Daring Women Q&A: Joanie Parsons, Founder and President of Parsons + Co

"When it comes to gender equity, awareness is important, but it’s not enough."

This week’s Daring Woman is Joanie Parsons, founder and president of Parsons + Co, a Seattle-based PR firm.

Read about the challenges she’s faced in her industry, her mentors and her advice to women starting out in their careers.

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

I love that I get to do challenging and satisfying work with smart, fun and passionate colleagues, clients and partners. And still bring my dogs to the office every day. I thrive on new ideas and inspirations and putting teams together to make things happen. Go, go, go. Rest. Repeat. Some of my favorite moments have come through creating new businesses and organizations like Parsons + Co, Trücup Coffee, two women’s organizations called Grapevine/CRUSH and, most recently, Revel Retreats. My proudest moment? I think it’s yet to come.

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

Early in my career, I was lucky to be around a lot of talented, confident women. When I first started my PR firm, I occasionally had clients who doubted me because I was a younger woman. But after I proved myself a couple of times, that impression went away. These days, I’m a big fan of telling it like it is. I prefer to be direct in difficult situations. Usually you work things out. And if you can’t, you move on. I think it’s better for everyone that way.

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

My mom was my first and best mentor. She always told me that women — and specifically her daughter — could do anything. Sometimes that was very public. I remember carrying signs and marching in my bell bottoms and Converses when I was 10 years old. “What do we want? Women’s rights! When do we want them? Now!” And sometimes it was very private. I lacked self-confidence when I was young and she would tell me, “I believe in you.” And, after a while, I did, too. My mom passed a couple of years ago, but when I go to the amazing events that we put on at Grapevine and CRUSH, and feel the power of these communities of women, I feel like she’s right there with me.

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

Dream big. You can do anything you set your mind to. And don’t try to do it alone. Especially early in your career, it’s important to get out and meet people in your company, industry or community. So, put yourself out there — even if that makes you a little uncomfortable. Find a mentor who really cares and is willing to spend time with you. Listen to your gut. Your intuition is your most powerful tool. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Bring your authentic self to each encounter.

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

When it comes to gender equity, awareness is important, but it’s not enough. Real change won’t happen without action. That means women — and men — who care about gender equality need to keep fighting. Not accept the status quo. Not give up. It’s a marathon, but we all have to keep running together.

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

I really like Danielle LaPorte's books. She’s a Canadian author who focuses on conscious goal-setting and entrepreneurship, and a whole lot of other great topics. Her work is authentic, bold and a little bad-ass. She talks about “being a super human rather than trying to be a superhuman,” which has always stuck with me. My guilty pleasure is Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday series. It’s spiritual comfort food!

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

I’m kind of an inspiration junkie. It doesn’t have to always be a big “aha moment”; it can just as easily come while walking my dogs. I find I often get inspired in two very different ways. One is from the energy and ideas of others. A couple of friends, a couple of glasses of wine, a couple hours of conversation and I’m pumped up and ready to rock! But, I also get inspired by quiet time that I spend reading and journaling. There’s no doubt that networking is important. But I’m an advocate of “net-funning,” too. You can make real connections while walking, biking, doing yoga or enjoying happy hour together. Getting away from a more traditional setting lets you be more authentic to yourself and your business goals. I’m a big believer that, on their deathbed, no one says, “I wish I’d gone to more networking events.” So, don’t be afraid to have fun and try something different!

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

Most important: Visionary. Confidence. Integrity. Passion. Being able to try, fail, learn and move on. Being willing to hire people who are different than you. Overrated: The need for a college education. Previous experience. Masculine energy.

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

Make decisions faster and don’t look back. Just move forward. Trust my gut more. Stop worrying about things I can’t control. Accept that failing doesn’t happen, it is just another way of learning. No nylons, shoulder pads or charging less than I’m worth.

10. What would be the title of your autobiography?

Run Ahead and Make Your Own Path

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.

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

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