Better Way Forward asked Ann Bruder, Chief Legal, Development & Administrative Officer for Blucora, Inc. for her thoughts on empowerment in honor of Women's History Month. We defined empowered as, not being afraid to speak up for what you believe in and what is right, to get where you are today. How does that impact the women around you and your career today? The audience is our entire community but if it could be written as if you were talking to a group of young women in middle and high school who are just figuring out who they are. With sincere thanks, we are proud to present a letter of empowerment from Ann:
To the young ladies of Clear Creek Amana School District-
My name is Ann Bruder, and I am the Chief Legal, Development & Administrative Officer for Blucora, Inc. I am honored to contribute to the Better Way Forward newsletter in celebration of Women’s History Month. You all are a part of a fantastic organization leading change in your community and you should take great pride in your involvement in Better Way Forward!
I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on the importance of empowering each other and speaking up for what you believe in.
Celebrating Women’s History Month
The evolution of Women’s History Month over the past few years has been incredible. This month is a time where we pause and salute the women leaders, innovators and changemakers of the world.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #ChooseToChallenge, has been one of the most impactful campaigns of solidarity around the world. We should all challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes and help forge a more inclusive world – not just this month, but every single day.
Finding your voice
To help drive inclusivity and change, you have to speak up for what you believe in and what you believe is right. While that can be intimidating and nerve-wracking, the more you speak up for what is right, the greater your courage will grow and the more you will inspire others to do the same.
My grandmother homesteaded Wyoming – riding a horse to the school at which she was a teacher until the family ultimately bought a car. As her children grew, she became frustrated that the local church had only a visiting priest. After repeatedly asking the traveling priest what would be needed for the diocese to post a permanent priest, she became frustrated with being told to wait her turn. One day, her patience at an end, she drove some 90 miles to the location of the Bishop of the Diocese and insisted that he meet with her to discuss posting a permanent priest. It took some determination, but a few months later, after she convinced the town to build a residence for the priest, our small town had a permanent priest. To achieve her goal, she had to convince two groups of men, the Diocese and the town, to provide elements needed to achieve her goals.
At a time when women had only had the right to vote for about a dozen years, she boldly took charge of a situation and resolved it to the benefit of her town. When I have days where I think I have a tough situation to deal with, I think about her life experiences and it helps put my day into perspective.
Finding a mentor
This year alone, we have witnessed so many “firsts” where women are leading the way in politics, major league sports and businesses. One of the most important things I can encourage you to do throughout your education and career is to find a mentor every step of the way. I have been very lucky to have good mentors in my life and career. In identifying a mentor, I encourage you to find someone who has achieved what you want to accomplish and seek out their advice – regardless of their age, gender, race or other characteristics. You might find it surprising, but I have actually had more male mentors than female, given the industries in which I have worked. Also, not all of my mentors have been older than I am.
Also look for ‘life’ mentors, those people who can help guide your life choices. Often these are people who HAVE traveled life’s path ahead of, and longer, than you have.
Focus on the big stuff
I have a 19-year-old daughter and advising her as she navigates this very complex, social media laden world of high school to college and in the midst of a pandemic has led to some very interesting discussions. One thing I regularly encourage her to do is ‘focus on the big stuff’. It can be hard to ignore the distraction of social media influences to focus on studies and her sport. The pressure on the teens of today is unlike anything I experienced at your age, and I am often amazed at how your generation weathers what is sometimes a blizzard of social media.
When you are experiencing a barrage of negative social media, try turning your phone off for an hour and taking a walk to talking (face to face) with someone you love. Try shutting down the social media apps when studying for a critical test, like the ACT or SAT. It's ok to shut off the stream of texts, chats and posts every now and then. My daughter gives me the same advice, by the way, about my endless stream of work emails!
Be your own promoter!
As women, we are generally described as nice, compassionate, and empathetic – all of which are fantastic qualities. Growing up, we are rewarded for being ‘good girls. However, don’t forget that women can also be assertive and competitive and most importantly: leaders. And in exhibiting any of these traits, we are in no way removing ourselves from the realm of ‘good girls.’
I have seen it time and time again in my career where women don’t negotiate for themselves for fear of being perceived negatively. It is important to keep top of mind that no one will ever care more about your school career or work career than you do! So, if you don’t advocate for yourself, who will?
One piece of advice that I give young women in pursuing their goals is – always ask for what you want and need. If you are applying for college and need references – ask! If you are interviewing for a job – ask what the pay and benefits are with as much seriousness as you ask what the role is and what qualifications are needed in the role. At your annual performance rating, go in armed with a list of the year’s accomplishments and a number in mind to ask for in your raise and bonus…and then ask!
Find your passion
It’s never too early (or too late) to find your passion. Whether it’s art, science, sports or technology, you have to be willing to work towards your passion and to take risks to achieve it. Maybe you’ll succeed and make a career out of a hobby, or maybe you’ll be terrible at it – and that’s okay, too. But you’ll never know if you don’t give it a shot.
Advice to my younger self
If I could turn back the clock and give my younger self advice, I would say trust your instincts and pay no heed to the voices around you who are telling you that you are too young or too inexperienced, or to female, or too anything to achieve your goals – even in male dominated fields.
There will always be plenty of people willing to give you advice on why you cannot achieve your goals. Instead of letting those voices talk you into shooting for a lesser goal, seek out those voices who will tell you what you need to do, learn, or experience in order to reach your goals. And always keep someone in your corner that believes that you are capable of more than you believe you are capable of – it is that person to whom you will turn when you have one of those inevitable bad days.
While I will continue to do my best to empower women and minorities and to effect change within my own organization and community, it is up to you to forge your own path. I have no doubt that with the help of your community and groups like A Better Way Forward, you will make a significant impact in the world.
About Ann Bruder
Ann Bruder previously served as the Vice President, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary at Airlines Reporting Corporation, or ARC, which is a leading provider of data, products and services to the travel industry, from 2015 through 2017.
She served as the President of Global Strategic Services, LLC, a boutique strategic advisory firm, from 2014 through 2015. Prior to that, Ann was employed by Commercial Metals Company (“CMC”), a publicly traded global company with sales and operations in more than 40 countries, from 2007 through 2013. At CMC, she served as the Senior Vice President of Law, Government Affairs and Global Compliance, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary from 2009 through 2013 and the Deputy General Counsel from 2007 through 2009.
Earlier in her career, Ann served in various legal roles at CARBO Ceramics Inc., American Airlines, Inc., Continental Airlines, Inc. and the law firm of Thompson Coburn LLP. She has a Juris Doctorate degree from Washington University and Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Public Relations with a minor in Economics from the University of Wyoming.