Have you ever struggled to balance leadership with being your true, authentic self? This can sometimes feel like an impossible feat, especially for female leaders in a male-dominated industry. Mae Casazza, Senior Director, Strategic Resource Group, at HelpSystems, has experienced that challenge. Although she has risen rapidly within her organization, she occasionally struggled to command the respect she deserved. In her interview, she discusses these challenges and how she overcame them with the help of the In HER Element women’s cohort program.
Were you facing a particular struggle before participating in In HER Element?
As a female leader in the tech industry, I’ve encountered a lot of pushback from my male peers who have a specific idea of what a leader should look like. Well, guess what? I don’t necessarily fit that mold. Not only am I a woman, but I have bleach-blonde hair, dress in quirky styles, and wear dinosaur earrings. I don’t think meetings have to be a dull slog and, in fact, I believe people are happier and more productive when they actually enjoy what they’re doing, and enjoy showing up (go figure!).
Over the past several years, I have assisted with over a dozen acquisitions for HelpSystems. During that time, I’ve met with a variety of teams from the many different companies we’ve acquired. Some meetings went smoothly, but other meetings felt off. The people on the other side of the screen didn’t seem to understand me or my personality, and that was really eating away at my confidence.
While I was in the In HER Element program, one man, in particular, was repeatedly questioning my authority. He was filling me with self-doubt and getting in my head. I knew something had to change, and I counted on IHE to be my vehicle for that change (which it absolutely was!).
How did the In HER Element program help build your leadership presence and overcome your self-consciousness?
In HER Element was a gamechanger for me. Working alongside a group of motivated women was empowering, and the personalized coaching was second-to-none. Paula Winkler (my assigned coach and CMO of The Disruptive Element) really understood me, and her guidance was enormously helpful. She worked with me to build confidence and establish myself as a leader, all without changing my core personality. In the past, I would often give a 30-second elevator pitch when I met with new people. I felt the need to prove my worth and establish my authority—something that is not (in my experience) expected of my male counterparts. Paula helped me build my brand and establish my leadership presence so the elevator pitch became unnecessary.
Did you also benefit from working with your peers in the program?
Absolutely. Collaborative work was an important part of In HER Element, and I loved connecting with other women in the company, some of whom I scarcely knew, since they live out-of-state. The activities had us working in groups or with partners, and I found the one-on-one meetings to be the most profound.
I enjoyed connecting with all the participants, but two of the connections were particularly deep and meaningful to me. We would open up about the struggles we faced as high-powered women in tech, we would empathize with each other, strategize, and even occasionally cry together. It was a powerful experience. In everyday office life, you just don’t find that kind of vulnerability.
Another incredible benefit of working alongside my peers was gaining others’ assessments of me. That might sound scary, but it was an incredibly positive experience. I learned that my passion, my willingness to help others, and my sense of fun was coming through (even though I sometimes hid those aspects of myself behind many layers). When people told me what they saw in me—the personal brand that was lingering beneath the surface—I truly felt seen and heard. This was one of the many moments that made me teary eyed!
Which lessons and learnings from In HER Element stuck with you?
The activities, discussions, and coaching sessions all had sticking power. Today, when I find out someone is going through In HER Element, I immediately ask, “Oh, have you been through this part of the program yet?” Or, “Have you done this activity?” I’ve had to hold myself back because I don’t want to give too much away! It’s better to experience the program as it unfolds
I will say that one of the most profound lessons I learned through In HER Element was through the “reframing exercise,” in which we articulated negative thoughts (for example, “People don’t get me”) and flipped them on their heads. I learned to stop thinking of myself as an undeserving outlier and embraced the idea that I am uniquely qualified to be here. That message was so meaningful to me that I carry it around on a post-It note and look at it whenever I need a confidence boost.
Do you think the lessons you’ve learned through In HER Element have also impacted your personal life?
Yes. My family will tell you I carry myself differently now. My leadership confidence has absolutely translated into my personal life. My 13-year-old son says, “Mama’s a girl boss.” He knows I’m a leader, and my 14-year-old daughter does, too. I want them to grow up with a broader view of what influential business people look like, and if my son’s words are anything to go by, I’m pulling that off.
About the In HER Element program: The In HER Element Program is a transformative leadership development cohort program for women that combines mindfulness and neuroscience with one-on-one coaching and community. Our goal for this program is to build upon women’s leadership skills and empower them to be their best self. Click here to learn more.