I Love My Job: Leadership Expert Selena Rezvani
She’s an author, speaker, and consultant — and she’s helping women find their power at work.
Over the past decade, through books, and talks and staunch advocacy, Selena Rezvani has become a prominent voice on leadership. In particular, the author, speaker and consultant has built a strong brand that empowers women to take on leadership roles and moves organizations to do more to support them. Her recent TEDx talk tackled gender bias, and her latest book “Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want,” offers women real techniques to master the main skill Rezvani says women need to succeed at work: negotiation. Here’s why Rezvani says workplaces must do more to help women and the one thing she she’d do differently in her career if she had the chance to go back.
I grew up in… what we call “Ukrain-istan-idelphia.” Actually, Lafayette Hill, part of Philly’s MontCo suburbs. But my dad immigrated here from Pakistan and my mom is 100 percent Ukrainian.
My parents taught me to… value learning as supreme — to see education as my ticket to having choices in life. They sacrificed a lot for my siblings and I to attend and graduate from Germantown Friends School.
I got my first job when… I was 14, at the bread stand at the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market. Best part was working alongside four of my best girlfriends.
I don’t spend enough time… laughing with my husband Geoff. He’s the love of my life and my biggest career champion. But as most working parents will tell you, it’s a struggle to have time together one on one, let alone to talk about life beyond who’s picking up the milk or filling out the school forms.
As a speaker and consultant I spend most of my time… designing and delivering leadership sessions to help teams spark breakthroughs on gender diversity and amplifying women’s leadership skills.
Some of my daily routines include…running through historic Elkins Park, having winding and entertaining discussions with my six-year-old boy/girl twins, texting with my mom and siblings, and helping grow Be Leaderly, the leadership development company for women I’m part of so that it reaches even more women.
A project keeping me busy right now is… filming two online courses for LinkedIn Learning, designed just for women. I couldn’t be more excited to teach how being a fierce self-advocate — and flexing your executive presence — can make a difference in women’s careers.
A leader I’d like to be more like is… my six-year-old daughter. The world hasn’t *yet* told her to tamp down her natural leadership or bold fearlessness — she wears it proudly and unapologetically. And my 83-year-old mom, Genevieve. She’s the definition of strength and courage.
The best part of my job is… empowering women. I run exercises in every workshop where I have women “try on” full power and authority through Improv techniques. Watching women own that power joyfully, and having a license to use it, is nothing short of awesome.
Some of the biggest positive leadership trends I’m seeing are… companies that are moving beyond simple unconscious bias training toward encouraging people to have tough, courageous everyday conversations about inequality. Bias training doesn’t matter one iota if an employee can’t call out bias-in-action. More companies should reward and tell the stories of those who start these courageous conversations as a way to embed it in the culture. I believe brave, disruptive conversations are key to reducing gender bias.
Some challenges that today’s leaders face include… making work “work” for dual-career parents. Too often, employers treat small, basic benefits to parents as grand, generous acts of kindness. I think we need to reframe how we look at healthy parenting and healthy working. Working mothers in particular, are shouldering more labor on average at home, and workplaces can do more to accommodate them in ways where women don’t feel stigmatized.
Something I’m afraid of is… the gender inequality creeping into emerging technology. As AI, robotics, and augmented and virtual reality become more the norm, not enough people are paying attention to the fact that less than one-third of the world’s technical workforce are women. And those numbers aren’t growing. The very people designing the future — technologies that will affect all of us — tend to be male. Bro culture in tech should be seen as more dangerous than it is. There are historical examples of these dangers which I share in my recent TEDx talk.
To master networking one should… make real connections with people before you need to call on those people for help. Be a giver. Help generously and you will have a lot of fierce advocates and allies.
My advice for anyone preparing for a TED talk is… it’ll feel like a three-month long fever dream. Kidding… But preparation will take over your life. Plan to give it at least 20 percent more prep time than you think you need. Then go forth and crush it. It’s a crazy satisfying and thrilling experience.
My top public speaking tips are… try to speak to the conversation happening in your audience’s heads. What scares them? What’s their big need? What are they craving and thirsty for? And don’t forget: what’s an absurdity they live with that you can poke fun at? Make them laugh.
When I want to unplug from work I… drive 2.5 hours to a sleepy beach town on the Delaware Bay. That’s my happy place.
My secret talent is… giving people nicknames that stick for life. I should also probably have a sash that says “world’s slowest runner.”
The inspiration behind Pushback was… my professional heartbreak as a young MBA student, at seeing so few women in leadership roles. I was just as motivated to do something about it though. That’s why I interviewed 20 top women executives as the basis for Pushback, to show younger women how female leaders advocated their way into their roles. And that they can do it, too.
If I could go back and change one thing in my career it would be… to make more face-plants and epic mistakes. I was too careful, worried about getting things just right. I would’ve made bold bets on myself and made more of a mess.
In ten years I see myself… continuing to be part of the movement of including and amplifying women’s voices. I hope to look around and see more dudes standing next to me.