Women, in any industry they’re in, tend to underestimate their skills and downplay their successes. Most often than not, we refuse to acknowledge that we have what it takes to fulfill our dreams. Barbara Rozgonyi of CoryWest Media believes that self-promotion is nothing to be ashamed of. She joins Rosie Zilinskas in today’s episode to talk about the characteristics and core values women in corporate need to advance in their careers. Tune in as Barbara and Rosie tackle why recognizing your worth is essential to moving up the corporate ladder.
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Shameless Self-Promotion: Chasing Your Spot In The Corporate World With Barbara Rozgonyi
We are going to be talking to Barbara Rozgonyi, who left corporate world years ago because she was having a hard time balancing being a mom with her corporate job. Barbara is going to talk to us about some of the characteristics that women in corporate need to have to advance in their careers as well as core values. Barbara Rozgonyi leads CoryWest Media, a creative marketing communication consultancy that attracts attention, builds brands, and connects communities.
Named after Barbara’s mother and grandmother, CoryWest Media inspires innovation as it fuels growth. An advocate and mentor for women in business, Barbara’s career path progressed from her start as a sales rep to a national sales manager, to a corporate communications consultant, to a digital marketing thought leader. A lifelong Chicagoan at heart, she now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, right between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Barbara is going to talk to us about shameless self-promotion, and also she is going to give us some fantastic career tips for continuing to advance in your career. Stay tuned.
Barbara, thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate you being here. I am going to start right off the bat and ask you. You left corporate when your kids were young. What made you leave corporate at that time?
It was one of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life. I had our first child, my daughter Phoebe. I negotiated a ten-week maternity leave which was unheard of. I went back to work. The day I went back, my husband moved to New York. I did not have any family and I had to find a babysitter. I had to go downtown. They sit only four days a week. Fast forward a few months and it has gotten pretty rocky. My husband did come back home but it was hard. I went through career counseling and they said that I should be a florist or a writer. It was not a national sales trainer or the job I had at that time but I decided, “I will look into being a writer.”
I went to the Independent Writers of Chicago and I met some women who are moms who had quit their jobs and they had successful businesses. I thought, “Maybe I could do this.” The defining moment was when I woke up in a hotel in St. Louis on my very first Mother’s Day all by myself. I thought, “What am I doing? I am a mom. I should be with my family, not in some hotel five hours away.” I went back and I told my company that I was quitting. It was hard because I made a lot of money. My husband and I talked about it and he said, “We are going to cut our income by 1/2. If you want to stay home with the kids, you can do it. What is your plan now?” I said, “I am going to start a business.” I decided I would do that. That is how I decided to start my company.
What was your process? We have the Great Resignation and with it, I know some women are struggling with that same type of thought process as far as like, “What do I do? Do I quit? Do I stay home with my kids?” Do you happen to remember what were some of the struggles in you making that decision?
There are so many. First of all, what do you do with the kids? I know with COVID, the kids were around all the time, but I had to find daycare and it could not be the one where my daughter went before. The one turned into three. You have to figure out what to do with the kids. Being a business owner is not for everyone. It takes a lot of skills. You have to be an accountant, a marketing rep, a salesperson and if you are a writer, you have to be creative. A lot was going on and honestly, I had no writing portfolio. I decided I would be the healthcare communications expert for Chicago. Can you believe that? I called every healthcare organization. I was shaking as I made the phone calls. I said, “Would you be interested in the latest things that are happening with healthcare communications?” Everyone said yes. I added them to my newsletter and I had a business.
Part of the decision was because you had young children. Women are leaving and have been leaving in droves since COVID started because of the same situation where people did not know what to do with their kids and had to physically be at work. A lot of us were fortunate enough to be able to transition remotely. I have had friends where there were two parents and there was the baby and they were taking turns taking care of the baby because all the daycares were closed. They are juggling taking business meetings and whatnot. I am like, “How in the world did you manage that?”
Thank goodness, my kids are 21 and 24 so I did not have to deal with that. That is an incredible amount of stress on parents, specifically women. I understand that women were picking up an average of 20 to 30 hours more of housework with the pandemic. When you were able to finally transition out of corporate, did you miss being around people? What is the other side of the coin?
I did because we did not have the internet and cell phones then. It was pretty much just me. What I did was I reached out to this group of women that I met when my daughter was five weeks old. I had only met with them for about 4 or 5 weeks. I said, “Can I come back to the playgroup?” They said, “Sure.” I said, “What can I bring?” They said, “Grapes, but cut them in half.” I said, “Okay.” I showed up and one of the women there was a graphic designer. She and I formed an alliance and started referring projects to each other. We grew our business together that way but it was hard.
I had to hide the fact that I was working from home. That was not in vogue at the time. It was looked down upon. People wanted to know why you were doing that. There was also a lot of thought about, “Why would a mother want to work?” On the other hand, I was doing things like sales training for video productions for Parke-Davis. I was doing these exciting projects that were part-time enough that I could fit them in around my children’s schedule and my schedule, not wear me out, and still bring in some good income.
I know that you started a podcast around 2021. Tell me about the reason why you started the podcast.
I know a lot of people. For anyone who is reading this, think about your network and take a few minutes. Before we got on the Zoom screen, I started writing out a list of all the people that I had known. Coincidentally, there was someone I wanted to interview for my podcast. I do not have their contact information but I have their coauthor’s contact information. I have never met this person. I said, “Here is a post that I wrote about them in 2008 in Chicago.” I wrote a blog post and I sent that. Over time, my path has crossed a lot of other people’s paths as has yours. You just have to imagine that you know a lot of people and those people know a lot of people.
I looked at my network and I thought, “Who did I miss that I have not talked to in a long time.” I started writing a guest list of people I would like to interview. There are people that I had known from my earliest days in business to people I met when we moved to Charlotte. There is a whole long list of people. One of the cool things is that you can feel this energy. You listen to the podcast with Larry Long Jr. Larry and I met him in person in June 2021. We got to know each other, but you can see that there is a relationship there.
I will encourage you if there is one tip you want to take away, think about who you would love to talk to. Whether or not you have a podcast, call them up, send an email and say, “I’m thinking about you.” If you have a picture that you took a while back, send that. Reconnect with people because everyone wants to touch everyone else’s hearts in a good way in the workplace from a relationship basis. How can you share some of the goodness that is in your heart now?
I understand that some of the people that you have interviewed in your podcast have become your friends and they are in prominent positions. This show is mainly about women in corporate moving up the ladder and maybe they not aware of holding themselves back. What are some of the characteristics that you can think of with these women that are in prominent positions? It is important for us to identify some of the characteristics that these women have in common.
I think about the women that I have interviewed who are mentors to me. They have been and we have known each other. There are a couple of things. They are enthusiastic not just about their work but about life. They are very positive. When you see them, there is going to be some sparkle or effervescence that is like a natural spring that is bubbling up. They are very confident but they are not cocky. They know how to play the game but they are not going to tell you how to run the show. I love that about them. They are big risk-takers. They do not think twice. If someone says, “Would you like to try this?” They will say, “I will do it.”
One of the places I met them was at Sears when Sears, Roebuck & Co. was a huge and well-admired American institution. I landed at Sears as a consultant. Thanks to my friend, Sharon Phillips, who was a mentor. We worked in the communications department and I got to see them in action. I got to take on projects that no one wanted to work on, which is the diversity project. I said, “I will.” I got that from them. I saw that if I could take a leap and take a risk, who was I to do anything but make a success out of it? That is what I think you need to do. Be confident. Take that first step because that is what it is about. It is taking it step-by-step. It is not the end game because it is going to change from whatever you could have imagined it to be to something even better than you could ever think of.
I love the fact that you say that these women have a sparkle and they are risk-takers. For someone that is trying to move up the ladder and advance in their careers, they have to have some initiative. First of all, they need to know that they deserve the career of their dreams. That is one of the things that I am constantly talking about. I liked what you said about looking at your network and trying to figure out who you should reconnect with. This is a network not necessarily just within your corporation, but completely outside of your corporation. The more people you talk to, the more ideas you can come up with to get to that next position.
I love the fact that you said risk-taking because a lot of women are not risk-takers. We want to stay in our comfort zone. When you stay in your comfort zone, it is a way of holding yourself back. I know that you do sales. As far as women selling their value, selling their skills, and talking to employers about opportunities, what are some things that you think women could do to advocate for themselves? We will then talk about a mentor after that.
The first thing is to get your story straight. You look at resumes and you listen to interviews, and a lot of people sound like each other. They say what they think people want to hear, but what is it that makes you different? What drives you? What is your passion? Why are you here? Why do you want this job? There are some things you can do to stand out. Knowing your values is an important one and that is going to connect you with opportunities that are great for you. If you see a job and you think, “I should apply for this,” but there is something in your intuition that says, “I do not think that is going to work.” You definitely do not want to apply for it.
With sales, it is always surprising to me that people want to do business with me, which is funny because there are so many other people they could do business with. What keeps coming back is, “You are a nice person to do business with.” What does that mean? I do not know, but I think it means that I am empathetic, I care about them and I am a real person. I am not trying to say that I am great. I am trying to say that I like people. If that comes across that you want an authentic relationship, you are interested in that person, you have matching values, and the key is you want to help them solve their problems and you want to listen, then you are going to advance.
Let’s talk about values. When you say values, what kind of values are you referring to?
When I do workshops, there is an exercise I use because I feel like you have to know what your own values are. I did this with my kids when they were little and it was cute. It is something that anyone can do, but it is very simple. What you need to do is think about people that you admire. It could be someone that you work with, someone in your family, someone in a movie, a historical character or a pet. You want to make a list of those 4, 5 or 6 people or characters that you identify with. What you want to do is you want to write down the words that come to mind about that character or that person.
Is that person smart? Are they kind? Are they innovative? Are they creative? Do they dress a certain way? You want to get a collection of characteristics and then you want to see what keeps popping up over and over again. For instance, if you write down funny and you see funny so many times, maybe humor is one of your values. What it does is unlock what is inside of you. The other thing you can do is you can write down people or characters that you do not like. These would be your shadow values and things that you do not want. That will give you an idea of what you do not want with relationships, jobs and clients. What you have got now is a map and you know what your values are.
For instance, if education is a big value for you, then you want to work with a company that values education. It does not mean you have to work at a school or university. Maybe you are a person that it is important for you to educate your clients. If you are creative or you are a person who is idea-driven, you want to be in a place where you can share ideas. You have to have your own personalized value map inside and know what it is, and then when you go on an interview, you can say, “These are my values.”
For instance, one of mine is diversity and it even extends to things like if I have a barbecue, I am going to do a couple of different dishes with a couple of different sauces. It is not going to be the same thing. I cannot do one thing. I have to have a diverse mix because I love to present a diverse mix of ideas and creativity. Those are some ideas you can use about how to unlock values.
The values that you are talking about, I have heard them referred to as core values. I love the fact that you are saying pick 3 or 4 people that you like and you admire, but also pick 3 or 4 people that you do not like because a lot of times, we are able to easily identify what we like, but it is harder to identify what we do not like or what we do not want. You referred to those as shadow values. The shadow values are going to bring benefits. What are some ways that you can recommend for women, other than values, to be able to justify their value to an employer? If you are trying to ask, “Why should somebody hire you?” What else do you think women can do in that respect?
One thing I love is using other people’s voices. On LinkedIn, you can get recommendations. If someone says you did a good job, you can copy the email and send in a recommendation request. That will be outside validation that you are a good person to work with. One thing to do is seek outside. Another thing you can do is to volunteer for not-for-profit organizations or associations. For example, I am the Vice President of Marketing for the National Speakers Association in the Carolinas chapter. It means that I am dedicated to the industry and I do not mind giving my time. That way, you expand your network and you also show that you are dedicated to giving back. It does not have to be a professional organization.
It could be a not-for-profit or your children’s school. That is another thing you can do. I also feel like you have to be your own advocate. As a PR person, I have been accused of shameless self-promotion by my peers who are always laughing. They are like, “You are always out there promoting yourself.” I am like, “I sure am.” It feels funny to do that. If I send out a press release that I am going to be speaking somewhere, I am like, “I am promoting myself.” On the other hand, if you do not tell people about yourself, they won’t know about you. That is one thing you can do and then also social media.
If you want to position yourself as a thought leader, no matter if you are on level one or if you are going to be in the clouds, you can be a thought leader based on what you share. Let’s say you are into marketing. Marketing is going through tons of change, but it has been doing that for years. If you want to position yourself as a thought leader in marketing, then share articles that have pointers to the direction of the future. You can comment on people’s posts, but you want to be a voice in the conversation that is happening around your industry. You can even be a starter.
One of the things I love to do is start things up. When we moved from Oak Park to Glen Ellyn, Illinois, I started the Independent Writers of the West on behalf of Independent Writers of Chicago. We had 40 people show up for lunch, which was nice. You could start something up. I started Social Media Club Chicago with my friend, Jeff Willinger. We had 3,000 members. Think about how you could supersize yourself and take the vision of who you are and how you can beam your light out into the world because we need people to take that initiative.
I love the supersize yourself. I think women do not do that enough. I also love the shameless self-promotion. In corporate, sometimes self-promotion is what women need to do. I will give you an example. When I was an individual contributor, I finally approached a manager saying, “I am interested in management.” They were like, “Really?” I said, “Yes. What do you mean really?” They are like, “You never said anything.” I realized that I was waiting for someone to come and ask me if I wanted to go into management because I did not even realize it.
That is why we are having this important conversation because women sometimes do not even realize that we are holding ourselves back by not saying anything and not asking, “What is next in my career?” It’s that succession plan for the individual. I liked the shameless self-promotion. I am going to try to do that myself, and then on social media as well. All of those are great things. As far as a mentor, mentorship is not a new concept. When you think of a mentor, how do you even get a mentor?
The big struggle for people is they feel like, “What does that relationship look like?” People are hesitant to ask anyone because they feel like it is going to take too much of their time and they are going to say no. What you can do is ask for some time to exchange ideas or ask if they have advice. If you want to take it up to the top level, you can interview a whole bunch of people that you are interested in and do an article on LinkedIn, so you can see where it goes.
For me, the biggest thing is to identify people who are in a place where you want to be. It might be somebody that you like to follow on social media. Brené Brown is not really a mentor. I do not know anyone that works with her personally, but she is someone that you can look to for direction and guidance. On a more personal level, one of the best ways to look for a mentor is to go back to an industry group or if there is someone in your company or if you have a women’s group. If you do not have a women’s group yet, please start one. It is International Women’s Month in March. It is a great time to start a group and even things like if you went to college and you were in a sorority. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. My sisters, when they say it is lifelong and you are eighteen, you are like, “Sure, I am in.” It really is.
If you can think about who you want in your mentorship circle, you could keep it small. It could even be a family member. My Aunt Mary was the biggest mentor I ever had. She was the first CFO for a manufacturing company in our hometown. She was brilliant. I did not even know how brilliant she was at that time, but she was so good to me with different things and different tactics to take, just somebody that you can call on and rely on, and also think about yourself as a mentor. How can you mentor other people? Maybe you do a peer-to-peer mentorship where you compare notes. It could be at the same company. It could be somebody in a different company, but how are things going for you? If it is as simple as sitting down and saying, “These are my career goals, what are your career goals?” Exchanging notes and challenging each other to move up could work out for everyone.
Two of my best friends were roommates of mine at the University of Illinois. We are all busy but every 2 or 3 months, we try to at least have a nice conversation. We can get together as often as we can. We do that. We support each other. We sometimes challenge each other and go like, “What is going on with you? Why aren’t you doing what you said you were going to do?” I think that is good. You said industry groups. When you say industry groups, you are in marketing. What kind of industry groups are you referring to?
For marketing, the American Marketing Association, Chicago has a huge chapter. For meetings and events, that is Meeting Professionals international. They have a great chapter in Chicago and I did volunteer there with marketing. That was exciting. For me, it is what kind of people do you want to hang around with and who are your people? If you are in accounting, there are all kinds of accounting groups and those are your people. Find your people and go hang out with them. That is automatically going to position you and nudge you up higher because you are going to have a better network and you are going to know what is going on. The way the world is moving, everything is like lightspeed, which is frightening but also exciting. If you are not on the rocket ship yet, get your ticket and get on there now because you do not want to be left behind.
That is exactly why we are having this conversation. You also said that women could volunteer. You can volunteer within your organization to start some process or improvement. If you see that there is a problem going on, try to go to your manager with some recommendations on how you can solve the problem. Make yourself a thought leader even within the organization.
A lot of times, even if women are individual contributors, just because they are not a manager, sometimes they think that they do not have anything to contribute. We know that they do and it is a matter of recognizing that everybody can contribute. As you said, if you do not have your ticket to the rocket ship, get it because things are moving and evolving. You have to take action. The biggest thing that you have to do is take action. As far as mentorship, you said you could also mentor others. Is that something that has to be a formal process or can it be a coffee situation? How do you picture that when you say you can mentor others?
It can be anything you want it to be, but the more formalized it is, maybe you want to take on a mentor and you have a mentor through a quarter or maybe follow someone through a year and you get together every month. It depends on what they want to do too. What is the goal and what is the responsibility? It is not just getting together to have coffee. There are tons of people that you can do that with, but what are you working on together? I love the mastermind concept. Maybe what you have is a mentoring mastermind where you have 4 to 6 women.
What we do on our mastermind that I am in is we take a few minutes to talk about what is going well and what is our biggest challenge, and then everyone steps in and says, “Here is how we would solve the challenge.” If they have an idea, sometimes they do not, but they are also there. If we say, “I want to get this done, can you hold me accountable?” The next time we check-in, if you have not done anything. A small group in a monthly format with a 40-minute phone call instead of getting together for coffee would work out.
You know a lot of people, both male and female. One of the things that are always perplexing to me is how men do not think twice about applying for a job, speaking up or doing whatever. There is the meme that says, “The average guy that is 6 out of 10 is like, ‘It is pretty good.’ The women are like, ‘I am not a ten.’” I asked you for characteristics in women, but have you been able to identify some characteristics in men that we can talk about?
Think about yourself as someone who is always in a state of reinvention, so you can look at yourself differently and transform into the person you've always wanted to be. – Barbara Rozgoni Click To Tweet
I have two sons and they are both 164 cm and 165 cm so I look up to them literally. It is fun to watch. They are both doing well. One of the things that I see in them is that the limits are a lot less. They do not hold themselves back as much. I do not know if they do not have as much negative self-talk as women have. I do not know about other women but sometimes, as soon as you start to do something, it is like, “You can’t do that.” I think that is one thing. They are very confident. They will go forward and get what they want.
Let’s face it. Guys like to hang out together. There are a lot of bros-zone things happening. I am always laughing about it because I call my sons the two brothers because they are always hanging out with their bros, which is lovely. It is wonderful. As women, we do get together as sisters, but I do not know if we really relax and push each other forward as much as men do sometimes. Those are a couple of different things. Sometimes, they know what they want more too. I know some men can be decisive, and so can women, but maybe they have a straighter line. I am not sure.
You said something about men being able to relax a little bit more and I think you are right. That is one of the biggest keys. My parents were here visiting me because I had some health issues. Both of my parents were here and they are in their 80s. We were watching a movie and every half an hour, my mom is like, “Let me go check on your dad.” “Mom, dad is in the other room. If he needs you, he will come and tell you something that he needs.” We are so busy taking care of everybody else and we want to make sure that everybody’s needs are met that sometimes it is hard for us to relax and think about what we want and what the future holds for us.
I always talk about self-care. Self-care is so important for women. Even if it is three minutes that you take out of your day to breathe and slow down for just those few minutes, that is going to make a difference in your psyche. All of this conversation boils down to methods and things that women can do in order to self-promote. I am going to start using that a lot more going forward because self-promotion for women is key.
It happened to me where I was not even saying that I wanted to move into a management position. I could have moved into a management position much sooner and I did not realize that I was holding myself back. I found out that women that do not negotiate salary can earn up to $2 million less over a lifetime than their male counterparts. Isn’t that incredible?
It is. One of the last things I did at my corporate job was I looked at two classes I wanted to take because I knew I was going to leave them. One of them was a negotiation masterclass. I learned about how to negotiate and I turned it right around on them as I negotiated my ten-week maternity leave. It is a very important skill to have. One of the simple things about negotiation is to ask for more than what you will take. That was one of the first rules. If you think you are going to ask for a 4% raise, ask for an 8% raise, which sounds way out there, but you never know. They might come back and give you 6%. That is one of the keys to negotiation.
Ask for more than what you want so that they can settle. Barbara, this has been such a great conversation. Before I let you go, I know you have already given us a lot, but do you have two actionable tips or recommendations that women can implement in their lives today? The tips would be for women to be able to implement in their careers so they know how to advance.
First thing, go to LinkedIn and look at your dream job. Pick out 4 or 5 dream jobs and dream companies that you want to work for, then look at the skills that are listed because they should be right there. Make sure that you have those skills on your LinkedIn profile because then you will be more of a match. If you have not done your skills on your LinkedIn profile, make sure you get those up there because that is going to give you a lot more visibility and a lot more reach. I would also love to work on your LinkedIn profile, but that is another conversation.
The second thing for career advancement is to see yourself in 2 to 3 years. You could go 5 or 10 if you want. Where do you see yourself? Where would you love to be? Look at women who are already there and find out how they got there and close that gap. Figure out what skills do you need that you do not have yet and make sure that you can fill in those blanks so that you can progress. Always see yourself as climbing or taking stepping stones. However you want to visualize it, but always see yourself as rising and doing better and better because you deserve it.
I had not heard those, but I think the skills on LinkedIn are key. Also, the second thing you said was to look at a job that you want to do down the line. This is where you look at people that already have that job and network with them. I think those are two great skills. Thank you very much for that. Any final parting words, Barbara?
My career has been a long one. I tell people that I have a checkered past because I have done a lot of different things. I would like to encourage everyone to think about themselves as someone who is always in a state of reinvention. Look at what you can do differently and look at yourself as advancing and becoming more of the person you have always wanted to be. Thank you so much. I have had a wonderful time talking to you. I wish everyone the absolute best. If I can help you with anything, please feel free to reach out to me and I would love to help you make the next move.
I know that I learned some things from Barbara and our great conversation. To recap the two tips that Barbara gave, the first is to go to LinkedIn and find 4 to 5 dream jobs that you would love to have. Look at the skills that are listed for those dream jobs and make sure your LinkedIn profile has those skills listed.
The second is to see yourself in a position that you would want to be in 2 to 3 years from now and identify women that are already in those positions. Talk to them and ask them how they got to where they are. I learned a lot from Barbara and I hope that you did too. She gave us a lot of great tips and action items to continue to advance and grow in your career. With that, remember to be brave, be bold, and take action. Until next time.
- CoryWest Media
- Independent Writers of Chicago
- Larry Long Jr.
- National Speakers Association
- Brené Brown
- American Marketing Association
- Meeting Professionals international
About Barbara Rozgonyi
Barbara Rozgonyi leads CoryWest Media, a creative marketing communication consultancy that attracts attention, builds brands, and connects communities. Named after Barbara’s mother and grandmother, CoryWest Media inspires innovation as it fuels growth. An advocate and mentor for women in business, Barbara’s career path progressed from her start as a sales rep to a national sales manager to a corporate communications consultant to a digital marketing thought leader today. A lifelong Chicagoan at heart, now lives Charlotte, North Carolina right between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.