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Q&A with executive coach Katie Wiesel

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s wonderful to highlight the accomplishments of so many women, but it’s also important to take a moment to think about how we continue to support women in the workplace.

Headshot of Katie Wiesel
Katie Wiesel

Mary Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn BID, sat down with Katie Wiesel, leadership expert and executive coach, for a Q&A with tips, insights, and more on career progression for women.

Katie has extensive training and development experience, including positions at Wharton Executive Education, Georgetown University, and most recently UVA Darden. Currently, Katie runs her own practice, KHW Coaching and Consulting, where she helps high performers find the confidence and courage to discover what's possible in their leadership and their lives.

Mary-Claire Burick: Various stages in a woman's career require different skills, training, and support, and we know it’s important to especially support young women in the early stages of their careers. What do you think is most essential at this stage?

Katie Wiesel: As young women enter the workforce, it’s so important for them to be confident in their skills, find their voice, advocate for themselves, and be open to feedback. This is the time to find mentors, allies, and sponsors who can guide and support you in your professional growth. When you’re first starting out, it’s hard to believe that YOU are in charge of your career path, because it often feels like life is happening to you. But, if you figure out what’s most important to you and surround yourself with a support system, you can gain ownership over your career choices.

This is also the time to build your acumen in the “soft skills,” which are actually the hardest skills! – communication skills, presence, resilience – because they will serve you throughout your career, no matter your function, role or industry.

MCB: I dislike the term “soft skills,” because it tends to bring gender bias to the table, and skills like communication are essential, yet aren’t often taught in undergrad, particularly from the lens of a woman entering the workforce. Why are mastering these skills so crucial in early career development?

KW: In my experience as an executive coach, communication continues to be one of the topics that women (and men for that matter) struggle with at every stage of their careers. With the oldest members of Gen Z hitting 27 years old this year, we now have five generations of the workforce working together, often in hybrid work environments. People have different personalities, different values, different agendas, and different locations!

It’s critical to communicate effectively – using the right medium, the proper tone, the appropriate level of detail – to get your point across. Young women can set themselves apart by communicating clearly, with confidence and conviction. Understand the cultural communication norms at your organization, figure out how your manager and colleagues like to communicate, ask lots of questions to avoid misunderstandings.

MCB: We know that finding a mentor or sponsor can help advance and build a career. What is your experience with that, and what tips do you have for someone seeking a mentor?

KW: Throughout my career I have had the great fortune of one fabulous female boss after another. Each one of them trusted me with more than I thought I could handle, and helped me grow, stretch, and challenge myself. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to go looking for these wonderful mentors and sponsors – but not everyone is so lucky. My advice is to take an active role finding a variety of mentors – different people teach you different things.

If there isn’t an obvious choice at your work, start asking colleagues inside and outside the organization to help you find someone to learn from. In my experience, more senior women in every industry are more than happy to help the next generation thrive. That said – everyone is so busy these days, so it’s in your best interest not to wait for someone to find you.

MCB: What advice do you offer mid-career clients seeking to “level up” and advance their professional growth?

KW: As with any transition, mid-career women need to understand the behaviors and mindsets necessary to succeed at the next level. They should seek out honest feedback about their current performance and take steps to close any gaps in skills and knowledge they’ll need to thrive in a more senior position.

That’s the easy part. Much more difficult is the change in mindset they’ll need to adopt in a different role. In most organizations, people usually get promoted because they’re great at their current role. The next level up likely requires them to lead through other people and shift from tactical to strategic thinking, so the skillsets and mindsets are very different. That’s often a hard adjustment to make.

MCB: Transitioning to a senior or executive leadership role can be full of new opportunities, but also comes with challenges, as you learn to manage multiple priorities and balance diverse stakeholders, all while being strategic and driving change. What advice do you have for women entering this phase of their careers, as you may find fewer female colleagues at the top levels in some industries?

KW: Diverse leadership teams make better decisions, so women should embrace their different perspectives and experiences and lead with authenticity. Many women report struggling with imposter syndrome as they enter the executive ranks. While this is normal, it can be very uncomfortable and at times, dispiriting. This is a time when an executive coach can be most helpful to serve as a sounding board, thought partner, and accountability partner as you approach this transition and learn to lead at more senior levels.

MCB: As women think about elevating within their executive roles, many consider how to grow and share their leadership acumen and re-enter “learning mode.” Any recommendations on resources to help women refine their skills?

KW: UVA Darden has two outstanding programs that can deliver just the right dose of horizontal development (skill-building) and vertical growth (perspective-building) at the right times. For mid-level women entering more senior roles, the Women in Leadership Program is a must. The program helps women build on their strengths, tackle complex negotiations, and drive change in their organizations.

Another outstanding offering is Darden’s advanced management program for senior executives on the path to the C-Suite. The Executive Program is a comprehensive executive development experience to helps the most senior executives – both women and men – lead with purpose, develop agile strategies, and execute on their vision. I can’t recommend these programs highly enough, and I speak from experience – I used to be the program director for both!

MCB: In addition to what you’ve mentioned, I’d also advocate for consideration of additional training specific to board service if that is a track you are interested in. The National Association of Corporate Directors, one of our new corporate headquarters here in Rosslyn, has some great programs. The Leadership Foundry is another terrific program that specifically helps prepare women for corporate board service.

KW: Those programs have outstanding reputations – I know several people who have benefited from their board-specific offerings. Board service is one of the best ways for women to give back to their communities by sharing their expertise and unique perspectives AND build new skills, which is highly desired but difficult to find as a senior executive. Board service is a fantastic way to consolidate and deepen your knowledge of business acumen, since boards typically bring together diverse experts from a variety of corporate functions.

MCB: What do you see as the top issues women face in the workplace?

KW: On the one hand, I am disheartened to read about persistent gender pay gaps, harassment, and discrimination that women continue to face in the workplace. And beyond external issues, we see many women who are experiencing imposter syndrome, where their own inner voice or critic creates feelings of inadequacy. All these issues continue to be real challenges.

In my coaching practice, women come to me to become the most effective version of themselves so they can get promoted or design their optimal work/life balance. They’re looking to increase their confidence, manage stakeholders, set boundaries, and improve executive presence.

Despite the challenges women still face, I am inspired every day by the women in our community who are not only thriving in their own senior leadership roles, but they are also making it a priority to support the women around them, and light the way for the next generation of female leaders.

To learn more about Katie and her services, visit

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