Stand Up, Speak Up, Stop Apologizing: Advice for Women in the Workplace

Whether the conversation is about the gender pay gap, the lack of female representation in certain industries (like tech) or the systematic sexism that exists in some corporations, there are plenty of discussions to be had about women in the workplace. The good news? Lately, it seems there is actual action to back up the talk.

Some companies are auditing their pay and promotion process (eliminating statistical differences), for example; some analysts/academics/etc., are refusing to sit on all-male panels; and some consumers are boycotting businesses involved in sexual-harassment scandals. 

Even without headlines, however, there are everyday professional women working toward career growth, balancing family and job responsibilities, mentoring other females, and advocating for themselves and their peers. Website Magazine enlisted the help of seven female executives with very different backgrounds (see bios at the end) to publish their thoughts on challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace. Let's get started! 




What is the single biggest obstacle that women face in workplaces today?


Barbara Cox, PhD: Women have societal expectations on how they "should" behave that have been mentally internalized for generations. Oftentimes, women need to learn to overcome those in order to step into a place of power at work. 

Kelly Pierce: The biggest obstacle we face as women in the workplace is ourselves. Our biggest obstacle, our biggest competitor often stares back at us from our very own bathroom mirror. We often stand in our own way of making our dreams come true. We end up holding ourselves back because of fear and doubt not from anyone else telling us we aren't good enough, but because of the stories and lies we create in our own heads. It's not career opportunities, work/life balance or any external factor that stops us from achieving our goals. The only thing stopping us, is, well, us. 

Joan Markwell: Setting their own goals too low. The decision lies within each of us to be a sissy or a bulldog. The terms of success are different for all of us. Do you want money, control, respect or self-satisfaction? I love it when I'm on top of my game calling all the shots or just going for it. Work must come from the heart. No matter how many times the rug gets pulled out from under you, stay tough. The number one thing to do is satisfy yourself. But remember no matter how nice a car, house, etc. you have, someone else will get a nicer one. Are rich people happier? No, they just have more stuff. As someone asked: Who is happier, the man with $11 million or 11 children?  Why, they man with 11 children, because he doesn't want anymore.  


Shalva Hessel: The biggest obstacle women face today, in my view, is the continuous effort to balance their career and professional development with building a family and supporting their husbands and children.

Andi Simon: Women are moving into business at all levels. They are challenging the long-established cultures of these companies. It is hard to change the "old boys club." 

Jacqueline Newman:
 I think that the biggest obstacle that women face in the workplace today is the balance of home and work life. There exists the expectation that women have the ability to be fully in two places at one time: Presenting business proposals in the boardroom while still running the PTA bake sale. Women can now "do it all" but that also means there is the expectation that women will not "do it all."  

Marsha Friedman: The single biggest obstacle women face in business today is themselves. Sometimes there's a lack of confidence that they can be the best at what they're striving to be; or there's a lack of courage to stick with their goals despite failures and instead learn from those failures and use them to become stronger. These negative thoughts that play like a recording in our minds can wreak havoc on any chance of success. 



What advice do you have for overcoming that single biggest obstacle?


Cox: Mindset training to remove those internalized false expectations about what you can and cannot do as a women and what you can achieve. You can learn to shift to a mindset of empowerment by finding a mentor - a woman that may be older and has moved through the career ladder in a manner that you would like to emulate. Of course, I highly recommend working with a well-trained therapist or coach.

Pierce: We must set aside self-doubt and fear. The only way to continue to break down barriers and shatter ceilings is to push through that little voice in our heads saying "I can't, "I'm scared" or "I might mess up." We have to stop apologizing, minimizing our potential and putting self-imposed limitations on ourselves. lt's not about being fearless; it's about being courageous. We must believe in ourselves - in our own power. Take a deep breath and dive into the deep end. Try something new. Fall down. Stand up. Try again. Speak up. Say what you're thinking. Screw up. Get over it. Take a chance. Trust yourself.

Markwell: Always look around you. Who is successful? Who do you admire the most? Why? How? You have to listen, listen, listen. You have to question, question, question. What do you want to do? Why aren't you? Who do you care most about in life? Do you have a plan for tomorrow?  Do you have a plan for next year? What would you change about yourself? Why aren't you? What's not important to you? Can you change your lifestyle? Can you change your children's lifestyle? These are all things that are powerful motivations for all of us.   
And motivated you must be to get ahead. If you fail? Fear not. Failure is to learn from. Success comes from failure. Life is a school. And we are here to learn from it. A smart person once said, "The tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching a goal. The tragedy lies in not having a goal to reach."

Hessel: Make the effort to design the right balance and be intentional about it rather than ad hoc and "take it as it comes."

Simon: Clever, innovative women find ways to build teams and get results that work. They have to persist and build new cultures.

Newman: I think that women need to realize that they cannot split themselves in half and get rid of the guilt of not doing everything all of the time. This may mean that you need to tell your boss that you are not going to be able to make it to a meeting because you have your child's school play and also sometimes you need to skip the PTA bake sale. Do not allow the pressure or guilt to consume you that you end up failing at both of your full-time jobs.         

Friedman: I read articles daily and books from women who have achieved success, looking for validation of what I'm doing or ideas of how I can do things differently in areas that are lacking. I would encourage women to join business women networking groups and mastermind groups, and ideally find a successful businesswoman who would enjoy being a mentor.


What one-two pieces of advice would you tell your younger professional self?    


Cox: I would tell my younger self to trust my gut more (stop second-guessing myself), follow my heart and to find a mentor.

Pierce: There's only one you - let the world see you as you. For many years, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to be like someone else, a colleague, a mentor or even like "one of the guys." I thought imitating someone else who was already accomplished would in turn make me successful too. I wish I would have been comfortable and proud of my own unique traits and perspective on the world early on in my career because it's our differences that truly make us special. No one else has your heart, my voice, your point of view, and this is your competitive advantage. This is where you have the most to share with the world, because this is where you are truly one-of-a-kind.
Markwell: Self, look around you. Thank all of those people who have lied to you, cheated you, conned you, bored you, shunned you and disappointed you. Those are the ones who have made the Joan E. of today. Think on this, for only time can make you understand. Look at these negative people in your life and what you don't like about each of them.
Realize their meanness, their lack of morals or ethics, their attitude, their lack of humor, their whatever negativity. Then, don't be it and don't do it. Decide not to be like these people. Not always obtainable; but a lofty goal. So, I am passing on one of the hardest learned lessons in my life; be sure to be thankful for the bad as well as the good experiences because they all turn out to be good --- for you!


Hessel: My advice to young professionals is: do not give up on love and family for your career and professional goals. Why? Because only women can do both. And I believe women are more capable managing and succeeding in achieving both.


Simon: Don't think of business and home as separate worlds that need to be balanced. They are your one wonderful world and you can live in them together as a blended life. Having raised two fantastic professional women and having come from a successful professional mother I have watched it work and can for others as well.  

Newman: (1) I would have erased the term "Mommy guilt" from my vocabulary; (2) I would have pat myself on the back more for the accomplishments that I had being able to juggle two full-time jobs.
Dream big - and set big goals. This is critical. As a 21-year-old, I didn't have the self-confidence to dream big. I learned that with courage and perseverance, you can push through any obstacle to achieve your goals. Set the bar high! Be ready and willing to apply the same resourcefulness and hustle to constructive endeavors as you do to your recreational pursuits. 

Meet Our Power Panel


Barbara Cox, PhD, (, is a consultant and coach for innovative leaders and businesses, whose advice has been featured in local and national publications, including and Cosmopolitan. She specializes in helping innovative leaders and organizations through her classes, trainings, and personalized sessions that blend positive psychology coaching and peak performance hypnosis. She also writes fiction and non-fiction stories with the themes of individual empowerment, community-building and personal awakening.

Kelly Pierce is chief marketing officer of Advisors Excel (, a nationally renowned B2B leader in the independent financial services market. Under Kelly's guidance, AE's marketing team earned eight prestigious awards from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts in 2016. She is the driving force behind the groundbreaking Inspiring Women initiative - a program transforming the way women in the independent financial services industry do business. Kelly was recently named a Headliner by the Topeka Women in Communications in recognition of her significant professional contributions, including her renowned ability to provide integrated, high-impact, client-focused marketing solutions.

Joan Markwell is a small business and real estate owner who resides in Lawrenceburg, Ky. She is a former board member and vice president of the Anderson County (Ky.) Chamber of Commerce, former board member of the Spencer County (Ky.) Tourism Board and member of the National Association of Women in Construction. Markwell lost her daughter Cindy - who was a mother of two herself - to cancer in 2013. Cindy's children, Lucas and Samuel, are now 12 and 14, respectively, and a big part of Markwell's life. She also has a son, Kris Fields, who is four years younger than Cindy.

Shalva Hessel (, was raised on Moshav Hibat-Zion in central Israel. She is a software engineer and has managed information systems for companies around the world. When her husband, who served in a senior role in the Mossad, left on secret missions, she joined him as part of his cover. Today she lives in Tel Aviv and is involved in charitable ventures, as well as business management.

Andi Simon, author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, is a corporate anthropologist and award-winning author ( She is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants, designed over a decade ago to help companies use the tools of anthropology to better adapt to changing times. Simon also is a public speaker and an Innovation Games facilitator and trainer. She served as a tenured professor of anthropology and American studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and was a visiting professor teaching entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. Simon has appeared on "Good Morning America" and has been featured in the Washington Post, Business Week and Forbes, and on Bloomberg Radio.

Jacqueline Newman, author of Soon to Be Ex: A Guide to Your Perfect Divorce & Relaunch, is the managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP, a New York divorce law firm. She has appeared as an expert commentator on various television and radio shows and has been quoted in numerous publications, including Crain's New York Business, U.S. News and World Report, Business Insider,, USA Today, Yahoo Parenting, Woman's Day, Glamour Magazine, the New York Post,, and The Huffington Post.

Marsha Friedman is a public relations expert with 26 years experience developing publicity strategies for financial professionals, corporations and media newcomers alike. Using the proprietary system she created as founder and CEO of EMSI Public Relations (, an award-winning national agency, she secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for her clients. The former senior vice president for marketing at the American Economic Council, Marsha is a sought-after advisor on PR issues and strategies. She shares her knowledge in her Amazon best-selling book, Celebritize Yourself, and as a popular speaker at organizations around the country.