For more than 30 years, women have earned more college degrees than men. Yes, you heard that right!

But yet, women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America.

Companies are feeling the pressure to change, some publicly committing to gender diversity. Is it enough, or is enough enough?

On this episode of Think Tank of Three, a special guest joins the trio, talking about women, equality, and what she’s doing to make a difference.


Julie Holton: [00:00:00] For more than 30 years, women have earned more college degrees than men. Yes, you heard that right! But yet, women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America. Companies are feeling the pressure to change, some publicly committing to gender diversity. Is it enough, or is enough enough? Today on Think Tank of Three, a special guest talking women, equality, and what she’s doing to make a difference.

[00:00:26] [INTRO]

Julie Holton: [00:00:59] When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, every woman I know has a story. The stories I love most are the women who step up to force change, even just one life at a time. With us today is one of those women. Welcome to Think Tank of Three. I’m Julie Holton here with Audrea Fink and Kathryn Janicek. Today we are joined by Vicki Hamilton-Allen, the president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Capital Region. Vicki is also an adjunct faculty member at a college in Michigan and she runs a consulting company. Vicki welcome to Think Tank of Three.

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:01:31] Hello. Thanks for having me.

Julie Holton: [00:01:33] Vicki I’ve got to say, your bio is best told by you. The twists and turns of your life could take up an entire podcast in and of itself. So before we dive in, please give us some of your background so our listeners have some context.

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:01:47] Well the most distinct way to give you a glimpse of my journey is to say that I’ve managed to live in three countries. Canada is the country I grew up in, I was educated in Canada, and then I moved to the U.K. I lived there for 18 years, I studied further there, and then I’ve been in the U.S. now for almost eight years. The countries all had different roles for me. I was a senior executive officer while I was in the UK and here in the U.S. you heard my current endeavors.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:02:18] I find this fascinating as a president of a regional Habitat for Humanity… I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in my 20s and in college. Thank you so much, I think it’s an incredible organization. All of your current managers are women. When most people think of building houses, and I shouldn’t say most people, I don’t want to generalize everybody. When I think about building houses or construction jobs, I think of it as a, you know, a male-dominated industry. Was this a conscious decision to hire women as your managers? Or, how did you end up with so many female managers?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:02:53] That’s a great point. It wasn’t myself going out saying I’m going to hire all women for my team. I hired the best person for every job that I have, and it just so happens that my team is all women. I do have one male. He is our construction supervisor, so he is the technical advisor for the physical construction. That being said, Habitat for Humanity is more than just construction. We are in fact a construction company. We’re a mortgage company. We’re a retail company, and we’re a human services agency that provides casework management for social services lines of service. And so we have a lot of convergence in our office but not all of them are traditionally female roles, if I may, because when I walk into the C-suites of many organizations, I’m sitting in a room of men. And when I bring my team it’s unusual to be walking in with a whole team of women.

Audrea Fink: [00:03:53] Some studies show that having women on your team actually boosts your bottom line. I know that you are a nonprofit so maybe the profit side of that isn’t as important, but the bottom line still is. In fact, a Gallup study showed that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards financially outperformed companies with the lowest representation of women on their boards. And then, gender diverse teams also have higher sales and profits compared to male-dominated teams. We’ll be sure to link to this on our site and in the notes. So the study also showed that having women in the workplace is associated with positive organizational outcomes for both men and women. I fully believe this, but Vicki what are your thoughts on this?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:04:35] I am 100 percent on board with this kind of approach. Women communicate differently. We collaborate. We communicate… we discuss ideas through as a team. It allows us to take what could be a small idea and grow that. And we are able to then harness that together and take it through to fruition. The bottom line is actually imperative for me because if I don’t generate any surplus, I can’t continue to serve the stakeholders within my organization. And so, although I don’t have shareholders to get proceeds from our hard work, I absolutely have stakeholders and I have to say that there is evidence that my team is very creative and successful because we are one of the top three producing Habitats in the state of Michigan and have been for the last four years, and I’ve been in my role for almost five. So it speaks to the success my affiliate didn’t perform at the top of the league prior to four years ago. In fact, we just got news this week that we are the number one performing affiliate in the nation for serving veterans.

Audrea Fink: [00:05:53] Congratulations. That’s awesome.

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:05:55] Thank you.

Audrea Fink: [00:05:57] I think this idea of equality of women or high number of women on teams really resonates with me because I work with an all-female team and we go back and forth on whether or not this is perpetuating a stereotype because we work in marketing and business development, or if this is what leads us to be so successful. My CMO is a woman. She is amazing and brilliant, and then everyone on my team who drives business development and organization is a woman, and then our marketing and design team are women and we have I think an amazingly high performing team. But then I wonder. Are we high performing because we’re in the stereotype? Or– those relationships and communication styles do they really make a difference? And I love hearing that you think it’s women because I think our communication in this specific team is better than any organization I’ve ever been at. We are in sync.

Julie Holton: [00:06:54] I think it’s really interesting, Audrea, what you just mentioned about your team being in sync because I have had the experience of working with women who were not empowering to other women. And I’ve had female–I’ve had a few female bosses who I felt were not as encouraging and supportive and uplifting as they could have been and maybe should have been. And so I think that that can go both ways I think sometimes women can hold each other back. And so it’s awesome that you have this team of really smart brilliant powerful women who are lifting each other and I think we need more of that. But I find it interesting because that’s not always the case.

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:07:35] I think that you’re 100 percent on target there Julie. We have a culture that a lot of people comment on when they visit our offices: they say it feels good to be here. It feels like it’s high energy. It feels like you move together and that is all true. But I think it does start from the top. You know I get to take that position in my organization and I want to grow and empower my team to be able to feel success not just deliver success. I want them to be feeling like they are the absolute champions of their area every single day when they go home and when there are opportunities to take further training or to advance them professionally or personally, I motivate them to kind of follow that path. I don’t make it mandatory and I think that when you see somebody who is coaching their team, especially females, to feel empowered to embrace that power. And just I’m not sure how I can work that. But I believe that an empowered team is a successful team. I believe that giving other women the opportunity to sit at the table and to have a voice is an obligation of those who’ve already managed to step one step ahead, and as a leader of an organization and as a teacher my goal is to always let women know that they don’t have to find subsidy in their character; that they are perfectly good enough, and that they are absolutely capable of doing much more than they believe they can. And then some.

Audrea Fink: [00:09:20] Man, that, yes. I love that, yes.

Julie Holton: [00:09:27] Yes and I love your thought too that when you have a seat at the table, pull the chair back for someone else who deserves a seat at the table. Help other women get to that table.

Audrea Fink: [00:09:37] Yes. Julie you had posted this I think in a Think Tank forum the other day about how women at the top feel like there’s only a seat for one and so they guard it. And it is our responsibility. It is our responsibility, not just a choice, not just an option, your responsibility as a woman who has seen success in her career to hold your hand behind you and say, “Who am I going to bring with me?”

Julie Holton: [00:09:59] Absolutely. So Vicki and I were talking, we had coffee the other day, and well, we were wishing it was wine, but we were having coffee and we were talking about some of these issues… and I want to talk about the wage gap because this ties back into what you just said, Audrea — because we talk about how as women who have had these experiences, how have those experiences in our past influenced now who we are as leaders for other women? So speaking first on the wage gap: my first job in TV news, I was brought in as an intern and just two weeks in, I was hired. My job was to produce the weekend newscasts. I was hired at the exact same time and for the exact same position as another student. He produced one newscast and I produced the other. And then I found out that he was hired at twenty-five cents an hour more than me. And when you’re only making just over eight dollars an hour at your first job, that 25 cents is huge. But our hiring manager was a woman. And so that was my first introduction to the workforce and the wage gap. And I’m still just as blown away by it now as I was then. So I pulled some numbers because I know this is just one of the wage gap issues that women face. According to the International Labor Organization, in 1979 women earned about 62 percent as men. In 2010, women on average earned about 81 percent of what men earn. So that’s better, but obviously not good enough. I’m wondering why does this gap continue to exist?

Audrea Fink: [00:11:34] Vicki, before you answer that, I also think it’s important to note that that is a statistic that shows white women. So if you are Hispanic or Latina, black or African-American, Asian, Native American, indigenous or maybe Pacific Islander, those numbers quickly drop down.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:11:52] That’s a great point.

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:11:54] That is a great point. You know what I do know is that I too have experienced the same scenario when I went to work for the British government. I was brought in as a higher executive officer and on the same day, a gentleman was hired and he was in the exact same department, in the exact same team, with the exact same title as myself. And he was making six thousand pounds more than me and that only came out through some odd sidebar conversations that take place because of course you know we all kind of hush hush when it comes to salary. I think that when we get hired we should kind of get some sort of temporary tattoo that we get to put on our arm so everyone knows so there isn’t this kind of smoke and mirrors. But that being said, you know in government everybody takes great pride in saying, oh there are specific bands, and there is equality and there’s this spread, and I thought that’s really interesting. So I hold a master’s degree and he’s got his bachelor’s degree and yet I’m still making less than him and we come in on the same band. But I came in at the bottom and he came in at the top, and so why is that? He had no specific experience that suited him better. So that was when I first experienced it for myself that there was this wage gap, and then forever since then I’ve been trying to address those issues for myself and to not underestimate myself when I’m applying for a job, or when I’m sort of at an interview and someone says, “What would you like to make?” or “What are you seeking in salary?” And I would undersell myself before somehow thinking that perhaps maybe I wasn’t in a position to offer as much as someone else, and Julie and I had talked about maybe Imposter Syndrome kind of feeding into that a little. But with that being said, if I didn’t undersell myself, I went with this guilty feeling as if I’m overselling myself, but I did it, and then I secured the rates that I really wanted and I thought gosh, why didn’t I do this sooner?

Julie Holton: [00:14:09] Yes!

Audrea Fink: [00:14:11] I like listening to your story and my whole body is tingling because we’ve all been there right. We’ve all been in a position where we weren’t paid what we were worth or we weren’t paid the same as compared to someone else who wasn’t superior to us and I think we just learn to be deferential and tough and to know it’s wrong, but to hold it as our problem instead of pushing back; and we do have the power to negotiate. We absolutely do.

Julie Holton: [00:14:36] And I don’t want to blame the victims here so to speak as if the women are, you know, in the broken part of this relationship, but we do need to be asking for more pay. We do need to learn these negotiation skills, and push for those higher leadership positions. We’d also posted in our Think Tank forum an article a while back on — men are more likely to apply for positions that they’re not necessarily even qualified for, but they’re willing to put themselves out there to go for it, whereas women will–we hold ourselves back and we say, oh maybe I don’t quite have the qualifications, even though we do and so checking out the podcast with Dr. Dorian Hunter on imposter syndrome would be a really great podcast to look back at. Certainly, we do need to take the reins here and force change for ourselves.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:15:32] Good point Julie. This is Kathryn. We don’t want to do victim blaming right? You know women are making less. But I will say, our listeners know I’m a  public speaking coach and a media coach. I coach many high-achieving female CEOs, and I had a president of a company who I was coaching last week before a major forum. Staples was hosting it. She was a major speaker on it, and one of the questions we were preparing for… by the way it was a female-focused leadership forum… and she was asked, what are some of the things, the glass ceilings, the boundaries that you had… the brick walls? And she said, “All my brick walls have been inside of myself.”

Audrea Fink: [00:16:12] Yes.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:16:13] She said it. And it was just, I said, please say that tomorrow. Because here you are, this woman who’s 50-something,, and she’s amazing and she’s glamorous, and she’s going to be onstage, and she’s in huge position… and for her to say that, I wanted her to admit that on stage in front of these other women so they kind of go, ding ding, “Yeah you know what? No man told me I couldn’t make more. Maybe I, maybe I didn’t prepare or do my homework and know what it paid so I knew what to ask for, maybe I haven’t, every year during my reviews ask for more money. Maybe I haven’t put together a plan and said here’s what I did, boss, the last year.. and here’s how I made the company more money.” I would really like a 10 percent increase, or I would really like thirty thousand dollars more, whatever it is. But there’s some of it, because I know that I haven’t done it in my past. And I know I have clients who I coach who don’t do it. So there’s some of it that we have to go, are we putting these barriers on ourselves?

Audrea Fink: [00:17:12] Yes. And I think that’s the other side of the wage gap that we don’t necessarily talk about when we talk about these numbers, is there is a cultural expectation that women go into certain roles or take certain jobs and they get paid less in them. So there was a Harvard study that came out that showed that a lot of the pay gap is actually because women are in roles that pay less than men. And I think a lot of that has to do with this expectation that women are caregivers and men, you know they bring home the bacon. And so we aren’t pushing ourselves and society isn’t pushing us to succeed in the same ways. And so I do not think that this is about women being victims, right? This isn’t saying that we don’t have any say over it or that we can’t control it. But at the same time, we need to understand that a lot of why we have these barriers, a lot of why we build these barriers in our mind, I think, has to do with society telling us. And then again this is for white women right. If you are a person of color there are even additional boundaries added, culturally speaking, that say you can’t get there. And we do not have the tools I think a lot of times to be able to break down those barriers internally because of what we’re taught.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:18:26] Vicki, you lived all over the world. You lived in the U.K., you lived in Canada, you lived in the United States. It’s great. What’s nice about that is you’ve seen things and you can be a more sophisticated leader as you are the president of your company. Can we talk about maternity leave and the differences that you may have seen in other countries and just maternity leave in general in America, and how is that helping the wage gap still remain?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:18:59] Well in full disclosure the first time that I interfaced with maternity leave in the USA, I was shocked and horrified. I have I had both of my children while I lived in the UK and in the U.K. you have guaranteed right of return for your position and you have an extended period of, I think it’s a 20 weeks paid maternity leave. And then there are various company policies that can allow that to be extended, but not reduced. And I may be off by a couple of weeks, it’s been almost eight years that I’ve been gone, so it may have changed, but at that time it allowed me to bond with my children without the stress and fear of having to return to work, and it alleviated me of the worry of having to find childcare for what would be my precious brand new baby that I feel would be mine and mine alone for that short while, while I’m getting to know them. In addition to that you know having a baby is a major physical trauma and to allow my body to heal from that. Those are all critical points that I think are overlooked in this like succinct two-week departure that you get in the U.S. to have a baby if you have that much PTO available to you. It blows my mind that you can probably have more time off for a car accident than you can for having a baby. Because I think that in the past – and I might be making a sweeping statement here, but I think in the past maybe the rule-makers were men who haven’t really kind of undergone the the art and act of having a baby. That’ll be a book I should write. But you know in Canada you have a year, so it’s subsidized by government proceeds, just the same as unemployment insurance or something like that I mean heck there’s enough work comp here to be able to figure out some sort of alternative line of service that can support women who are having children. It’s also been extended in both the UK and Canada now to be rebranded as paternity leave so that fathers too can have time off to spend with their children, or same-sex spouses. I mean I don’t want to say that you know all partnerships are male and female. In addition to that they’ve now extended the paternity/maternity child celebration leave to include those who’ve adopted, because that’s also another very critical time when you are now bringing a child into your life and you are going to live and learn and be part of this person’s life forever, that you have that initial period to grow together and to understand and develop a bond.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:22:06] I think it’s important as we get more female leaders. We just know it’s better for companies, it’s better for the government, but then for example when we saw the New Zealand Prime Minister last year make huge news: she had a baby. She’s the prime minister. She has a baby and she is breastfeeding. She goes to start working and she’s still breastfeeding, so she brings her baby and her partner… so she can vote or address parliament. It made huge news because she said specifically there was some kind of study that it’s not just the breast milk it was the act of breast feeding that is actually so important. And so we’re not here to make a societal comment like “this is better for all people” and to make stronger human beings later, but you know as more women get into leadership positions, we can just be more knowledgeable of these issues with women in all positions. Does paid maternity leave actually benefit a company in the long run? Have you seen that? Have you seen that in your case?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:23:16] Well I believe it does because first and foremost, it’s always easier to retain a staff member than to hire a new one because of the learning curve the institutional knowledge kept within that person, and also kind of the time it’ll take to get someone up and running. I know that there is a temporary plug that you have to insert somebody into that space while the person is absent on leave. But that being said there are many things that can be deferred and held or when that person returns. I have seen some issues that have not disappeared even though there is a generous allocation of maternity leave. There are still issues where people are passed up for promotion because they have just left from maternity leave and it’s felt that, well they’ve been gone for a year so they shouldn’t be considered for this promotion. And whether that’s fair or not, I’m not here to make that statement. What I’m saying is, I have witnessed that; I believe from my personal perspective that if I were to have a staff member leave to go and have a child that I would absolutely want to stand behind them because I will have more loyalty, I will have probably more longevity in terms of commitment and provided I can create some sort of flexible environment to them, I will probably have them much longer term because I stood by them when they needed somebody to support them.

Audrea Fink: [00:24:46] So there was an economist out of Princeton University, Henrik something, and he studied Denmark because Denmark has a really progressive maternity leave system. And what he found was that women–their earnings dropped significantly after having children and men don’t. And so, what he suggested was that the gender pay gap is actually more accurately a child-bearing pay gap or a motherhood penalty, and that childless white women tend to make equal pay to men, so we are seeing just one other sort of complicated component of this gender pay gap is that also just having children counts as a ding against you in your career. And having said that, I think we’re seeing in society today more men are taking on parenting duties, more men are getting involved, more women are still in the workplace and so they’re having to co-parent and co-work. And so do you think maybe with with more men taking that shift, do you think we’ll see the wage gap close? Should it be closing or do you think that this is going to stay as it is?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:26:04] I’m an optimist. And I’d like to believe that that would feed into reducing that gap. I don’t know if you’ve read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” She was talking about being pregnant in the workplace, being a COO at the time, and that she was rushing into a meeting and feeling all disheveled and she got in heavily pregnant and said “I couldn’t find a parking space, I had to park at the other in the parking lot or something like that.” And one of the gentlemen said, “Well at my wife’s company they have preferred pregnancy parking,” or something. And she said, “I couldn’t believe that I never thought about that.” And so then she’s like, “well wait a minute, why don’t we have it?” And then the conversation started. But sometimes you don’t necessarily know… it’s like being in the goldfish bowl… you know you don’t know you’re in the goldfish bowl until you’re out? And so now all of a sudden she’s out of the goldfish bowl, sees that she can have preferred parking in her goldfish bowl, and then escalated that to her CEO and it was kind of a given. It really wasn’t a big deal. But that’s just another way of making a space at the table. Now we’re going to make a parking space so that people who are pregnant can get in and out of work. And I speak to that because I think the wage gap will be addressed in those kind of ways. It’s got to kind of rise to the surface, because people are acknowledging that it exists, first and foremost, and then, OK now we need to reduce it. But as long as we just keep going and we’re reducing our value because we didn’t tick all the boxes on the job description and some guy who only ticks three is like, “Yeah I can do this and I want all the money,” then that’s kind of the tipping point and it’s not the victim that we’re trying to kind of identify here. It’s just, it’s a behavior. And when we can highlight that and embrace it and say this is the thing we need to change, then maybe we can all step in a little closer to mitigating, or reducing, and eradicating that gap and then creating opportunities that make sense for women across the entire workforce.

Audrea Fink: [00:28:28] So it sounds like to me if I were to summarize this, like the things we need to be doing is one: when you see some success, reach back behind you and bring someone along with you. Two: be aware of the fact that we are still encouraging women to take on less leadership roles, and so we need to start shifting our expectations there. And then three: we need to think about, what’s in our goldfish bowl that we’re not considering? How are we supporting working moms, how are we supporting women who are coming back from having a child? How are we understanding physical trauma as well as emotional trauma, and then also the joy of a brand new baby that’s hard to let go of, as we look at our careers and sort of what we’re doing.

Julie Holton: [00:29:10] And let’s rise up out of our own goldfish bowls and let’s continue this conversation online on our social media platforms. Vicki is a part of our community and so let’s keep this going. I would love to hear from our listeners. What are some policies or what are some changes that you have seen in the workforce that have really impacted you or other changes you’ve heard about that can make an impact for those of us that are stepping up to make some changes? Vicki Hamilton-Allen thank you so much for joining the Think Tank of Three. As always, you’ve given us so much to think about, you’re such a motivator to make change. Before we go, you’re not off the hook yet; we are collecting advice from successful women in our communities and sharing it in our Think Tank forum. So we have three rapid fire questions for you. You ready? All right. Number one. Is there a lesson that you’ve recently learned that you wish you would have learned earlier in your career?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:30:04] Yes, definitely. That lesson is that you need to act with courage and you need to be your best advocate.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:30:13] Great. What advice would you offer to your younger self, ten years ago?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:30:17] I would say don’t undersell yourself. I would say, believe in the skillset that you have and confidently offer that out. Don’t discount yourself under any circumstances, for anybody.

Audrea Fink: [00:30:29] Awesome. What would you say the most important skill for a woman to hone in today’s professional setting is?

Vicki Hamilton-Allen: [00:30:34] You know that’s a tough one because there are so many. But I would say the most important skill for a woman to hone in on is to make your case with conviction. I think that we know a lot of stuff. I know that we know. And we go in over-prepared compared to many of our cohorts, and yet we still manage to undersell ourselves, only because there’s still some sort of remnants, and I’m speaking from my own personal experience here, that we can walk in knowing everything and yet position ourselves as if we’re waiting for some sort of validation, permission, or some sort of door to open, when the reality is we’ve held the key the whole time. So in my view, I think that if we go in and we own the spotlight that’s being placed upon us and deliver what we have, that every single time you’ll come out feeling like you have just kind of won the gold medal.

Audrea Fink: [00:31:31] Vicki, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve been an amazing guest. That’s all for this episode of Think Tank of Three.

Julie Holton: [00:31:38] Connect with us and Vicki online, Subscribe and you’ll get an email once each week alerting you when we have a new podcast or blog on the site. Also find us on social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Be sure to join our private group on Facebook where we can all give advice and receive advice. Just look for the group in the community section on our Facebook page.

Kathryn Janicek: [00:32:01] And if you’d liked what you heard in this podcast please share it. You can find the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. If you have topics to discuss, we want to hear them and we want to do them. Send us a message at