A little over two years ago, Amy Nelson left her career as a corporate attorney behind to launch a company, the Riveter, a woman-focused co-working startup that that has to date raised more than $20 million in venture capital. At the time she started the Seattle-based company, her oldest child was two years old, her second child eight months old, and she was pregnant with her third child.
Today, Nelson has a fourth child on the way and the Riveter has a presence in five cities, including three locations in Seattle, two in Los Angeles and one each in Dallas, Austin and the Minneapolis area. The company plans to soon open a second location in the Minneapolis market and to expand into Denver, Atlanta, and Portland, Oregon, according to the company’s website.
Nelson, who is chief executive officer of the Riveter, describes her company in a LinkedIn profile as offering “work and community spaces built by women, for everyone.” The company, which hopes to have 100 locations in place nationwide by 2022, offers venue rental options and memberships that include access to work spaces and related services as well as educational, cultural and wellness programming.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
I think the three most important characteristics of a good leader are vision, a willingness to listen and grit. I think the most overrated quality is a fancy education. I know many, many brilliant leaders who do not have a college degree.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
I think about this question in terms of motherhood, which is something the vast majority of American women will experience over the course of their lives. I think the biggest barrier for a woman to become a leader is the misguided belief that motherhood is a weakness in business. This is evidenced by facts, like the one that tells us women are less likely to be promoted than men ― and women with children are less likely to be promoted than women without children.
I think it’s [motherhood is] an enormous strength! Motherhood has made me more efficient with my time, as I want to find time to both work and see my children every day. I’ve also learned to communicate more clearly as this is a skill I use with my children daily, and I’ve also found that motherhood helped me lean into a clearer sense of empathy in the workplace.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
We can sponsor one another on our way up the ladder. I think there is an outdated idea that there is room for only one woman at the top, when there is truly room for all of us.
It isn’t surprising that we still think this, given that there are more Fortune 500 CEOs today named John than there are women CEOs, but at the same time, it’s a notion we must reject. Women are the primary breadwinners in almost half of American homes, and we can make up the majority of the C-suite in America’s Fortune 500 boardrooms.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
My mother has ― and continues to ― inspire me. I learned commitment from the example she has lived over the course of her life. She committed to completing her college degree ― which she paid for as a first-generation graduate. She committed to an incredible career and even went back to school to obtain her master’s degree after I left for college. She is incredible.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
Vote with your feet from the day you enter the workforce. Choose to work with and for companies that value women, promote women into positions of leadership and pay women an equal wage.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
Networking is very important! I’ve expanded my contacts over the course of my career by always asking people I respect to introduce me to people they respect. And, of course, I work hard to maintain those relationships over time.
What would you do differently in your career?
I wouldn’t change a thing about my career. Every choice I’ve made, every step I’ve taken, has led me to where I am today. And where I am today is fulfilling, hard and exciting.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
At the pool with my three (soon to be four) daughters! We swim indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer. Weekends are for unstructured time with family.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
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 on May 21, 2019.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.