December 25, 2015
Local business leader Grace Killelea has spent much of her career coaching and consulting for businesses and executives with her human-resources experience. With the founding of Half the Sky, a women's leadership program (not to be confused with the Half the Sky movement or foundation), Killelea has renewed her focus on helping women find their strengths at the office and beyond.
Now, Killelea is getting ready to release a new book called "The Confidence Effect." It features Killelea's tips for getting ahead and persevering through the mid-career roadblocks many women find themselves up against.
Here, Killelea discusses her secrets to killer confidence, what she does to kick back and relax and a powerful tribute to her mother.
From your perspective, what’s the biggest challenge women face in the workplace today?
I believe there are a number of important challenges in the workplace we all face. There are several key issues that affect most women. There are internal policies and practices that limit opportunities for some women -- most of these are old policies that create unconscious bias toward women. Limited family leave policies, and companies that have failed to provide more flexible scheduling are a few examples. Women continue to be the primary caregivers in most families, and that includes issues with not just child care but elder care. We are expected to work and caregive, and it is difficult to do so without flexibility. There are also challenges women face with their confidence. We are taught to work hard and be nice, and often, that “good girl” mentality doesn’t serve us. We don’t speak up for ourselves as much as we should.
When you’re having a bad day and you need to feel confident – like before a big meeting or speaking event – how do you pump yourself up?
Before speaking events I move around like a boxer. I stay very loose and keep moving; the physical movement helps me get ready. I talk to myself -- I say things like, “You’ve got this,” “Go get em”… I cheer myself on. The bigger issue for me is when it’s something outside my comfort zone. I am very comfortable in front of an audience, but if I’m put in a situation where I have some self-doubt, I make sure I look like I own the joint. I dress up, power up and make sure I’m full of energy.
What do you like most about your job as a business leader and motivator?
I love that I am making an impact on the lives of women leaders and now men leaders as well. I love seeing the lightbulb moment that helps a leader move from good to great or to watch someone rise to their best self. I get excited when someone says, “Because of you, I took a chance, or got the raise or stood my ground." Whenever I see someone find and own their power, I am so d--- happy.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to dance. For many years I emceed swing dance events around the country and was an amateur champion swing dancer. Since I don’t “look” like a dancer, it was always a kick to shatter the expectations of the crowd. I recently got married, and my husband Leonard and I are now taking ballroom dance classes together. I’m also a big theater buff. It’s great living in Philly and also having easy access to NYC.
If you could have dinner with anybody, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I wish I could have dinner again with my mom. She passed away when I was 24, and I miss her every day. She’s been gone 33 years, but she’s the reason I am the woman I am today. She immigrated here from Italy when I was 4 years old with a third-grade education. She taught me the power of connection, networks and what women can do when they help each other. Her name was Audemia Ozvaldo Killelea, but everyone called her Thea. I have more than 350 graduates from my women’s leadership program, and they are called Theas in my mom’s honor. She was funny, smart and kind, and that’s worth remembering.