This is a special episode of Solink in the Cloud. Instead of a single guest, Cathy Langley, Senior Leader of Asset Protection at Solink, has assembled a diverse group of women working in asset protection:
- Alaina Kring, Retail Partnership Manager at Auror
- Catherine Penizotto, Founder of Penlight LLC
- Lauren Linsenbach, Manager, Investigations and Asset Protection Analytics at Retail Business Services
- Michelle Jones, LPC, Regional Asset Protection Manager at CVS Health
Before starting, Cathy wanted to assure the panelists and listeners what to expect for the discussion:
“Before we get started with some questions, I want to say that this is not a them versus us conversation, male versus female versus anything. It is really women coming together to talk about changes in the industry, experiences, and ultimately our goal continues to support one another. Regardless of gender, we’re here to support every individual, but we are the minority in the AP industry, and that leads to some unique stories and unique conversations.” ~ Cathy Langley
Note that, for space, we’ve only provided a couple of the responses to each question. For the complete discussion, please listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.
Here are Alaina Kring, Catherine Penizotto, Lauren Linsenbach, and Michelle Jones introducing themselves.
“Hey guys. I am Alaina Kring, thrilled to be here with you all. Currently, I am a retail partnership manager for Auror, so I have stepped over to the solution provider side. I started my career in 2007 in law enforcement, but I’ve been in retail now for almost 10 years. I’m really excited to be here with everybody today.” ~ Alaina Kring
“Hi everybody, I’m Catherine Penizotto. I’ve been in the industry what seems like forever. I’m representing the oldest generation here, and I’m excited to be a part of this. I have been on both sides of the loss prevention space and operation space, first as a practitioner and then as a provider. I have now founded my own services consulting business. Excited to be with all you ladies today.” ~ Catherine Penizotto
“Hi, everyone. I’m Lauren Linsenbach, and I currently work for Retail Business Services. We are part of the Ahold Delhaize banner, supporting five different grocery stores on the East Coast. I’ve been in the AP industry since 2011 in various roles, starting as an analyst and my current position is manager of investigations and analytics. I’m excited to be here with a group of ladies.” ~ Lauren Linsenbach
“My name is Michelle Jones. I’ve been in AP since 1985. Cathy, I am so excited to be here with you. I have worked for a handful of companies in and out of AP, but I would say the majority of my time has been in asset protection.” ~ Michelle Jones
Memorable lessons from a leader
“Give me one or two of the most memorable lessons that you received, either from a leader or a mentor.” ~ Cathy Langley
Use your female traits
“There’s been many, but, when you’re talking about women in loss prevention, one that I think is really important is to use your female traits. Our intuition, our perspective on things, the way that we approach things, those things are beneficial. Together with a diverse group of people, we bring in a different flavour. You don’t have to pretend to be somebody else, You could just be who you are. That was an important lesson.” ~ Catherine Penizotto
Remember that people believe in you
“As a young female coming into the industry, I would say the biggest lesson that I think we all should carry with us is that people believed in you. That was my biggest inspiration. It didn’t matter to me whether I was a female or what have you. It was that I had leaders that influenced and motivated me, and it inspired the future and where I wanted to go.” ~ Lauren Linsenbach
Believe in yourself as well
“I think that’s something, as women, that you feel empowered when you know that someone believes in you, but then you have to look in the mirror as well and say, “But I believe in myself enough to do this and to do it well. That’s why it’s so critical to surround yourself with women in the industry who are strong and talented.” ~ Alaina Kring
If you have a seat at the table, take it
“It’s so funny how all of you are talking about confidence. That’s one area that I’ve struggled with my entire career. The last company I worked at, I actually had a boss who I was vulnerable to and shared with him that I struggle with that confidence, and he was like, ‘Michelle, I picked you. You’re the best person for this job, and you have a seat at the table. You need to take that space.’ ~ Michelle Jones
“What has been one of the largest hurdles in your career? How’d you overcome it?” ~ Cathy Langley
Don’t have mom guilt
“That’s a great question. I think it’s called ‘mom guilt’ today. I was raising my children while working in an industry that, at the time, having a work–life balance wasn’t popular. It wasn’t anything that you talked about. Management looked at who turned on the lights and who turned off the lights. Anybody who knows me, knows that my children are the love of my life now. My grandchildren are the love of my life. If I could give advice to anybody today it’s don’t have that mom guilt. There is no reason why, number one, you can’t love your job and love your family. To be able to have that balance, it’s empowering now for me to be able to speak about my family, speak about my kids.” ~ Catherine Penizotto
Not just flexible but understanding leadership
“Hearing that, I remember back in the 90s, I had all men working for me, maybe a couple females. One time I was living in Atlanta, I had to fly to Texas and back on the same day to be at my daughter’s softball game. I remember making that decision, sharing it with my team, and one person said said, ‘Michelle, thank you for being the leader that you are, because you don’t make me feel guilty for making those decisions.’” ~ Michelle Jones
When to raise your hand
“Do you have an example of a moment where you said ‘I’m just raising my hand, I’ll figure everything else out later?’” ~ Cathy Langley
Starting an organized retail crime program
Yeah, when I worked at Ulta Beauty, I had the opportunity to start the organized retail crime program. I will never forget my boss at the time coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, I really think you would be great at this.’ I looked at John and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve done law enforcement. Yeah, I understand this, but are you sure that you want to task me with this?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘You know what? I’ll do it.’ I will never forget that flight home from Chicago being like, what in the world did I just agree to? This is going to be so scary. I remember talking to him the next week and he is like, ‘Listen, back to what we talked about. I have faith in you, I have confidence in you. You’re going to do great. We’re going to be here to help you. You tell me what you want to do, and then we’ll definitely mold and shape it.’ I think having people in your life that, and I always give this analogy, they’re just your guardrails, but you have the freedom and the flexibility to go 5 or 550 mph. You get to set your own journey, set the pace, and they’re just there to keep you from going crazy and guiding you in and out.” ~ Alaina Kring
First chance managing people
“I’ll never forget, I was 28 years old. I had never led a big team of people before and I was flown into Atlanta and I was promoted. I thought, oh my gosh, what did I do? Back then, you didn’t have cell phones and computers. You just got the phone call and then you had the meeting. So I flew in, I was promoted to director, and I was leading people I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I said yes. But inside I was like, oh my gosh, do they know me?” ~ Michelle Jones
Success is 99% bluff, 1% execution
“In law enforcement, they say it’s 99% bluff and 1% execution. I feel like there’s some days you do, you walk into things, you’re like, all right, game face on. I’m going to get this, even if you don’t. That was one of the things that they used to always joke about in police school, 99% bluff, 1% execution. As long as you walk in there confident, you’re going to be fine.” ~ Alaina Kring
Being judged for being a female
“Let’s talk about a time when you were judged or you felt judged, solely based on being a female.” ~ Cathy Langley
Dealing with perceptions as a young agent
“I started my career in law enforcement. I was 22 years old when I became an agent. I was the only female within my division at the time, in my third of the state. A lot of departments that we would go to talk with didn’t even have females on their police force at all. There were actually meetings I would walk into on broad-scale cases and things like that where they would make the comment, ‘Oh, special agent Barbie’s here’ or “who gave you a gun”, or “I can’t believe that they hired you.’” ~ Alaina Kring
Being given the floor for a new perspective
“I could bring it from a different perspective with the same type of group. The first time that I got into loss prevention, I was in operations in grocery, and our entire loss prevention department was composed of retired senior investigators from the state police. I would bring them information out of operations that I thought was pertinent to what they did, and they brought me in because of my different perspective and my different approach. Because I was female, they gave me an opportunity to work in that group, as they recognized that all of their hard edges didn’t always achieve the goal.” ~ Catherine Penizotto
Women and men complement each other
“I was just going to say women and men complement each other so well, because we’re built so differently. What men have, we don’t, and vice versa. I just think it’s awesome that people recognize that, and it doesn’t have to be like you’re going up against each other like it’s this constant competition. We can draw from each other and just bring more to the table. ~ Alaina Kring
Not all advice is good advice (or current advice)
“Coming up in the industry, I do think there were some expectations for women. I can remember hearing one time, ‘if you don’t cut your hair short, no one’s going to take you seriously.’ There are those statements that people make that we give way too much credit to. It’s a reminder that, number one, words are important and, number two, you have to assess the source of that and decide how much weight you’re going to give it. I’m a huge believer in having a personal brand. What has personal brand meant to you? How have you used it? How do you hold yourself accountable to that?” ~ Cathy Langley
Don’t let yourself become boring
“I’ll never forget one time in my career where I got lost. I got promoted really young. At the time you were expected to dress a certain way. Maybe even in today’s world, you have this corporate talk that you have to do. I wasn’t leading with my heart anymore. It was a dear friend of mine, and she looked at me, she goes, ‘You are becoming boring, Michelle. You have lost yourself. You are becoming boring. You’re not pushing back anymore. Look at you.’ I look down at myself and I’m like, oh my God, you’re right. I stopped wearing earrings. I cut my hair short. I started becoming who I felt like everybody else wanted me to be.” ~ Michelle Jones
To see how Solink makes life easier for everyone working in asset protection, sign up for a demo today.
Welcome to Solink in the Cloud, where we are talking to industry leaders about topics that matter. I’m Kathy Langley, Senior Leader of Asset Protection with Solink.
Solink’s mission is to protect people, places, and profits, which is why we’re bringing together thought leaders within the loss prevention, asset protection, and retail security industries to share their expertise and passion.
So, hello ladies. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m always excited to talk to industry leaders, but this group of amazing AP leaders, female leaders over the generation, which is what we’re going to be talking about, is experiences, mentorship, what you have gained from the industry, what you’ve given back to the industry.
So again, just super excited. I really appreciate your time. I know you’re all crazy busy, so thank you very much. We’ll start with some introductions, and Michelle, I’ll go to you first.
Yeah, my name is Michelle Jones. I’ve been in this industry, AP, since 1985. So Cathy, I am so excited to be here myself, I have been for a handful of companies in and out of AP, but I would say the majority of my time has been in asset protection. And I can’t wait for it today.
Great. Thanks, Michelle. Cath?
Hi everybody, Catherine Penizotto. I’ve been in the industry, what seems like forever. I’m representing the oldest generation here, and I’m excited to be a part of this. I have been on both sides of the loss prevention space and operation space, both as a practitioner and then as a provider.
And now I have founded my own services consulting business. Excited to be with all you ladies today.
Thank you. Lauren.
Hi. Hi, everyone. I’m Lauren Linsenbach, and I work for currently Retail Business Services. So we are a part of the Ahold Delhaize banner supporting five different grocery stores currently on the east coast. And I’ve been in the AP industry since 2011 in various roles, starting as an analyst and current position as a manager of investigations and analytics.
But excited to be here with a group of ladies, and excited to speak on behalf of the questions that we get asked.
Thank you, Lauren. Alaina.
Hey guys. I am Alaina Kring, thrilled to be here with you all. Currently, I am a retail partnership manager for Auror, so I have stepped over to the solution provider side. I actually started my career in 2007 in law enforcement, but I’ve been in retail now for almost, gosh, 10 years. So it’s crazy to think that total in this industry, just meeting all these awesome folks and being able to be a part of something. So I’m really excited to be here with everybody today.
Thank you all, appreciate it. The one thing I want to say before we get started with some questions is this is not a them versus us conversation, male versus female versus anything. It is really women coming together to talk about changes in the industry, experiences. And ultimately our goal continues to support one another.
Regardless of gender, we’re here to support every individual. But we are the minority in the AP industry, and that leads to probably some unique stories and unique conversations. So with that being said, Cath, let’s start with you. Give me one or two of you would say your most memorable lessons that you received, either from a leader or a mentor.
Well, there’s been many, but one of them when you’re talking about women in loss prevention, one that I think is really important was to use your female traits. Our intuition, the way that we are perspective on things, the way that we approach things, those things are beneficial. And that’s together with a group of people, you bring in a different flavor. And I think that was an important piece.
I didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else, I could just be who I am. That was an important lesson. In the same breath though, the other important lesson was you may be judged differently because you are a female, and certain things that might be an elbow wink for a man would not be an elbow wink for a woman.
For example, I’ll use conferences as an example. As soon as you’re having fun as what I’ve always taught my teams when I manage, as soon as you’re having fun, you leave. You’re always on, you’re always working. As soon as you realize you’re having a great time, get out.
You don’t want to be part of a problem, you don’t want to witness a problem, just get out. So those are a couple lessons I would say were impactful and carried through my whole career.
That’s good. And the other thing is is I’m not sure, again, we’re all in different generations here, but the newest generation then coming in, are people still talking about those things? Are people willing to speak up and go, “Hey, when you’re starting to have a really good time, it’s time to exit.”
I don’t know. Is that a conversation today? Lauren, let me go to you. Any lessons that you want to share from a mentor or just the industry?
Yeah, I would say I guess the most memorable lesson, and I’d say it’s like the career path that I’ve been on, and as a female, as a young female coming into the industry, I would say the biggest lesson that I think we all should carry with us is that people believed in me. And that was my biggest inspiration.
It didn’t matter to me whether I was a female or what have you. It was that I had a leader, I had leaders that influenced and motivated me, and it aspired the future and where I wanted to go. And I would say as it’s not a specific scenario, but I would say because you had leaders that were able to influence me and saw bigger things for me, that really put the roadmap ahead of me. And the most memorable thing to me is I had leaders that spoke up, and they gave me that nudge of saying, “Hey, you can do more.”
And that was the most exciting thing for me. Because people may look at me and say, “Hey, she is a confident female. She knows what she wants.” And we all have our own self-doubt, and I think that’s the biggest piece that we don’t always recognize as leaders. Where you’ve got people with tenure and people that are confident in this industry, everybody needs that nudge sometimes or that, “Hey, you could do this.”
Or believe in them, and maybe that strikes a chord in a different path for somebody. So I would just say that from my experience with the leaders that I’ve had so far is that because they believed in me, I believed in myself even more. So that’s the positive side that I’ve experienced so far in the industry.
That’s awesome, thank you for sharing that. Alaina, anything to share?
I was going to say, I know too with what Lauren said, it also helps you build on your own self-confidence.
I think that’s something is women that you feel empowered when you know that someone believes in you, but then you have to look in the mirror and say, “But I believe in myself enough to do this and to do it well.”
And that’s why I think it’s so critical to surround yourself with women in the industry that are strong and talented, and that have maybe something that you know don’t so you can say, “Hey, look, I’m going into this new challenge or this new role.” Or, “I’m working on this project. I know I’m really good at this, but you’re really good at that. What advice can you give me? What can you share? How have you been successful? How have you worked those things?”
And I think that that helps, at least me personally build up my own confidence, but then know that I’ve got people surrounding me that also are cheering me on, but that can hold me accountable when I’m working towards bigger things in my career, in my life.
And just learning to have the, I guess just being able to be transparent, to be a little bit vulnerable, to let your guard down. I think as women, that sometimes is a struggle, but when you’ve got good people around you that you know believe in you, it really does help you build that confidence to go further in your career.
Oh, go ahead, Michelle.
Yeah, it’s so funny how all of you are talking about confidence. That’s one area that I’ve struggled with my entire career. And the last company I worked at, I actually had a boss who I was vulnerable. Shared with him that I struggle with that confidence, and he’s like, “Michelle, I picked you. You’re the best person for this job, and you have a seat at the table. You need to take that space.”
And he was very direct with me, and he goes, “If you don’t take the space, somebody else is going to.” And that was the final conversation that I needed to be done with the confidence. I do, I have that seat at the table and I need to take it. But it was amazing to hear from all of you that we seem to have that in common with confidence.
Advocating for others seems to be easy for us. Advocating for others, we can champion others all day long. But champion ourselves or advocate for ourselves, oof, still struggling. I will always struggle with that. It’s one of those things.
And I will say just a note, anybody who loves to read books to just try to self-reflect, confidence effect, for the listeners, the book confident effects is awesome. And Alaina, just a note on your point. To find a partner, so to speak, of, “Hey, you can help. If I help you with this, can you help me with this?”
Like banking off of each other’s strengths. I can remember going to a conference years ago, and historically small talk for me was an issue. If I’m going to have a conversation, we’re going to go deep. We go fast. And that’s not always welcomed. So I’m like, I need to learn the art of small talk.
And she needed support from a data analytics point, and I’m like, we are in. I was on her hip going doing small talk, listening to the way she engaged, and then we sat down with a laptop. So there’s so many ways to win in this, so many ways to support one another. And again, win together. So we’re going to move on to Michelle.
Question four, what is one of the largest hurdles in your career? A hurdle or challenge, what was it? How’d you overcome it?
That’s a great question. And I would have to say, I think it’s called bomb guilt today. But raising my children and being in an industry where at the time, having a work-life balance wasn’t popular. It wasn’t anything that you talked about.
You were looked at who turned on the lights and who turned off the lights. And anybody that knows me, my children are the love of my life now. My grandchildren are the love of my life. And having that mom guilt. And if I could give any advice to anybody it’s don’t have that mom guilt. There is no reason why, number one, you can’t love your job and love your family. And to be able to have that balance, it’s empowering now for me to be able to speak about my family, speak about my kids.
And I think my team knows to distract me, ask me how my grandkids are. And that will take me to a completely different space. But 20 years ago, you didn’t talk about your family. You didn’t talk about, “Hey, I have to leave to go to my kids’ baseball game or softball game.” You couldn’t have those conversations. And so that was probably one of the biggest hurdles I had. So thank you for asking. It was just that mom guilt, and I hope I can help others with that.
Can I ask you a question?
Yeah, go ahead Cath.
Michelle, I’m just curious, did you ever have to make a career decision because of that? You had something offered to you because you’re progressing, and then you have to pivot?
I’ve never shared this out loud, Catherine, so I’m so glad that you asked me that. So my stepchildren, their mother passed away, and I was a director of asset protection, traveling all the time. And those kids needed me. They just lost their mom. They needed me.
And I took a step back in my career for about 10 years, and did it hurt me climbing up the corporate ladder? Absolutely. But I knew that was far more important. At the end of the day, where you are outside of work was far more important to me than that. And I’ll never forget my boss looking at me going, “What do you mean?”
I was like, “I could travel, but I can’t be on the road Monday through Friday anymore.” And to this day, I know it was the best decision ever. So thank you for asking me that, Catherine.
Yeah. Cath, what about you? Like a major hurdle, challenge? Anything come to mind?
Yeah, there there’s been many, but that actually when Michelle was talking, that’s what I was thinking about. Those were those, oh, I have this thing right here, I would love to grab a hold of it. But then I also have this family commitment and I just can’t, I just can’t do it right now.
I have to swallow a little pride for the moment and know that I will be able to get back into the game. And it was a challenge for me, because I was driven, I was hungry for it. I was really driven, but I was also driven to be present for my family. So I just found that to be challenging through my career when I was having to make those decisions.
I had a scenario where I discussed another job opportunity, and I can remember saying, “I have a young child still,” and what I referred to at the time as a high maintenance son. And there’s one person that could keep him between the rows. There was one person, and it was mom. And it’s like if I’m gone, who knows what that looks like?
And now a decade later, I’m like, wow, the man that he’s become is amazing and you made the right calls. But they are challenging times, there’s no doubt.
I do think it’s an important lesson, and more and more it’s balancing for who’s doing what on the home front and that kind of responsibility. But I do think it’s important for people to know it’s okay. It’s okay to do what you need to do, what you really feel in your heart is the right thing to do for you, for your family, for your career, whatever it is.
There’s no shame in doing what is right for you. You’re in the right place at the right time, and the decision you’re making is the right one, and you will come back around and something will be even better than what was in front of you at that moment.
And that risk is hard though. I think about just leaving a company that I was super happy with, even to take that risk to try something new or step out of my comfort zone or move up a level or two, and you’re like, oh my goodness. It’s like that gut check. Am I making the right decision? Am I doing the right thing for my family, for myself, for my spouse, for everything?
Because you know that there’s just this massive set of challenges that are going to come with it. But I think that it’s easier now to try to step out than it probably was for you, Catherine or Michelle. And that’s where just listening to you all talk, I’m so thankful that women like you all, even you Cathy, that have paved the way for us to say, “I want to try something different.”
Or, “I want to do this, but I can do this with my family, with all of the things.” Because I’m sure that like you all have shared that wasn’t the case or that you felt like you would have to suffer professionally for that. So it is hard to step out and just do what you know is right, not only for yourself, but for your family.
No, that’s [inaudible].
Just to mention real quick, you guys have children and that internal guilt. And I do not have children currently, but what really hit home with me. And Cathy Langley, you know I’ve been driven, I was always that raise my hand, I’ll travel, I’ll go. I’ll take whatever position is there to grow in my career.
And I actually took a position out in Colorado, and I was like, I’m leaving Pennsylvania. I want to experience life. And I was out there for two and a half years, and when you get a phone call from your parents and it’s not news that you want to hear, to me it’s like forget the career. I’m going back home and I want to be with my family.
And you only get one set of parents, and I guess we all mature and I guess life hits you. And that really, for me, it was like selfishly I’ve always been driven with my career and I’ll do whatever it takes. And I still am that way a little bit, but my priority was my family. And I think that also is a guilt that we all hold and should have or could have done something different.
No, thank you Lauren for sharing that. And I can remember reading, I can’t remember the actual name of the book, but I can remember the sentence, the actual title of the chapter was you can have it all just not all at the same time.
So often we tell our kids, we tell our young girl or any of our children, you can have it all. You can have it all. And that is true, as long as we realize it’s probably not all at the exact same time.
Again, I truly believe we can have it all. You can raise a family, you can take care of your parents, you can have great health, you can do it all. But there are times in your career and raising a family, parents aging, et cetera, where you do have to make those strategic decisions.
And I think that’s where, I didn’t really have it on my list to talk about, is building that support system, that support system of people that can really just chime in and help you out. These women here are part of my support system. At any given point, somebody could get a call and just like, “I just need to talk about something.” And I think that’s critically important. So thank you all, thanks for sharing.
As I’m hearing that, I remember back during that time, I had all men that were working for me, maybe a couple females. And one time I was living in Atlanta, I had to fly to Texas and back on the same day to be at my daughter’s softball game. And I remember making that decision, sharing it with my team. And he said, “Michelle, thank you for being the leader that you are, because you don’t make me feel guilty for making those decisions.”
So it’s not, Cathy, you had mentioned it early, it’s not gender. Men feel the same exact way. But I think the way I led and I was open about it and let my team know, it made them at the time. Because again, in the 90s, I don’t want to put a time, but during that time, you really didn’t talk about your families. It wasn’t the popular thing to do, but I did because that’s who I am. And it allowed my team to be able to also make those decisions.
And I think you’re right, Michelle, in that whole… It took me, growing up in the industry, years to become much more of a transparent leader. Historically, I might be going back, I don’t know, a few decades here. But that leader that was always when you were always buttoned up, always on point, everything was always perfect. Inside you’re like, I’m a hot mess. But on the outside, everything always appeared to be perfect.
And with raising three children, that just wasn’t the case. It couldn’t be the case. But becoming the transparent leader seriously helped me grow and helped others to go, oh, this is okay. And you were one of those people that showed that, like leading by example, which is, it’s critical.
So all right, I’m going to move on to Lauren. You actually just gave an example of this, of a time when you raised your hand. Somebody said, “Oh, I need somebody to do this.” And you’re like, boom. But then you’re like, oh, I don’t even really remember what they just said. I’m just immediately raising my hand.
So Alaina, you have an example of that, of I’m just raising my hand, I’ll figure everything else out later.
Yeah, when I worked at Ulta Beauty, I had the opportunity to start the organized retail crime program. And I will never forget my boss at the time coming to me and saying, “Hey, I really think you would be great at this.” And I looked at John and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve done law enforcement. Yeah, I understand this, but are you sure that you want to task me with this?”
He’s like, “Yeah.”
And I said, “You know what? I’ll do it.” And I will never forget that flight home from Chicago being like, what in the world did I just agree to? This is going to be so scary. And then I remember talking to him the next week and he is like, “Listen, back to what we talked about. I have faith in you, I have confidence in you. You’re going to do great. We’re going to be here to help you. You tell me what you want to do, and then we’ll definitely mold and shape it.”
And I think having people in your life that, I always give the analogy, they’re just your guardrails, but you have the freedom and the flexibility to go five miles an hour, 550, you get to set your own journey, set the pace, and they’re just there to keep you from going crazy and guiding you in and out.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because to have the opportunity to see that establish itself, grow, look at how successful the team is now, just even though I’m no longer there, it just gives you that sense of pride that I’m thankful that I stepped out in faith in myself. I’m glad that someone else had faith in me to do the job, but I’m even more fortunate that there were people to speak truth to me, to hold me accountable, to give me feedback.
And I think too, as a female, sometimes we tend to get our feelings hurt. Like, oh gosh, I didn’t mean to do that. Or, this doesn’t feel good. But the reality is, as long as we are being pushed and we’re being molded and we’re being encouraged the right way, it really does make you a stronger leader. But not only within your workroom, but also family, friends, all of it.
I think the lessons that I’ve learned through my retail career and law enforcement have really shaped me into the person that I am in a positive way. I think I give people the benefit of the doubt. I’m more transparent. I’m way more vulnerable I think than I’ve probably ever been. I’m not scared to let people see me in a certain light or a certain way, because to all of you all’s point, it just gives credibility to what we’re doing and where we’re going.
But yeah, never be scared just to give it a whirl and give it a shot, because you’re not going to fail. There’s people that are going to be around you to help you and encourage you and support you. So raise that hand, but just be prepared to deal with all the crazy that comes with it.
That’s right, and ask questions.
So how about Michelle? Any example of your like, oh yeah, I’m in.
Oh yeah. So I’ll never forget, I was 28 years old, never led a big team of people before. And I was flown into Atlanta and I was promoted. I thought, oh my gosh, what did I do? Back then, you didn’t have cell phones and computers, you just got the phone call and then you had the meeting.
So I flew in, I was promoted to the director, and I was leading people that were… And I was like, “Absolutely.” I said yes. But inside I was like, oh my gosh, do they know me?
Like, “Hey, this is Michelle Jones, are you sure this is the right Michelle Jones?”
I was leading people who were twice my age, all men, and I think back now going, I can’t believe I even survived that. I had zero leadership experience at that time. But similar to everybody else, I had people who believed in me.
I asked a lot of questions. I was very transparent, would partner with HR. I had a really great mentor as our HR director, and it was a amazing opportunity, but I’ll just never forget. I had literally no background to be leading at this level with this level of people, but somebody believed in me and they set the guardrails for me. And we figured it out and we won as a team.
The following year, we were the number one team with improvement with shrink and with investigations, and it was pretty amazing. But there was some bumps in the road, lots of learning lessons, lots of leadership things that I pass on to people today. But yeah, it was one of those opportunities where I raised my hand.
Michelle, I think we’re living the same life here. That was my story too. It was terrifying.
I actually had one of them say to me, “What are you going to teach me?” And I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to respond. Today, I would know how to respond. But back then I’m sure I turned beet red, had no idea how to respond to him. But anyway, so it all worked out for the best, and I’m so glad I made that decision.
In law enforcement, they say it’s 99% bluff and 1% execution. And I feel like there’s some days you do, you walk into things, you’re like, all right, game face on. I’m going to get this, even if you don’t. But that was one of the things that they used to always joke about in [inaudible] school, 99% bluff, 1% execution. So as long as you walk in there confident, you’re going to be fine.
And I can remember having a very young team at one point and sending them to meetings maybe for the first time. And I was like, if you walk into that room, you own it, you’re halfway there. Everybody will listen to you. Just walk in like you own it.
But you’re right, we do fake it sometimes.
Hey, so Cath, can you give me an example of a female role model that you had either in or outside the industry?
So many, and this is probably cliche, but my mother had her own business that she started at a very young age and raised seven children. So she truly was setting the path for the rest of us.
Out of seven kids, seven of us had our own business. So she set the path for all of us to be entrepreneurial and figure it out. We were all customer-centric. Even my oldest sister who went to nursing school, finished and said, “Why am I being a nurse? I think I should be a doctor.” And just went back and led the way.
So I learned a ton of stuff from both my parents who each had their own business and continued their business for 60 plus years.
So those were my models.
Yeah, that’s great. Lauren, female role model in your past?
Well, lucky for this group my role model is actually on this call with us. So Cathy Langley has been the first person that brought me into this industry, again as an analyst, and she got to see me grow and experience different positions.
But initially, Cathy, it was her grit and her personality, and she was the go-to for so many things. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t analytical, an analytical question, but it was like who to call? Call Cathy.
And for me, I admired that. And it was just like I saw how hard she was working. I saw the relationships that she built, and in the back of my mind I was like, if she can do it, I can do it. And I’ve always appreciated Cathy and her engagement and her passion for the industry and just for people itself. So as cliche as it can get, Cathy, it’s you.
I think it’s true all of us.
A lot of us.
Thank you, Lauren.
I do remember, we all have these people that we interview. And you’re like 15 seconds.
Boom, yeah, Lauren was one of those, and I remember when she came back to me at one point, it was like, I don’t know whether or not I should take this promotion and I got to think this out. And she’s balancing everything, and I was like, “Well, you have to.”
And she’s like, “Why do I have to?” And I go, “Well, because when I interviewed you X number of years ago, I said, four and five inside of minutes.”
And she goes, “What’s four and five?” I said, “Four positions in five years.” And I said, “So if you take this next promotion, I’m actually right then.”
She was like, “Oh, okay.”
And I go, I just said, “You got it.” She’s like, “Done.”
If Cathy says do it, I’m doing it.
But I think one thing that keeps coming out over and over again is how we need to support one another, encourage one another.
It’s about being available.
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
All right. So let’s talk about, Alaina, I’m going to go to you on this one. A time when you were judged or you felt judged, solely based on being a female.
Okay, so like I shared, I started my career in law enforcement. I was 22 years old when I became an agent. I was the only female within my division at the time in my third of the state, I guess. And a lot of departments that we would go to talk with didn’t even have females on their police force at all.
So then you’ve got an older generation of folks, and then you’ve got me who’s literally bebopping in 16 years ago, 22 years old.
And so there were actually meetings I would walk into on broad scale cases and things like that where they would make the comment, “Oh, special agent Barbies here.” Or, “Who gave you a gun?” Or, “I can’t believe that they hired you.”
Those would be things that would be physically said in meetings and around my peers and other people in law enforcement.
And what I learned so quickly was that’s really not their fault. They had just never really had the exposure to working with women in that capacity. But I will tell you, I’m thankful for that, because it helped me gain a very thick skin. And to be able to show them through my actions and my words that I was capable. I was competent. I was trained. I could do the job.
And going back, even still testifying on old cases or things like that, you run into those people and they make the comment, “Wow, you’ve come so far. You’ve done so many different things.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I have.” And for me, it’s that strong steady voice in my heart that’s like, you’re good. You’ve worked hard to get where you are.
I went through the police academy just like everybody else. I went through agent school just like everybody else.
But it’s almost like knowing within yourself that you should be there, because you’ve worked just as hard and proven yourself just as much. But yeah, that was definitely a thing.
Now I know it’s probably even different than it was in 2007 with women in that field, but I think that that’s sometimes where our insecurities come from, because people say things or they do things out of not knowing or not having that context.
And so it’s something that you slowly start to build that confidence within yourself to say, “Dang it, I deserve to be here. And I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it great. And I’m going to prove them wrong.”
And I feel like that really set the foundation from 22 to 26, 27 that I’m going to get it done. And I feel like that tenacity has helped me progress throughout my career. But yeah, it was trying at times, for sure.
Cath, anything to add to that?
I could bring it from a different perspective with the same type of group. The first time that I got into loss prevention, I was in operations in grocery, and our entire loss prevention department was comprised of retired senior investigators for the state police.
And I would bring them information out of operations that I thought was pertinent to what they did, and they brought me in because of my different perspective and my different approach. And that because I was a female they gave me an opportunity to work in that group, because they recognized that all of their hard edges didn’t always achieve the goal.
So their admissions after I joined went up because they had somebody approaching interrogations a little bit differently, and their ability to identify loss went up significantly because they were used to reactive. And I was more from a proactive point of view. So both scenarios apply, but I had the benefit of somebody recognizing the value of my gender.
That’s awesome. That’s a good balance. And I think that just goes back to whatever the scenario is, just own it.
I’m sorry, Alaina, were you going to chime in there?
I was just going to say women and men compliment each other so well, because we’re built so different. And what men have, we don’t, and what we have, vice versa. So there’s such a good compliment with men and women working side by side.
And I just think it’s awesome that people recognize that, that it doesn’t have to be like you’re going up against each other like it’s this constant competition. We can draw from each other and just bring more to the table. So I think that that’s a super cool story, Catherine, because it’s so true.
We’re got that softer finesse side sometimes when they’re more direct, and as long as we can help each other get to the end goal, that’s what it’s all about anyway, everybody wins.
And I think that leads to the opening of it’s this is not them versus us conversation. This is just talking about experiences, but also being those role models for new females, younger females in the industry. Or somebody in our current generation transitioning over to the AP industry, to say it can be done. And here’s a group of people that are absolutely, we’re on your side. We’re on your side and here to support you.
So let’s transition to board of directors. Alaina, I think you and I were the two that had a conversation about our board of directors. This may be a foreign term to some people. We all know boards, but a personal board of directors. Can you talk just a little bit about what that’s meant to you?
Yes, so I had a fantastic female role model / mentor when I worked for Ross. Her name was Glynis Harris, and now she is super high up at Giant Eagle. But one of the things she told me is learn to manage your manager, and then the second one was have a board of directors. And at the time, I didn’t understand what that meant. And she shared that you need to surround yourself with people that are going to challenge you, that are going to encourage you, that are going to give you sound advice.
And that are going to make you better, not only personally, but professionally. And so I worked really hard to seek out people that were well above my pay grade, well below, in the middle, personal, professional, but people that I know would be comfortable speaking truth and calling me out if I was way off. Or giving me that encouragement if I was spot on.
And I still, like Cathy for example, I still call Cathy when I’m like, “Oh gosh, this has happened. What do you think?”
There’s just people all throughout the industry, even making decisions in roles where, “Hey, I really think this is where I want to go. Have you done this? What was your experience? Am I way off here?”
But having that group of people that are truly willing to invest in you, because I think your board of directors really does invest in who you are. It’s made all the difference in my career, and I still call people constantly to say, “I need help.” Or, “Am I crazy? Can you talk me off the ledge?” Whatever that might be. But having I’d say probably five or six really close people that make you better and challenge you is just so critical to your success.
That’s great. Michelle, do you have a board of directors?
I do, and I’ve had a board of directors on and off in my career.
And I’ll never forget one time in my career where I got lost in that I got promoted really young. And at the time you were expected to dress a certain way, you were expected to speak. I think even today’s world, like you have this corporate talk that you have to do. And I wasn’t leading with my heart anymore. Who I am, any of you who know me know I have the biggest heart in the world, and that’s how I lead. And that just makes up who I am.
But I was losing that. And it was a dear friend of mine, and she looked at me, she goes, “You are becoming boring, Michelle. You have lost yourself. You are becoming boring. You’re not pushing back anymore. Look at you.”
And I look down at myself and I’m like, oh my God, you’re right. I stopped wearing earrings. I cut my hair short. I started becoming who I felt like everybody else wanted me to be.
And if it wasn’t for her saying to me, you need to knock it off, be back to being who you are, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And I don’t take myself serious. I laugh all the time. I get results.
So anyways, it was my board of directors who really was a big pivot in my career, and helped me not lose myself and become somebody who I wasn’t. And I’m the happiest person in the world. I love the way I lead. I love who I am. I don’t take myself very serious. If I mess up on a word, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world.
We’re not doing brain surgery. That’s another thing, we’re we’re not doing brain surgery. It’s about how you act in the moment and treat people, and inspire them and help them be the best that they can be. And again, I lost it for a few years in my career, and I’m so grateful for her to this day.
Yeah, that’s great. Thanks for sharing.
As I was dressing today, I put on these earrings and I was thinking about Lisa. Thinking, she’s the one. I would not be wearing my earrings if it wasn’t for her.
And I do think as females coming up in the industry, there were some expectations. I can remember you told one time like, “Oh, if you don’t cut your hair short, no one’s going to take you seriously.” There are those statements that people make that we give way too much credit to.
They’re just saying that they don’t necessarily even mean it, it’s a statement. So I think it’s a reminder, number one, words are important, but number two, you have to assess the source of that and decide how much weight you’re going to give it. How much credit are you going to give those words? So Cath, let’s talk for just a minute before we wrap things up here on personal brand.
I’m a huge believer in this is your personal brand. You come up with those three words. What has personal brand meant to you? How have you used it? And do you have anything that you, I’m going to say, how do you hold yourself accountable to that?
Yeah, that’s a great question.
There’s a lot of things obviously that go into somebody’s personal brand, but for me, it was always about mixing humility and credibility at the same time. I had to be humble, because I needed to know if I was on the right path. I never assumed I was correct. I learned early on by making those mistakes when I was adamant about something, and then wrong. Either wrong about it entirely or wrong in my approach, it didn’t influence.
I learned how to be humble and be credible, and one beget the other. That’s how it worked. So those things have carried me through my career.
That’s awesome. I think the other thing, when we talk about people’s words and they’re important, and then you assess them. I can remember back in the day, somebody describing me a certain way, and it was somebody I respected. And I’m going back probably 30 years, and I went like, oh, wait, time to reassess. I didn’t even think 30 years ago I knew what personal brand was, but I knew I didn’t want any of those words tied to me.
So it was like that constant reassessment in evaluation and then growth, which is so critical. So we are going to have to wrap things up here. Most of you probably know, I usually end a podcast with a start, stop, and continue personally. But because we have a large group here, I think I’m just going to go with just any closing words you have.
This is all about the community. It’s all about the asset protection community, helping and supporting others. So I’m just going to go around and see if anybody has any closing words, either comment or a book that you like that you would like to reference, or anything that you have coming up on Horizon. And Michelle, we’ll start with you.
Yeah, I think be authentic you. Don’t ever lose sight of who you are. And again, I think, Cathy, you said it best. That feedback that you hear from others, take it. Listen to it, but just never lose who you are. And believe in yourself.
Yeah, that’s great. Catherine?
A lot of what we’ve talked about today is journey related. I realized too late for myself that it’s really all about the journey, and it’s not about some big goal. Goals are great, but it’s really all about the journey and enjoying the journey and the moment that you’re in, and you’re where you’re supposed to be.
Yeah, that’s huge. I’m with you there. I’m a little late learner on that one too. Lauren?
Yeah, just something that Michelle had mentioned resonated with me that you get comfortable sometimes. And you’re on a path, you’re passionate, you’re on a roll, and then all of a sudden you can take advantage of that.
And I’ve gone through it personally, and I would say the most recent book that I’ve read that gave me that gut check, and Lauren, get yourself back on to where you were kind of thing. And I know what I’m capable of. And again, we all need that inside spark. And the book is called can’t hurt me by David Goggins.
And I don’t know if you guys have read that book, but it’s about somebody that trains and runs. And he was given all the excuses why he couldn’t do it. And he proved everyone wrong, even himself.
And they always say that when you think that you’re ready to quit, you’re only at 40%. And you’ve hit that 40% and you think you can quit, you’re nowhere near quitting and you’ve got so much more inside of you.
So for me, that book was an inspiration. I could read that book within three days. You can’t put it down. So if you haven’t read it, it’s a wonderful book. It’s motivational and it’s inspiring. So if you’re down, that’s the book to go to for me.
Awesome. Thank you, Lauren. Alaina?
I would just say be unapologetic about who you are and what you want, and go after it. But be kind to others in the process, because I think sometimes we forget that everybody’s dealing with something, but just be unapologetic about who you are. And the people that accept that and encourage that and want to see you succeed, they’re the ones that’ll stick around and support you.
So just keep a temperature on who’s around you and who are you keeping beside you to help you make those decisions? And are you surrounding yourself with the right people to help you be successful in where you want to go? I think that that’s something, the older I’ve gotten, who do I want at my table?
And I shouldn’t be begging for a seat by others. And so that’s something personally and professionally I try to keep in mind.
But also I would say that any single one of the people on this podcast today, if you are a lady, if you’re new in your career, if you’re trying to figure it out, we would all be happy to chat with you or talk with you, text with you, whatever.
So reach out on LinkedIn, find us, and we’ll be more than happy to encourage you through.
That’s awesome. Thank you. And you just took my last line, so I appreciate that.
No, I was just going to say, connect on LinkedIn. Seriously, connect in and then message people. You can share contact information. And again, this group of ladies in our industry in general. There are many of us who have found ourselves in the need of the support of the industry to find our next gig.
And everybody in this industry has your back. So an amazing industry, and we are all here for you. We’re on your side. And so again, ladies, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate you and respect everything that you bring to the industry.