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Houston Female Leaders on Driving a More Diverse Workforce, Drawing Inspiration

Published Mar 07, 2022 by A.J. Mistretta

Rise to the Top networking

Every year, International Women’s Day drives collective action toward gender parity and equality. The latest report from McKinsey & Co. finds that while women are better represented in the talent pipeline than they were five years ago, they continue to fall behind their male counterparts when it comes to early promotions, creating a barrier to higher level positions over time. For women of color, those promotions are even more difficult to attain. 

The Partnership’s annual Rise to the Top event on March 10, aims to celebrate female achievement but also address some of the difficulties local women continue to face in keeping with this year’s theme #BreakTheBias. 

Ahead of this week’s event, we spoke with several female leaders about an increasingly diverse workforce, what inspires them, and how the Partnership helps in their work.  

Willingness to ‘Get Uncomfortable’ 

Qiara Suggs, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at TDECU credit union, said she’s seeing more women rise to the top of the financial sector, and specifically the credit union industry, buoyed by a focus on diversity and investment in talent at all levels. 

“It’s critical that we embrace future talent by helping them talk through their passion,” Suggs said. “I am a firm believer that you have to appreciate your purpose and build a career that aligns with your passion and purpose. I intentionally mentor, coach and advise those who request support because it’s important to share personal experiences that help overcome self-doubt and things such as imposter syndrome to build confidence.” 

Perry Homes CEO Kathy Britton said she’s eager to see more women enter the construction industry. At companies like hers that focus promoting from within, more women entering the organization will in time lead to even more female representation at the top. 

“As a leader, I am driven by what we can accomplish when we rally the strength of our team around our mission” Britton said. “Working collaboratively across the company toward the same goals is a source of satisfaction and pride.”

Suggs said her career has been altered by a “trusted village” of individuals who believe in her and reinforce her belief in herself. “I am conscious of surrounding myself with individuals who uplift me and encourage me to be better than I am today,” Suggs said. 

Continued achievement often means stopping to appreciate what’s already accomplished and determining what’s next without risking burnout. Suggs said she’s proud of what she’s achieved over a more than two-decade career, from helping hospitals expand to creating a DEI strategy and structure for a major healthcare company. Again, it was her village of individuals who encouraged her to act when she felt complacent. “Consistently, I experienced friends, mentors and executive coaches who would give me honest feedback, encourage me to ‘get uncomfortable’ and remind me of the effort and lessons learned that have led to my current state.” 

Britton said today’s female leaders have a responsibility to support and educate the next generation of women while helping them understand their potential. In her role as the founder of the Perry Homes Foundation, Britton said she seeks out philanthropic opportunities that can directly image young women through education and other programs. 

Leading from Houston 

While Houston companies have taken significant steps forward in recent years on gender inclusivity, recent data shows women remain underrepresented in senior leadership roles. The goal of events like Rise to the Top and the larger International Women’s Day is to encourage meaningful work to address the disparity. 

Houston is attractive to a broad base of companies because of its talent diversity, and organizations like the Partnership help channel growth for even greater outcomes, Suggs said. “The opportunity to network and represent my organization [at the Partnership] in a unique manner is appealing to me. These are priceless moments where networking becomes the greatest way to learn and apply lessons from others across various industries.” 

“While we are the fourth largest city, it can still feel like a small community,” said Britton. “Having been a Houstonian my entire life, I can say that our residents sincerely care about one another and will always come together to help each other during disaster or tragedy.” What’s more, she said, Houston is renowned for its philanthropy and generosity in ways that truly make a difference.  

“I’m excited to see how Houston will benefit from its continued growth,” Britton said. “With more people and businesses moving to our area, we will continue to see revitalization and expansion. As a community, we can thrive and grow together.” 

View perspective from other Houston female leaders. Click here to register for Rise to the Top on March 10 and learn more about the Partnership’s business resource groups for female leaders: Executive Women’s Partnership and Women’s Business Alliance

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