This series shares personal accounts of trailblazing women on why it is so important to gather in sisterhood and what they did to create it for themselves. Meet Suzanne Guzzo, Chief Marketing Officer at General Motors Africa & ME.
How have female mentors and role models influenced your personal and professional growth?
I have learned the most from female mentors with an authentic approach to leadership. The ones who led with transparency openly shared their challenges and were bold enough to make space for their teams, especially women, at the table.
In what ways can female mentors and role models inspire and support young women in pursuing their dreams and aspirations?
Female mentors have an important role to play in empowering and inspiring young women to feel safe being their full selves at work. Fostering gender diversity is a key aspect to consider when setting out to achieve this sense of safety. Not only does this drive greater business success and innovation – leaving people healthier and happier as a result, but in doing so – women are encouraged to think outside the box, break the mold, and ultimately achieve shared visions. My background has shown me how important representation and women supporting one another is. In leadership today, it’s important to me to normalize the realities of women in business. Whether it is not relating to a roomful of male colleagues or being a working mom and needing balance. Having leadership show that this is not a detriment is important. Best practices in this space at General Motors include offering platforms for discourse such as our internal Women’s Council as well as our DE&I Committee. Further involvement and inspiration are guided by internal programs such as our women's development program, unconscious bias behavior training, and regular surveys to understand team sentiment. In addition, one of our most impactful exercises is our Diagonal Slices. These are regular meetings throughout the year with senior leadership members from across GM globally, having an open dialogue with various cohorts within the organization.
What are some challenges faced by women in finding or accessing female mentors and role models, and how can these barriers be overcome?
Some challenges are universal. I started my career in the emerging digital and e-commerce space and have followed my passion for transformation ever since. While the work has drastically evolved, my overall challenge, which has shaped my current ambition, has remained the same. To be myself – across all aspects of my life. As a young employee, I would emulate my leadership, mostly male, thinking this was instrumental to my success. However, I always struggled because they rarely reflected me and didn’t share the same values. As a woman, I have since learned that it is important to find one’s own path and grow in self-confidence over time. It’s not easy to have a different voice and I’ve fallen off this path many times, but this is where learning to trust your abilities and lean on your network helps.
What are some key qualities and attributes that make an effective female mentor or role model?
I’m proud to say that I work for General Motors where women like Mary Barra - our General Manager, CEO and Chairman, and Managing Director in GM Egypt, Sharon Nishi, are leading change every day. Together, as role models, we need to make space for change, literally and figuratively, and by we – I am referring to both men and women in leadership roles. This can be done by encouraging women to sit at the front of the room, create platforms to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, and openly celebrate wins and learnings while being a consistent mentor and a sponsor. While structured developmental training programs and education are important aspects of change, in many ways a shift in the simple day-to-day actions can have the most impact.
In what ways can sisterhood and mentorship help break down gender stereotypes and foster a more inclusive society?
Mentorship holds significant weight in moving towards inclusivity. It takes leadership perspective and acceptance to drive employee confidence in juggling aspects of life, without the traditional stereotypes that accompany this feat. Through sisterhood and workplace support, the aim is to ensure employees understand their personal requests will not give rise to career regression, and instead be offered support as needed. It is not only in challenges that we feel this sisterhood, but it also comes to the fore when collectively celebrating a woman who has done a good job.
How can we create a supportive network of sisterhood that transcends age, race, and background to empower women from all walks of life?
Leadership has a key role to play in making the work environment an open and psychologically safe space for everyone to be able to speak up. When faced with challenges, we need to make sure that we’re looking across the board – offering the space in which one can ask for support, and remove oneself from situations that do not bring about brand or personal benefit. We must celebrate each other’s success. That’s the kind of support sisterhood brings, because it’s women supporting women - giving one another the confidence to know they can walk away and do what is needed.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.