Marisa Sharkey is the Co-Founder and President of Birdies, and has over 20 years of experience working with leading brands across the world. She currently advises early stage entrepreneurs pursuing their own passions and serves on the Board of Directors of Women’s Empowerment, an organization that supports homeless women in building skills for employment.
What is a quote you find meaningful and inspiring, and why?
I love this simple quote from Audrey Hepburn: “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, and one for helping others.” She was this very famous and successful actress, and I wouldn’t imagine someone as glamorous as her spending a lot of time thinking about how to help other people. But she’s also been quoted saying a lot of other things on this topic. She was someone who had her own success, but maybe wasn’t necessarily seen as a leader in a world. But in fact, I think she was!
Another reason I like this quote is how it relates to [my company] Birdies. We started it as an indoor slipper for bringing friends and family together—inviting people into your home, connecting in real life and kicking up your heels. We really come from that place—that concept of home and connection—so I love this quote that’s about helping and doing things for other people outside of your own self. It’s so simple, but it’s such a powerful, enlightening thing that I’ve always loved.
What do you personally gain from mentoring younger women?
I was once paired with a mentee who had similar work experience to me (earlier in my career). Initially, I thought I would understand right away where she was coming from and wouldn’t have much knowledge to gain, but I quickly realized I was wrong. Her perspective was completely different than my own, and our career paths weren’t nearly as parallel as I’d assumed.
So rather than just jumping into sharing what I know, I found myself really listening to what she had to say, and asking a lot of questions. So the whole experience was surprising for me, and it turned out to be really rewarding. I’m kind of a random person in her life, but I can offer a unique type of help: I don’t have any judgment, and I’m not worried about potential repercussions of her actions or decisions.
It was eye-opening for me to realize that I could be helpful to someone that I don’t have a personal connection with. I think it’s interesting just to gain the skills and confidence that allow you to really help anyone, by being a good listener, and not worrying so much about whether your backgrounds and experience are similar.
Why do you like being a leader?
I think this is a really interesting question. I’m sure there are some people who, when they’re in high school or college, say one of their goals is to be a leader at some point in their career. But I think that most people probably aspire to a functional role first (such as “I want to be an accountant” or “I want to be a doctor”), and that’s how I used to think of it. I remember waking up one morning, after I was relatively far along in my career and I had been doing well and experienced success, and I realized…I’d become a leader somewhere along the way! I was managing a team of people who were energetic, eager to please, and highly motivated. I thought, “Oh wait, they’re looking up to me and looking for guidance, and for professional development. I guess I’m a leader!” But I had never set out to be that, it just happened organically. I didn’t see that as my primary focus.
Once I had that moment, I realized I really loved being a a leader, because I really enjoyed helping people along their journey. I’ve been told that I can be a pretty tough manager and that I have high expectations, but I also really invest in people who want to learn more and are ready to take on more responsibilities. So it turns out that what I love most about my career now isn’t so much related to being a co-founder and COO, but getting to build a team that’s full of so much potential…and I get to be a catalyst for their growth and progression in their careers. That’s so exciting for me.
What advice would you give to a woman who is starting to serve as a (formal or informal) mentor?
It’s not about sharing my experience or suggesting a certain path for someone, or saying “here’s how you go about doing this.” For me, successful mentorship has been about asking questions, and getting to the root of what it is that the mentee wants to work on. I can help him or her by asking a lot of questions—not by sharing my life story. It’s about being a sounding board, and asking the hard questions…not being prescriptive.
Ceresa is a professional development platform focused on the mission of closing the women’s leadership gap. Our “Mentor Spotlight” series shares stories and insights from Ceresa mentors.