When you finish something, don’t just send a note to your colleague and move on; get confirmation they understand they now have the baton. That ensures close communication, and nothing gets lost. When you’re remote, communication has to be more conscious and more frequent because it won’t happen naturally by running into that person. This doesn’t mean more meetings! It does mean having a good chat program like Slack or Microsoft Teams – email and calls won’t work alone.
• Schedule team happy hour or game time. We have a fantastic culture at Uprise, and we grew a lot in the past year. I haven’t met half our team in person! We still have a great culture because we have time to connect, and we keep it fun and informal. Every Friday, we have Celebrations and Lessons Learned, which is also a happy hour (drinks optional!). We informally share the ups and downs of our week. We also have game time when we plan online games together. It’s really fun.