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  1. Blog
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What Does It Take to Climb the Ladder? 10 Women on Growth, Mentorship & Mapping Your Trajectory

‘Luck is the combination of opportunity and preparation’

Woman who has climbed the corporate ladder
Photo courtesy of Christina @

This article is part of InHerSight's Career Trajectories series. Women's career paths vary significantly. Hear from women themselves about the pivotal career decisions that have shaped their growth and success.

One reason some people shy away from embracing gender equity initiatives is that focusing wholeheartedly on women, as opposed to people of all genders, seems unfair and perhaps even like a step backward. If the end goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is for everyone to be treated equally, then creating programs that prioritize women alone doesn’t seem logical. Wouldn’t men, then, be at a disadvantage?

Absolutely not. Here’s why.

As women navigate the workforce, they deal with far more hurdles than men do simply because they’re women:

  • They might be the only woman on their team and be ostracized or need additional support to deal with office politics. 

  • They might be paid a lower salary than their male peers, whether purposefully (and illegally) or because they were afraid to be labeled “aggressive” during the negotiation stage of their interview. 

  • They might be asked to tone down their personalities or even edit their emails to be more accommodating. 

  • They might fail to receive credit for their work and ideas and thus be passed over for promotions. 

  • They might be “mommy tracked” for voicing their desire to have a family.

  • They might never see a role model who looks like them in the highest ranks of their company and not realize they could achieve that goal themselves. 

The list of ways women can experience the workplace differently than men goes on and on and on, and it’s worse for women in further marginalized demographics. Gender equity initiatives attempt to dissolve barriers like the ones listed above so women can have a fair shot—the shot men already have—in the workforce.

I want you to keep that in mind as you read the latest responses to InHerSight’s Career Trajectories series, this time from women who’ve climbed the ladder in their careers. Gender equity initiatives around mentorship, sponsorship, and learning opportunities have existed for years, decades even, but you don’t often see the “why this” of these programs written out so plainly. Here, the majority of the women who shared their stories with us indicate that remarkable opportunities for growth and guidance—bosses who supported and advocated for them, additional training and tasks tossed their way, crucial networking connections—helped them get where they are today.

While the point of this series is to highlight the diversity of women’s career paths, it’s equally important to understand what it takes for some of those paths to exist at all. And with women’s advancement, in particular, it takes a village. A manager who says your name to the right people when they know you spearheaded a project. A more senior woman in tech who’s willing to show you the ropes. 

That doesn’t always happen through a formal initiative, sure. But in many cases, it also doesn’t happen at all. For those women who get the additional boost—the equalizer, if you will—it’s clearly pivotal. 

Read more: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): What They Are & Why They’re Beneficial

10 women who’ve climbed the ladder on growth, mentorship, and forging your career path

Jennyfer Divina

Sr. Talent Acquisition Manager at Columbia Distributing

What do you do? 

As Columbia Distributing's talent acquisition manager, my responsibility is to attract candidates and provide opportunities within our business and industry.

How did you get where you are?

As someone who started in a totally different industry, I was continuously motivated and found intrinsic value in helping others no matter the task, learning their skills, and doing it with a good attitude. From ophthalmology to human resources, this mantra alone has helped open doors for me in the forefront of my HR career and given me opportunities to listen and learn from some really talented professionals in different industries! As I've excelled into higher leadership roles, my goal has been to continue connecting others with their dream jobs and career paths and watch the success of others continue to bloom throughout!

What has most surprised you about your career?

What most surprised me is that perfection is not the ideal state to be attained, individual continuous improvement is. Learn where you can and make adjustments where you go, then take a pause and look at everything you've worked on (not necessarily completed) and if there is progress, celebrate it!

Sameena Sayed

AVP - Offshore Marketing & Presales Head at eClerx Services Ltd.

What do you do?

I'm the offshore marketing and presales head. My main responsibilities include managing a team of 14 in different areas such as presales, sales enablement, email marketing, project management, collateral & content marketing.

How did you get where you are?

I started off as a social media manager, when my senior managers entrusted me with more marketing and presales responsibilities, including me in high-end RFPs and 360-degree campaigns. As the years progressed, I received training in multiple tools, guidance, and support from the leadership that enabled me to take the next step of being a senior manager and later the offshore head.

What has most surprised you about your career?

The amount of exposure and the encouragement to learn new tools and skills given by the managers and the leadership alike—as someone new in an organization, you would think that there's a set of expectations that overpowers your will to learn something new. But with the right leadership and managers, you always feel safe to raise your hand and ask for training, exposure, and opportunities for growth.

Read more: Pivot! 7 Women on the Career Changes That Have Shaped Their Trajectories

Neha Purohit

Senior Manager - Talent Acquisition at eClerx

What do you do?

I am a proud member of a vibrant talent acquisition team with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. 

I have since worked on headhunting rock stars in their fields, whilst trying to give them the best interviewing experience (something which is of utmost importance to me)! I started with leadership recruitment in India and then moved to recruit for global opportunities in the digital marketing, analytics, and investment banking domain across the U.S., EMEA, and APAC region. I am also enjoying some amazing initiatives through our talent branding efforts. I love this role as it helps me play a part in changing people's lives.

How did you get where you are?

After completing my postgraduate degree, I was just like any other person in the human resources field. I was extremely fortunate to be a part of eClerx's talent acquisition team and learned recruiting from the scratch under the supervision of a few of the industry's best HR professionals. What helped me most was everyday on-the-job learning from the best supervisors, internal training, and exposure to industry best practices at an early stage in my career.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I hold an engineering degree (in electronics and telecommunications), but I have managed to carve my own path in human resources. It's not the conventional route for sure, but I am glad that the educational experience has helped me understand some very niche technologies that I hire for my organization today across the globe. I am also fortunate to receive amazing opportunities to experiment and experience in my role today.

Hennah Iqbal

Director, Financial Planning & Analysis at Penn Interactive Ventures

What do you do?

I oversee forecasting, budgeting, and long-range strategic planning for all of Penn Interactive as well as provide financial analysis and support to our corporate and leadership team here at Penn.

How did you get where you are?

I don’t think there’s a black-and-white blueprint. I have made lateral career moves that opened me up to new industries and strategically pursued roles that would allow me to develop professional and personal skills I wanted to work on to achieve my goals. In all my roles, I have always strived to “leave things better than the way I found it,” which motivates me to learn new skills and build cross functional relationships.

What has most surprised you about your career?

That I am more resilient than I give myself credit for. I’m also convinced now that there is no such thing as pure luck. I believe luck is the combination of opportunity and preparation. By continuing to challenge myself and developing my personal and professional skills, I was prepared for when the right opportunities came up.

Mary Magnusson

Community Media Specialist, Penn Interactive Ventures 

What do you do?

I am a community media specialist here at Penn Interactive. My main responsibility is to ensure our players receive the best customer care across all social media platforms by collecting data and monitoring all communication procedures.

How did you get where you are?

I started off my career as a player experience agent and took the time to learn everything I could about the company. After about six months in that position, I was promoted to player experience team lead. Being a team lead required a lot of patience and managerial skills that I will take with me wherever I go. As a lead, I was in direct contact with all departments in the company, which gave me a great opportunity to network. This networking eventually led to our marketing department reaching out to offer me my current position.

What has most surprised you about your career?

What has surprised me most throughout my career has been the constant growth our company offers. One of my biggest fears when getting a full-time job was that I'd remain stagnant and feel stuck where I work. Penn has proven time and again that our company is fueled by employees that want to grow. Every single manager has a desire to help you learn the necessary skills to move up in your career and it truly shows.

Andrea Zoellner

VP of Marketing, Kinsta

What do you do?

I'm vice president of marketing at Kinsta, a web hosting company, where I oversee the company's growth and marketing-led customer acquisition strategies.

How did you get where you are?

When I graduated with a degree in journalism, I’d already worked as a reporter, communications strategist, and digital platform coordinator. A year later, I quit my communications job at an insurance company to do a marketing and business development internship for a tech company. That allowed me to learn, network, and open up my next few jobs, from coordinator, to middle management, and now to my current executive-level position.  

What has most surprised you about your career?

The quick pace at which I was able to move up still surprises me, but I couldn’t have done it without the help and encouragement of mentors. Looking back, my biggest opportunities and moments of growth were made possible by some very generous bosses. I feel incredibly lucky that I was mentored and trusted by the leaders who surrounded me, and that they gave me the support to step up and take on bigger challenges.

Ann-Marie Acosta

VP, Employer Brand Strategy, Radancy

What do you do?

As vice president of employer brand strategy, I am part of a global team of subject matter experts who are responsible for delivering employer brand management solutions and strategies to meet the specific project objectives for our clients.

How did you get where you are?

I was very fortunate to have a great female boss and mentor who taught me that you say yes to those opportunities that come your way. With that support, I progressed through the organization from an account executive through VP, client strategist, which allowed me to grow.  Six years ago, I wanted to move out of my comfort zone and to be challenged. I moved to the brand strategy team and have never looked back.

What has most surprised you about your career?

That I am still with the same organization after 25 years, but here I have been challenged and continue to get the opportunity to grow.

Celeste Curry

Sales Director, Columbia Distributing

What do you do?

I am a sales director for Columbia Distributing, a beverage distributor in the northwest. I oversee convenience and on-premise (bar and restaurant) sales that take place in King County, Washington. Our sales teams go to the locations, build relationships with the buyers, pitch products to fit their needs, and write the orders. I oversee this process, and come up with the strategies we use to build brands and grow sales.

How did you get where you are?

My career in the beverage industry started at Columbia Distributing, which is where I continue to work today. I started in this industry as a merchandiser. It was the entry-level position that I built my career upon. The team environment was very inclusive, and they had a very comprehensive training schedule set up.  

After a year of learning the basics and continuing to do as much “extra” work as I could, I was promoted to a sales associate position. This position is paired with a sales rep and is essentially a training position that assists the rep and helps to grow skill sets to prepare the associate for their next role.

After working as an associate for a year, I eventually took over for the sales rep I was working with. That promotion had me in charge of all sales orders on my assigned route, as well as for training the sales associate who backfilled my previous role.

After mastering the sales rep role, my career took me to a district manager position, which I held for a few years. My team consisted of sales reps who covered all channels of business (C-Store, Grocery and On-Premise). I helped with all operations pertaining to sales, and held the team accountable for hitting their goals.

After a couple years of being a district manager, I took a promotion which placed me on the Convenience Store (C-store) team as a sales director. The sales director position leads the district managers and sales reps out of the branch territory they are assigned. 

After two years of holding this position, I now hold a position on the On-Premise team, also as sales director. With bars and restaurants coming up from the recent COVID shutdowns, this is the most exciting and challenging role thus far.

I believe my care for and commitment to my teams, paired with my high competitive drive equates to the success I have experienced within my company. I also have many friends and allies, who have become and acted as mentors to me throughout the years. This has been critical in the advancement of my career. 

What has most surprised you about your career?

What has surprised me the most about my career, is that even in adversity, hard work does get you to where you want to be. The beverage industry is more diverse now than it has been in the past, but is still predominantly male-led. When I first started, I was most often the only woman or one of the only women in the room. There weren’t a lot of people who resembled me in high-level positions, but instead of that being a deterrent to moving up the ranks, I used it as fuel to get there. I didn’t have any ties to the industry to start, started at the very bottom and am making a successful career out of my experience.

Holly Brailer

Director, Client Success Operations at Avtex Solutions LLC

What do you do?

I make sure my client success team has the tools they need to provide a great customer experience to our customers.

How did you get where you are?

I did the role so I understood the challenges and tools my existing team needed. I was promoted by demonstrating what the experience should be for our clients.

What has most surprised you about your career? 

The stress and time it takes make a transformation.

Bridget McNulty

Chief Operating Officer at Alley

What do you do?

As the Alley Group’s chief operating officer, I oversee all internal operations strategy including hiring and onboarding, our agile practice, coaching and performance systems, and all other internal processes and policies which impact our team members within Alley's family of businesses.

How did you get where you are?

I’ve worked in product and project management for over a decade, and I have a bachelor’s in business and technology and a master’s in management. When I joined Alley 10 years ago, I was their third employee and Alley’s first project manager. Over the next few years, I became director of project management, then director of people and process before becoming a partner in 2016 and eventually Alley’s COO in 2017.

What has most surprised you about your career?

I expected my career to focus more directly on technology; it ended up encompassing so much more. I never thought I’d be helping to lead a company, primarily responsible for our people and operations. I assumed I would be a specialist of some sort, but I ended up as the ultimate generalist. My broad focus allowed me to help Alley be more holistic—a company that thinks about remote culture, team member experience, and technology.

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