#LeadLikeAWoman with Cassidy Oonk

Chief Happiness Officer at Michigan Creative

If it’s society’s cultural biases at the root of the gender disparity in leadership roles, not natural ineptitude, then having women in leadership roles is not just a good deed or a pat on the back for diversity, it’s a necessity.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is not just about having integrity, managing or delegating. It’s lifting others up to be the best they can be and continuing to learn from those around you. One of Michigan Creative’s core values is leadership and at the center of that is the fact that a great leader makes everyone around them better than they are. Everyone I work with is incredibly smart and skilled at what they do and I am constantly learning and being inspired by them. Cultivating a positive, open, and collaborative environment in which everyone feels supported and empowered only leads to the growth of employees and, in turn, the growth of the business.

Who has influenced your idea of leadership?

Quite honestly, too many to list. Brian, our CEO, has created an environment at Michigan Creative that empowers everyone to be a leader in their own right. No matter your position, he allows everyone to have a voice and trusts us with the reigns on our work. We are encouraged to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from it. It fosters a beautiful culture that has truly allowed me to grow as a person personally and professionally. Additionally, I’m constantly inspired by the women in my life, including my mother, my sister, my friends, and my coworkers. These incredibly strong, smart, and ambitious women excel in whatever they put their minds to and lift everyone around them up. I’m also incredibly grateful for the women I’ve worked with in the past. I’ve interned and worked for a number of inspiring women, and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without their guidance and support.

Why do we need more women in leadership roles? What do they add to the table?

Close to half of the workforce in the U.S. are women, but the percentage of women in leadership positions remain stagnant. Women are often stigmatized as sensitive, emotional, and weak, but when I take a look at the women in my life and the women I’ve worked with, that’s far from reality. Studies have actually shown that male and female brains are the same, so that would suggest that cultural biases are to blame for any perceived differences, inside and outside of the workplace. From a young age, women and men are taught to value different things - boys are given toy trucks and tool kits and women are given dolls and dress up clothes. Gender roles and stereotypes funnel men and women down different paths throughout their lifetime, which would explain why we don’t see as many women in STEM careers or skilled trades. If it’s society’s cultural biases at the root of the gender disparity in leadership roles, not natural ineptitude, then having women in leadership roles is not just a good deed or a pat on the back for diversity, it’s a necessity. 

How are you leading in your career/community?

In my position at Michigan Creative, my role is mainly focused on account management, sales and outreach. My role has allowed me to meet and work with business leaders and CEOs of companies all over Lansing and Michigan. Running creative projects and marketing strategies with local businesses leads to their growth, which contributes to the economic growth in their surrounding community. I also really enjoy volunteering when I can. I’m a volunteer at the Capital Area Humane Society and I also highly recommend volunteering at Cristo Rey Community Center. There is a bi-monthly food distribution that provides fresh produce to those in need, but they also take volunteers for their kitchen or their larger annual events. In addition, keeping our water and environment clean and protected is something that I’m very passionate about, so I’ve worked with a number of non-profit associations and environmental groups, including Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

First of all, I feel so honored to be featured in the Lead Like A Woman interview series. This is a great way to showcase local women doing great things and I’m lucky to be amongst those women. Also, I’ll share something I’ve learned over the past couple years. Failure, risk, and mistakes aren’t inherently bad. Failure is a recipe for success. You must take risks in order to grow. Mistakes allow you to learn. I used to be more timid, afraid of making mistakes, and more risk-averse than I am now. Once I realized that taking risks, making mistakes, and sometimes failing are all a part of progress, I became much more confident in decision-making and speaking up because I knew it will either be a success, and if not, it would provides me the opportunity to improve.

Comfort zones might be cozy, but choosing to stay in your comfort zone means you won’t grow. If you’re not feeling confident, it helps to reach out to people who inspire you for advice, read books and articles on leadership, and listen to podcasts on leadership and business (I’m a huge podcast fan). I’ve replaced “fake it til you make it” with “be as you wish to seem.” Act confident, and nobody will question you. The more you portray yourself in the way you’d like to be seen, the more that you, and the people around you, will believe it.

What is the best way for someone to contact you?

You can reach me best through email (cassidy@michigancreative.com) or LinkedIn. Whether you want to learn more about Michigan Creative, share your favorite podcasts, or get coffee, I’d love to connect with you. Thank you!