Evia Events was founded in 1993 as Tri-Digital by three entrepreneurs who recognized the growing demand for digital-media content in presentations and documents. Back then, the internet was still in its infancy and CD-ROMS were the digital-storage medium of choice.
In the years since its launch, Tri-Digital changed its name to Evia and evolved into a leading provider of digital-event and media-distribution services for some of the largest companies on the planet, including Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. Evia, based in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, also continues a family-business legacy, with Hilary Laney serving as the owner and chief executive officer since 2017. Laney started working in the business with her father, one of the company’s co-founders, some 15 years ago.
“As a woman-owned technology company, Evia occupies a unique space,” the company’s website states, “and believes it has an important role to play in changing the technology landscape to encourage gender diversity.” As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Laney shares some insights about the barriers faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
A good leader is honest about who they are. They show up every day as their most authentic self and encourage the same in others. An excellent leader makes decisions based on the good of those they are leading. Leadership isn’t about the leader. It is about understanding the needs of others and working to help them achieve. There are a lot of leaders in our world who operate based on the notion that others are there to support their goals.
Maybe this is due to many years of working hard to achieve a leadership role and once they reach that milestone in their career, they feel they are owed something. This form of leadership is what is getting us into trouble as a society. An individual should not pursue a leadership role if they are doing it for their own self-worth. It is a role someone should take on because they are passionate about improving the greater good and seeing other succeed.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
Owning her capabilities and fighting for recognition of those strengths. If we as women feel we should be treated as equals in the workplace, then we need to show up as equals. What I mean by this is, we need to make a conscious choice to walk into work (and all aspects of life really) every day with the mindset that “I can do anything I put my mind to,” and maintain that thinking throughout the day.
It’s the little things that make this possible.
- Making confident eye contact with every person you meet, despite their role in the business, their gender, their age.
- Shake every single person’s hand you meet with a good, firm, confident handshake while looking directly into the person’s eye. Do not hold back on this.
3.Come prepared to your performance reviews/discussions. Be confident in what you have accomplished, ask for what you know you deserve and aim high. If you shoot for the moon, you will land among the stars.
- Focus on the work! Do not get caught up in the office gossip or worrying about what others are thinking or doing. Just focus on the work, be honest in your performance and offer to take on more when you can.
- Brush off the naysayers. Believe in yourself, be clear about what you want and go for it! Nobody can create the life you want to lead except for yourself. So, put yourself out there and enjoy the journey.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
This is endless. I would not be the leader I am without the strong influence of so many women in my life. Here is the biggest lesson I can recall:
Life in my 20’s and 30’s was very hectic. It was always challenging to find time for myself, and I was feeling burnt out on a regular basis. I thought this was OK because it was what it took to be successful. What my incredible executive coach, Christina Maria Kimball, helped me understand was that if I was feeling this way, then so was everyone else who relied on me. Operating at this pace was making me less effective as a leader in my company, less effective as a mother, less effective as a partner in life and less effective as a friend.
Although it was great to identify the problem, finding a solution seemed impossible because it meant completely changing my mindset, my life habits, my schedule, my support system. I have spent the past year and a half working on this shift, with Christina’s support, by focusing more of my time on “designing” my time. Building and managing a schedule that allows time for all the things important to me, including time for simply thinking. The fact is, there are only a certain number of hours in a day and so you can only do so much. It’s about prioritizing what is important, allowing what is not to fall out of sight. Learn to say “No,” or at least, “Maybe later.”
I hear her [Christina’s] stories about how she could run multiple businesses, raising four children, and still have time for herself, and I am amazed she could do it. It seemed impossible. But now that is the number one question I get from people I talk to: How do you do it all? The answer is that I know what I want out of life, I prioritize the things that get me there, I make time for each of them, and then I follow through.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
Start building your community of supporters now. I have found that surrounding myself with people I trust, who trust me, who are talented, smarter than me, look at life differently than me, and who are forward-thinking has been the most valuable asset I could have. Having this network of people, you can count on in times of success and failure is what will help you continue moving forward. And you do not have to be a “social” person to do this. It isn’t about that. It’s about knowing where your weaknesses are and connecting with people who can help you work through them.
Life goes fast, but it is long, and so you just never know when you might need help from that person you met at a friend’s wedding last year because he happens to be an expert in building teams. If you are surrounded by a diverse group of people with varying backgrounds that you trust have your best interest in mind, then you cannot go wrong.
How important is networking, and how do you expand your contacts?
Critical. I spend at least five hours a week on making new connections and fostering current ones. To do this, I schedule lunches, coffees, happy hours (not as many as I used to because I have kids), and video-conference calls. I do this with people who build me up, have a passion for learning and who I know are focused on doing good in this world. I do not make time for pessimistic mindsets, naysayers, or people who gossip/talk negatively about others. I am all about moving forward, getting things done, and making a difference in a positive way. To do all of this, I need the involvement of others who are just as motivated as me.
Meeting new people can be challenging, but I have learned over the years it is better to put yourself out there because everyone has a story and something you can learn from them. I find the best way is to ask my current contacts to introduce me to people because I prefer the one-on-one setting more, but obviously attending networking events is a great way to connect with others.
One piece of advice when building your network: Listen more than you talk, and you will gain more in the long-run.
What would you do differently in your career?
This question is difficult to answer. Not because I feel I have done everything right, but because it is my mistakes and failures that have gotten me where I am today.
If I were to do anything differently, it would be standing up for myself more during the purchase of my company. I allowed others in the situation to drive the overall goals because I felt they had more experience than me. I neglected my ability to problem-solve, negotiate and stand up for what I wanted, which impacted the journey. I do not know that there would have been a different result, but at least I could look back and feel confident I said everything I wanted to say and made sure they heard me.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
Exploring the outdoors with my family or preparing a good meal with my husband, drinking a glass of wine, kids playing in the background, anticipating the arrival of our guests.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“Work-Life Balance? No, Its ALL Life!”
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.