Michele Salimbeni-Schnoll, Director, Product Portfolio, has been in the lighting industry for 11 years, with two of those years spent at Acuity Brands. We sat down with Michele to discuss the biggest challenges facing female leaders today, advice she has for other women, and why it’s important to have male allies.
How did you decide to work in Engineering and/or the Lighting Industry?
“I have spent my entire career in Product Management or leading Product Management teams. Nine of those years were in the electrical industry, specifically in wiring devices. I’ve always heard (about electrical) that once you get in the industry, you never get out. So, here I am! The customers/distributors are the same, the market is the same, but lighting products were relatively new to me when I joined Acuity Brands.”
What is the greatest challenge that you’ve conquered?
“I started my career almost 25 years ago in the hardware industry. Things were different then. It was a completely male-dominated industry and few women were in leadership positions. I had to learn to have thick skin, not take things personally, speak up when I had an opinion, and just do the job I was hired to do. And it was clear in many cases that I would need to ‘earn’ respect in my role beyond my skillset and so I did. Thankfully, times have changed.”
What is your advice for other women?
“Always be true to yourself! Do not change who you are to fit a mold of who you think others want you to be. If you do the job you are expected to do and do it well, you will be taken seriously in your role.”
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
“Personally, the person that had the most impact on my career is my mother. My mother worked second shift in a factory for most of the time I was growing up. She worked in a chrome plating factory that was filthy, unhealthy (breathing), and just plain awful. I made up my mind early on that I wanted more than that and that’s what drove me to go to college and then graduate school. Then I watched her quit that job and start her own business. Certainly she didn’t get rich in money, but she got rich in life as she was now her own boss and living a better life. Professionally, I’ve had several good mentors along the way that have given me the opportunity to learn and grown in my career.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
I believe every leader should always lead with integrity. In my mind, there is nothing more important than leading a team with integrity. Always do the right thing. You won’t always win, but you can look yourself in the mirror and others in the eye knowing you took the high road. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Always act with integrity, even when no one is looking!’
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing female leaders today?
I think one of the biggest challenges for women is they don’t believe in themselves enough. As I mentioned, I think times have changed for sure, but stereotypes remain, and many women don’t believe they can or should be in a leadership position. They can and should!
What is one mistake you witness female leaders making more frequently than others?
Unfortunately, I’ve seen women in leadership roles that are threatened by other strong and talented women. Thus, not cultivating nor mentoring that individual. In my mind, great leaders build and mentor great future leaders.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
First and foremost, be thankful for and responsible to the opportunity you’ve been given. Always act with integrity even when no one is looking. Help others along the way. Recognize when someone does a great job. And let those reporting to you get exposure to senior leadership when appropriate. This is not a threat to you, it’s a reflection of your strong leadership!
Why is it important to have male allies on your leadership journey?
I think it’s always good to have diversity in the workplace. We think differently and have different opinions or ways of doing things. And it’s always good to have someone, male or female, that you can trust, bounce ideas off, or blow-off steam with. I know I’ve had some great male allies along my way, and I’m grateful.
Michele, thank you for helping us Light the Way to a Brilliant, Productive, and Connected world!