Learning To Woman Up In The Workplace With Christy Rutherford

by | Feb 26, 2020 | Podcasts

SWGR Christy | Women In The Workplace


There’s a certain burden on women in the workplace to conform to a rather narrow preconception of what women are capable of achieving. Though it’s not necessarily fair, women have to work twice as hard to get to the same level as men on the corporate ladder, but sometimes, they just have to go with it, no matter how exhausting. Christy Rutherford, an advisor to executive leaders and businesses, joins Elizabeth Bachman. Together they discuss how women find opportunities for workplace advancement for themselves, especially in male-dominant environments. For the women out there, it’s time for you to rise above the limitations that have been imposed upon you.

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Learning To Woman Up In The Workplace With Christy Rutherford

Before we begin, I’d like to invite you to go over to SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. It’s our free assessment. It takes about five minutes and you can see where your speaking skills are strong and where you could use a little bit of support. I am super excited to have my friend, Christy Rutherford, here as our guest. Christy, welcome to the show.

Thanks, Elizabeth. Thanks for inviting me. I am excited to share some insight with your readers.

I have to tell you that I’ve been following Christy since 2012 to 2013 when we were both at the beginning of this phase of our careers. Thank goodness for LinkedIn because we’ve been following each other and she’s one of the people whose articles and posts I share because she’s smart. The cool thing about being a podcast host is you get to interview people that you want to hear and learn from. Christy Rutherford is a globally-recognized leader. She’s an advisor to executive leaders and businesses. She’s also a keynote speaker and an author. She published five number one bestselling books on Amazon in eight months. She’s an alumna of the Harvard Business School. She’s also a Certified Executive Leadership Coach from Georgetown University and has been featured in Forbes many times.

She’s also an MBA and she has a diploma as a Pastry Chef. I have to ask you about this online because otherwise, we would geek out about pastry for the whole time. The other thing I wanted to ask you to tell us is she was a commander in the US Coast Guard, which is the equivalent of Lieutenant Colonel. In the 225-year history of the coast guard, there were only thirteen African-American women whoever did that. As part of the Coast Guard, she responded to the needs of the citizens in New Orleans, two days after hurricane Katrina. She had a three-year congressional fellowship with the House of Representatives. Christy, before we get to the coast guard question because I want to hear about that, this is a question I ask all my guests. If you could share the stage with somebody from history, who would it be, what would you talk about and who should be in the audience?

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Napoleon Hill who wrote Think and Grow Rich and also my favorite book of all time, Outwitting The Devil.

I don’t know that one. I know Think and Grow Rich, but not that.

You’ve got to listen to it. It’s amazing.

Why should we be paying attention to this?

SWGR Christy | Women In The Workplace


Napoleon Hill talked about the fundamental principles of success. Most people who have been successful and wealthy all do the same things. If there are twenty boxes to be checked, most successful people have done the same twenty things, whether they know that these things exist or not. What he talks about is success. This is the roadmap to success. Success is predictable if you do certain things. That’s why I love Napoleon Hill. All he talks about is success and winning and have you to the next level.

Who should be in the audience? Who should be listening?

Who should be in the audience is anyone who wants to do more, have more and be more. If you’re looking forward to your destiny, what’s next or expanding your growth and promotion raises, bonuses, money, whatever you want, help or family relationships, you want more, those are the people that should be an audience. Elizabeth, what I’ve learned is a lot of people have become complacent and don’t want a lot. They’re not the people who belong there, but if you want more and if you think there’s more in you to be discovered and you want to bring those out into the world, you should be in the crowd.

Let’s pursue that. How do you help people decide to step out of their comfort zone? For me, doing a podcast, committing to a pre-recorded 25 episodes and then a year of every week posting something, that’s pushing me out of my comfort zone here. It took me about a year to think about it. I’m like a cat. I’m quite happy curling up on the same spot on the sofa every single day. How can people know when it’s time to get out of their comfort zone? Can you know?

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Most people become comfortable with being uncomfortable. They become comfortable with complaining that their job should pay them more. They become comfortable with thinking that I need to keep asking to get this car repaired as opposed to getting a job that’s going to allow them to get a new car. I think about people who say, “Christy, you can get so much bang for your buck if you live in the South.” I’m like, “Why don’t I just ask for more money and adjust my expectations to where I want to live as opposed to saying where I want to live based on the money?”

Since you and I both do leadership coaching, what makes people take the step? How can you nerve yourself up to taking the step?

I only work with people who want to move forward. It’s almost like a reflex test. When you’re in the back door, it hit your knee and it twitches or your elbow and it twitches. That’s a person who if they’re given a bigger idea, a greater version or vision of themselves, they’re willing to move because they twitched. Those are the people that I work with. If you don’t move, that means that you’re not ready to work with me because I don’t want to spend 2,000% of my energy trying to get you to move where I can spend all of my time and energy on that one person, or I can go and knock the elbows of 2,000 people who are ready to move.

We’ve all had the clients who say, “Yes, I’m in,” and then they never do it. For that matter, I don’t know about you, Christy, you probably did everything perfectly every time. I’ve had plenty of times with things that I signed up for and the book went up on the self-help. I never did the work. I’m curious, were you always the ambitious one? Is that what got you into the Coast Guard? Talk a little bit about that journey and how you got there.

SWGR Christy | Women In The Workplace


I’ve always been ambitious. I’ve had jobs since I was eight. The small jobs around my house with my family. I babysat my cousins when I was twelve for $5 a week. I started my first real W-2 job at fourteen. I was cutting grass. I was about twenty when I joined the Coast Guard and they were recruiting minority officers at that time. My grades were not the best. I have a gazillion degrees now, but it took me a while to grow into my brain or learn that my gift for learning is different than how they teach you to public school.

Talk a little bit more about that.

I’m a person that if I could see a picture, the macro-level vision, then I can fill in the details under that. The way they teach in school is they give you the details to build-up to the picture. They lose me every time. That’s not my learning style. When I finally figured that out and got into some opposition in my career and I started to say, “I’m going to show you and prove you wrong fast when I stepped into my power.” I joined the Coast Guard in 1996. My friend joined the Coast Guard and came back to school driving a Mitsubishi 3000GT, which was a sports car at that time that I wanted. To be like her, I joined the Coast Guard. I don’t even know what they do, but they look like they pay well, I’m in.

I have a friend who succeeded in her job because she wanted to have a Porsche. I get it. I’m not a car person myself, so I didn’t really get it. The Porsche was what made her do her profit in her first year in business. It was the car that got you into the Coast Guard. Since the Coast Guard is the least known of the services, what does one do in the Coast Guard and what does one do as a woman?

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Our main mission is to search and rescue. When people are out in their boats and they call, “Mayday,” we are the people and depending on which waterway they’re in. If they’re in a federal waterway, we go out and save them. My expertise was incident management and pollution response. If somebody’s cruise ships catch on fire, they sink, they take on water or any large vessel that’s in the area. We regulate them for safety and security purposes. We do a lot of maritime law enforcement and stuff like that. It’s a wide range of things that we do that, for the most part, we are not able to tell our own best stories, but we do a lot of great things.

You said incident management and response. Were you on the vessel or were you at headquarters sitting there organizing things?

We’ll be on land. When I was in Norfolk, we’re like the Maritime 911. If something happens to a ship or a tug where if it catches on fire or starts taking on water, they will call us and then will dispatch the resources that are needed to take care of the incident.

How was it being a woman? How did you get to be an officer?

SWGR Christy | Women In The Workplace


When I joined the program, they were looking to recruit minority officers. That was out of college. I went to bootcamp, I went back to school, graduated and then I went to officer training. After four months, I became an officer. The Coast Guard is majority male. It was 15% to 20% women, but being a minority woman, an African-American woman and our demographic when I left, which was a high point, we were 0.1%. It was 50 African-American female officers out of 47,000 people. That was our high number. When I joined, it was twenty of us.

A big part of what we talk about on this podcast is perception and coping with how you are perceived and then either using it or moving forward. I’m curious, how do you deal with the diversity thing? I’m sure there were people who said you were only hired because you were female and African-American. You couldn’t possibly be good enough to get there on your own. I’m sure you’ve got that. How do we deal with that? 

I was told at bootcamp, “You don’t belong here. You’ll never make it. You’ll never be anybody. You’re black. You’re a woman and so on.” “I’m going to prove you wrong.” When we went to officer training, they say, “These are the entry sources.” I went back to college, I came back and they said the same thing. I said I’m going to prove you wrong. I was aggressive and I would curse you out and you’re not going to match your energy like that. When I went to my first ship, a lot of people had never seen another black woman in uniform. When you think about bridging the gap in building a relationship, white women have in common with white men and the majority are white. Black men or minority men have in common with white men. The majority is they’re men. Black women and minority women don’t have any of those. We have to work extra hard to bridge the gap. I had some challenges when I first went on the ship. My goal was even at a “higher rate” and they know we don’t know what we’re doing because we’re like the young junior managers who come in. We are the people who don’t have the experience. We’re trying to manage people who are 15 to 20 years that’s senior and say, “I’m your leader.” They’re like, “Right.” I had to work extra hard to say, “Respect me as my rank right now, but I hope in time, I could gain your respect as a person.”

On the inner blockages, women who are in leadership are exhausted. The women who want to break out of middle management, a lot of women stay there, they get stuck, they get exhausted and then they quit. The fight is almost beaten out of you where you throw your hands up and you give up and you say, “This is good enough and I’m going to stay here forever and retire.” You’re going to have the women who are going to continue to fight. The problem is the women that continue to fight are the ones who are considered aggressive, passive-aggressive or they’re demeanor is not pleasing. We are called names because we’re still fighting and at a certain point, the fighting works against you, but you’re so accustomed to the battle that it gives them a reason to say you don’t belong. The inner work has to be done. I was talking to my client who’s from the UK and ended up leading this huge organization. We did some work.

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I said her boss is now giving her more freedom. She thought that he was always trying to hide her behind him and she never got her due because they are as a team, very successful. When we talked and she was giving additional responsibilities and now being visible in the organization, I asked her what was different and why does she think that he’s now allowing her to do that. She said it’s because I’m no longer a smart ass and I’m not passive-aggressive, which she was. He doesn’t have to clean up her mess of her having to explain why she reacted the way that she did. He would have to defend her actions all the time and now that she has peace, she doesn’t fight. She’s more of a leader, cooperative a team player and she had no idea. I knew that she saw these things. I didn’t know if she could verbalize it back to me. If she could see how she’s changed, where now she can understand that when we first started working together, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to allow her to be visible. She wasn’t trusted to be visible and now she is, and he is giving her those opportunities.

That was something that she had to change the way she performed. Did she have to change the way she thought about herself?

The challenge was she didn’t know how she was showing up until she had someone standing and reflecting to herself and reflecting her actions back to herself. The thing about it is she’s a very strong woman. The problem is she would walk in a room and she was always diminishing who she was to make the men feel comfortable and diminishing who she was so they wouldn’t be threatened. I almost equate it to you’re walking in the room acting like a bunny, but you’re a lion. When they treat you like a bunny, you rip their arms off.

You could go in, you hide and then you’re resenting and it leaks out.

SWGR Christy | Women In The Workplace


The problem is can you now become settled because we’re so accustomed to fighting, playing the psychological mind games and women are exhausted and going in circles? When you come back to yourself and you become settled in who you are, you don’t have to change. You don’t have to change from being a strong woman. There’s no way to ever be a weak woman. When she tried to be one, people got hurt. Can you relax in who you are and own your power and put the sword down? I love to ask people, are you who you are or are you who made you?

I think we’re both.

I am a person of peace, joy and serenity. I ride unicorns. There are rainbows and waterfalls of Wapa house and sweet tea on my planet. That’s who I’ve been. That’s who I am at my core. Life made me a dragon-slaying barbarian, aggressive, who would curse you out, turntables over and boss you to do what I want you to do. I was a military officer. Life sometimes will make us aggressive or life will make us think that we have to tone down who we are, tone down our power and tone down our strength to appease other people, we get angry and then people get hurt. Now, we’re considered passive-aggressive and we’re not trusted. We get caught in a loop of in a cycle where even if we’ve made it, we don’t realize that we’ve made it because we’re so accustomed to fighting. The goal is how can we break that cycle? We’re creating our own destruction where the men are no longer trying to destroy us because they do in the beginning. Don’t get it twisted. We’re now destroying ourselves and they’re watching it. They don’t have to do anything anymore.

The thing I see a lot is I’m mostly in a community of women who are supporting other women and it always surprises me when there’s another woman who’s not supportive. I’ve been cut down by other women from time-to-time. I always think of it that it’s a scarcity thing. It’s a scarcity mindset that, “There’s not enough, so I have to make sure that she doesn’t come in and compete with me.” I hope that’s changing. 

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It’s something different. If I don’t like me and if I no longer recognize myself in the mirror, then I’m going to hate that which looks like me, which is another woman. It’s not about me at all or you as the person. If I don’t like me, if I had to sell out and if I lost my sense of self, anything that looks like me, I’m going to hate that too. It so happens to be you. I’m the first victim, you’re the second victim of myself hate.

I had all these things I was going to ask you. You said something about the game of promotion. Can you talk a little bit about playing the game?

There is a game when it comes to getting promoted. I’ve seen a lot of women say that they don’t want to play the game where you’re actively deciding that you don’t want to move forward. There is a leadership game going on. It’s like a game of chess. When I work with my clients, all of my clients raise bonuses, promotions or stock options, I am a master of the game. I love it. It makes me happy. We play chess all day. If you think about a game of chess, you have to become an observer of the game. You have to raise yourself up off the chessboard. You have to see where you are, where the other players are, who the other players are and where you want to go. You say, “If I move to the left, then this person is going to come and try to annihilate me so I’m not going to make that move.” Chess is a very strategic slow game.

If I move one step forward, then this person is going to come. Once we make a decision on where are you going to move, “Maybe I should move to the right two steps and then move up one step, then I’m going to be in the clear because I know where I’m going, who’s playing and where I am right now.” It’s having a strategy. Most people are making moves without a strategy or they’re asking for a raise or most women don’t ask because they don’t know how to ask and then they blame their bosses. They say, “What are you going to give me?” That’s not the right way to ask. They get a degree hoping that magically this degree or certification is going to get them promoted. I have a client in Africa who I met and I said, “You’re not making enough money.” She can’t see her greatness. You should be making a lot more money than you’re making right now. You’ll be easy. You don’t have any baggage, you’re not dragging around and you’re not bitter. She was unaware of who she was and almost complacent. She got a 40% raise and a new job.

How do you ask?

I think about what is your market value. You don’t ask for a raise. I was thinking about one of my clients and she had been asking but she kept saying, “What are you going to give me? It’s, ” I have increased the revenue of this company about $3 million and I think that I should get a portion of that.” That should be whether it’s a bonus of $20,000 or $30,000 or, “I’ve been the top performer in this organization in the top 2% of the country for the past three years. I would like to get whatever that quantifiable number is to you.” A lot of women know that men around them are making double of what they make. They have half the results and it’s because the men are asking, “I want a 10%, 15% or 30% raise.” He’s trying to get what your value is and capturing a portion of that, “I would like a 30% raise or I would like a 15% raise.” It’s the power of three. I always tell people to ask the three things, “I want a 15% raise, whatever, it could be 30%. I have one lady who got 35%. I would like a 15% raise, a $5,000 bonus and I want to do a week at a Harvard Business School. I always tell people to ask to go to Harvard.

The way women ask is not treated the same as the way men ask. Let’s talk a little bit about that. You can’t walk in and say, “I want this and this.” You can walk in and say, “I want this and this,” and for a man, no one would bat an eyelash but for a woman, you suddenly say, “Who is this aggressive, demanding and pushy person?” You can’t be a man and you have to do it a woman’s way. What do you ask people? How do you tell people to do this their way?

Men had a relationship. They go out to lunch with their bosses. They go drink beer at happy hour at the pubs. They play basketball with them in the morning. They play golf with them on the weekends. They know them. People promote and give money to who they know, like and trust. Women are working to drive results. Women are eating lunch at their desk. Women are working late to drive results. A woman has a once a quarter meeting with their bosses to discuss their results while the men are building weekly relationships. The men are the ones who continue to get everything that they want because they know them.

There was a Harvard Business Review that said a mentor is someone who knows what to do and will show you how to do it. A sponsor is someone who has power and will use it for you. The challenges with sponsorship, if a personal reputation is on the line for how they’re going to use their power, their name, and their influence to be able to move an obstacle out of the way for somebody or put their name in a hat or recommend them for something huge. They’re going to go, “If this is my personal reputation, I’m going to go with the woman that I meet with once a quarter or I’ve never seen and I’ve never talked to. I want to go with the person that I know because I know his family. I know everything about him. I know his problems. I know his challenges because I’m with this person two to three times a week.” Before they ask, we have to do the relationships.

It reminds me of second grade coming up to the circle of the in-crowd saying, “Can I play?” They turned around and said, “No.” They didn’t know and trust me. Christy, this is amazing. I could keep talking to you for hours but we don’t have that much time. How can people learn more about you? 

They can go to my website, ChristyRutherford.com. I also have two free videos that I’m giving away that discusses what we just talked about with regards to promotion. That’s on my website, ChristyRutherford.com/promotion. I have a private community that I’ve launched. It’s Christy R On Demand. I have videos, podcasts, my audiobooks and all the things that I do, all of that is on-demand where you can watch the insight and get the information on relationships because we have challenges in our relationships as high-achieving women. We live in a purpose-driven life, stress management and all those things and that’s on ChristyROnDemand.com.

Thank you so much, Christy. I highly recommend checking in with Christy Rutherford on her website. Be sure to go over and check out SpeakForResultsQuiz.com, where you can see how you can get better results, where you’re rocking it and where maybe you might need a little help. Thanks so much for tuning in and I will see you on the next one.


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About Christy Rutherford

SWGR Christy | Women In The WorkplaceA globally recognized leader, Christy Rutherford is an advisor to executive leaders and businesses. She’s also a keynote speaker and author, publishing five #1 best-selling books on Amazon in eight months. A Harvard Business School Alumna, Christy is also a certified Executive Leadership Coach from Georgetown University and has been featured in Forbes three times.

Christy is the 13th African American woman to achieve the rank of Commander (Lieutenant Colonel equivalent) in the U.S. Coast Guard’s 225+ year history where her demographic was .1%. Christy responded to the needs of the citizens in New Orleans two days after Hurricane Katrina and had a 3-year Congressional Fellowship with the House of Representatives.

Christy’s academic portfolio also includes an MBA, and a pastry chef diploma.

Among her many professional accomplishments, her national recognition includes Harvard Business School’s 2018 Launching New Ventures Pitch Contest Grand Master Champion, Cambridge Who’s Who Amongst Executives and Professionals, Career Communications STEM Technology All-Star and the Edward R. Williams Award for Excellence In Diversity.