Annette Blum (’10) is an executive leadership coach and veteran tech marketing professional. She has been active with Anderson Women, UCLA Anderson’s alumnae group, since graduating — a “natural progression,” she says, following her Women’s Business Connection board service as a student. As president of Anderson Women for the last two years, she champions female MBAs and shares her own success by cultivating community and opportunities for personal and professional development. “It’s especially gratifying when board members tell me I’ve made it possible for them to flex their creative, tactical and strategic planning muscles, as more and more alumnae rely on us for great programming, networking and connection back to Anderson.” Blum’s passion for community led her to create Shalon, an organization to drive vital conversations that connect, educate and inspire participants to make change.
Q: What leadership tenets guide how you approach business?
- Never stop listening and learning: We live in a world that is constantly changing, so it only makes sense to continue to evolve and improve the way we think and the way we work. I also know that there is so much that I don’t know. My goal is to surround myself with smart, motivated and creative people who each bring different skills and knowledge to the table. By asking questions instead of only sharing my ideas, I give the person with the most relevant information a chance to share, so that the whole team benefits.
- Embrace respectful dissent: When a leader can admit that they don’t have all the answers, the whole team benefits. I grow most when people question my approach because it forces me to evaluate the situation and usually come up with a better, more efficient response.
- Collaboration is critical: I thrive when I can collaborate, especially when it comes to brainstorming and execution. With more people involved, we’re able to use our strengths instead of wasting time trying to do things that come less naturally to us.
- Trust your instincts: Leaders are expected to move quickly but often don’t have all the information we need. Trusting my instincts allows me to keep things moving and, as long as I’m open to respectful dissent and collaboration, I trust that things will end up the way they’re supposed to.
When it comes to building a business, leading a team or driving change, incorporating each of these elements allows me to be as efficient, creative and, ultimately, successful as possible. As a leadership coach, my focus is on incorporating each of these into how I assist my clients in establishing their goals, advocating for themselves and their teams, and feeling fulfilled in their careers.
Q: In your professional experience, what are the most persistent stereotypes about women that you or those around you face?
The most persistent stereotype about women that I’ve faced is that women are one of two things: either a pushover or overly aggressive, aka “bitchy” (can we say that?). As someone who’s been inspired by incredible women as my bosses and colleagues, I know that women can be both accommodating and shrewd (or astute) business people. Women’s ability to listen, empathize and collaborate does not indicate that women can’t and won’t stand up for what’s right, push for the best opportunity, focus on the bottom line and get the job done.
Q: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibited sex-based wage discrimination in the U.S. At the time, women earned 59 cents to every dollar that men earned. Today, women earn about 82 cents to every dollar that men earn. Do you think female MBAs can do something specific to close that pay gap?
It should not be women’s sole responsibility to close the pay gap; men in the workplace need to champion equal pay and equal representation in leadership positions. Not only should both men and women be promoting visibility when it comes to pay and the hiring process, we need to fight for parental/paternity leave (and encourage men to take it) as much as we fight for maternity leave.
As MBAs who are often hired into leadership roles and who have strong networks, we can help drive change by asking for higher wages, negotiating salaries and speaking up about pay, opportunities and equity in the workplace. We can also mentor younger, more junior women in order to close the gap. One of my goals as a leadership coach is to encourage women to home in on their strengths to guide other women. By doing so, they not only build a solid pipeline of smart, motivated women, they build their own confidence and make themselves known as excellent leaders and allies.
Q: If you could hire or work alongside anyone right now (female, male, non-binary), who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama! Not only is she incredibly smart, driven and successful, but Michelle is also hyper-focused on lifting up the people around her, especially women, and particularly women of color. I imagine that working with her would allow for amazing brainstorming, lots of laughs and real change for communities experiencing education and nutrition gaps.
Q: What is your relationship to or feelings about Women’s History Month?
I love the opportunity to celebrate and advance women but I’m frustrated that we’re still in a place where we have to dedicate a specific month to it each year — because that means that it’s not happening as regularly or emphatically as it should. I try to make every day a chance to advocate for and call out incredible leaders, givers and change-makers in our communities.