Daring Women Q&A: Calli Rose Parise, Account Executive at WE Communications

"Use your voice and your privilege to lift women up."

This week’s Daring Woman is Calli Rose Parise, an account executive at WE Communications, Bellevue.

Read about her proudest moments, her mentors and the challenges she’s faced in this week’s installment of our Daring Women Q&A series.

1. Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.

Last year, I co-founded WE Communication’s first-ever LGBTQ+ ERG, WE Pride. I was a 24-year-old queer female working at a global 900-person company as a junior-level employee. I had a feeling that being a queer woman, in addition to my low standing on the corporate totem pole, could potentially work against me, but I knew that an LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG) would help LGBTQ+ employees feel safe at work and help the agency support the LGBTQ+ community. During work hours, I’m not only strategizing, pitching, and landing top-tier Microsoft-focused stories but I’m also planning panels and meetings and figuring out how to help the agency support the LGBTQ+ community through WE Pride. Both jobs have impact on the world, just in different ways, and they always ground me in the idea that there is so much more to be done. I’m proud every time I see an example of how WE Pride is having a big impact on our agency. I was irrationally nervous that nobody would be interested. During the first few months, about a dozen people joined. A few months later, we publicly announced the ERG in our global newsletter that goes out to 20 offices worldwide. I received a response from someone in Singapore who said, “Wow. This is so incredibly important and necessary, so much so that I’m writing to you at 1 a.m. my time. Thank you.”

Equally proud moment: The past two years we’ve launched Instagram posts for National Coming Out Day where people talked about their own and others’ experiences of being out. This year’s post received the highest number of likes that the agency’s Instagram handle had seen with an organic post since it launched in 2014. Last, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we’re now a global group and have grown to have 75 LGBTQ+ and allies in the group. There’s a lot that I wanted to accomplish before the age of 25, and I would say WE Pride has marked a most important benchmark.

2. What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

I love coming to work knowing that WE Pride exists and that my efforts have positively influenced the culture at WE Communications. The agency has always been supportive of LGBTQ+ employees but having a specific role to influence, strategize and advise the agency for where, when and how to support this community has been gratifying. My personality  never fit to the 9-to-5 job, so being able to run and lead two impactful day jobs, so to speak, has been incredibly humbling.

3. Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?

Bozoma Saint John. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see her speak in San Francisco at Lesbians Who Tech and was floored by her bold presence and words. Talk about a powerful woman. She is one of the few black female C-suite executives in tech and has used her voice to bluntly and unapologetically call on men and tech companies to fix the lack of diversity and to ensure that LGBTQ+, people of color and women feel heard, empowered and safe at their workplace. I try to mimic her sharp, fearless and unapologetic characteristics to move the needle on D&I (diversity and inclusion) issues, especially through efforts like WE Pride. 

4. What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?

Say yes to opportunities/projects that scare you. Ask for what you need and stop apologizing. There’s such a stigma against women that says we are unruly if we “rock the boat” instead of “sitting pretty.” Say something if someone is treating you unfairly/inappropriately. Tell your manager that being on point for a project that is technically for someone “higher than you” is a chance for you to grow in your career. We need to make errors to grow and that should be celebrated, not avoided. Take a breath before you think of apologizing to make sure it’s meaningful, and don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault. That one is hard for women because it’s been drilled into our brains, but it’s necessary.

5. What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?

• Women and men should be warriors for other women. Whether that’s being a mentor, creating space for women in the workplace to talk/share their ideas when men are in the room, or standing up for women who are being publicly harassed.

• Use your voice and your privilege to lift women up. Everyone in power is directly responsible for promoting women, especially LGBTQ+ and women of color, to senior leadership positions.

• Women can help each other feel more comfortable by talking about their salaries. This is a small step, but I believe it can help create awareness about the pay gaps in the workplace. 

6. Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.

Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability taught me how to use vulnerability as a weapon to make change in the world. It also inspired me to start WE Pride because I had to be vulnerable and courageous enough to sit across from human resources at a large company and say, “This group is missing and it's hurting the ability for me and other employees to feel safe and respected at work. We needed this yesterday, so let’s get started.”

7. Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

My chosen queer family. They are my biggest critics and fans at the same time. They’re all humble movers and shakers, impacting multiple industries and making global impact. I’m always inspired and learning from them.

8. What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?

Most Important: Being approachable, actively listening and allowing all people at the table to have an open, honest conversation in which everyone feels respected and heard.

Overrated: Those who seek power, control and perfectionism. The idea that we must be buttoned up at all hours of the day is ridiculous. We’re all human. We make mistakes and we have bad days.

9. What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over?

I would push myself to be more active in vocalizing my needs much earlier in my career. I’ve had to unwind very “feminine-centered” traits I was taught while growing up that encouraged me to play nice and do what was asked of me in order to be liked. I admittedly still struggle with these at times, but I’m getting better at tactfully learning how to go against the grain and remember that it’s OK to say you didn’t like working on a project. Or to push for working on a new project even if it doesn’t match your job description perfectly.

10. What would be the title of your autobiography?

Soft Heart, Strong Back Bone

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our second Daring Women event in May 2019, date TBD.

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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