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International Women’s Day: Thoughts from a Female CEO

International Women’s Day: Thoughts from a Female CEO

His name was Theodore. Known and loved as Ted mostly, my father was one of my greatest heroes. I grew up in a small town near the Adirondacks, a place where big futures weren’t often dreamt up, especially by little girls.

But my dad invited me into his world from the start, integrating me into everything he did. We spent so much time together hunting, fishing, golfing, and even doing carpentry (don’t ask me to build anything fancy, but I can swing a mean hammer). Most importantly, my dad taught me I could do anything I put my mind to if I held steady and treated others well. Beyond his passing at the noble age of 101, my father’s lessons continue to spur me on.

Denise and Ted at 95th Birthday

When I started DKP over 20 years ago, it didn’t even occur to me that this was something I shouldn’t or couldn’t do as a woman. I was simply following my passions and leaning into the confidence instilled in me as a young girl. People have asked me what it was like starting a company that long ago as a woman, and I’ve likened it to having twins as your first children. You just don’t know any different, so you plow ahead, one day (one bottle, one diaper, one feeding…) at a time. That’s how it was for me in the early days, simply doing the work in front of me, following my heart, and serving people well.

But it wasn’t always easy. Starting a business in a male-heavy, extremely competitive industry can be daunting. And it sometimes means you have to work that much harder to garner the respect you deserve. You have to really be on your game. And if you’re not sweaty-palmed and doubting yourself from time to time, you probably don’t care enough.

Sometimes a work environment or industry doesn’t encourage or even allow women to think outside of the convention put before them. And as women, sometimes we’re more likely to be directed by a standard and hesitant to speak up. But if you draw from your passion and trust yourself, you can break through. And this only serves to inspire other women around you.

One woman who inspired me greatly was Kathy Wiltsey. When Kathy walked into the room, she entered with such quiet grace and strength that you couldn’t help but take notice, despite the fact she was humble and never over-asserting herself. She was in executive management at Amgen when I worked there, and she modeled for me what it looked like to be a powerful corporate woman who didn’t feel the need to trample others. She listened deeply and treated everyone with respect. Sadly, the world lost Kathy too early, but she continues to inspire many of us even today.

I knew when I started DKP that I wanted everyone to have a voice. That I wanted to create a culture which nurtures the whole person, regardless of gender. What’s inside is all that matters. And I chose to pursue the esteemed Women’s Business Enterprise certification for my company to demonstrate that we are proud of being woman-owned and we continue to do well in our industry.

Women sometimes ask me for advice around starting a business or succeeding in the corporate world. I don’t feel like an expert by any means, but here are some things I might share:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Write down your strengths and passions. (I am a huge fan of Clifton Strengths as a great place to start.)
  • Zero in on your sweet spot and stay in that lane.
  • Treat others with trust and respect.
  • See failing as an opportunity to grow. Get back up, dust yourself off, and take lessons to heart.
  • Help people get back up when they fall.
  • Be gentle with yourself and allow time for growth. Nothing amazing happens overnight.
  • Network, network, network! Get to know other women and champion each other.

As we reflect and celebrate on this International Women’s Day of 2021, I can’t help but be grateful. I’m thankful for the women (and men!) in my life who taught me to embrace my own strengths and help others recognize theirs. And I’m so full of gratitude for my team—the men and women of DKP—who treat each other with respect and kindness despite gender differences.

Today I encourage you to cheer on and support the women-owned businesses you know and love (and consider finding some new ones!). Some of my favorite local companies include Netlogx, IDO Incorporated, Purple Ink, and DropLeaf Communications. What are some of yours?

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