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Emma B-F and Being Your Own Kind of Leader with Stellar Women

Blair Cohen

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Editor’s Note: It’s a new era for Stellar Women as Mary Rechtoris and Mila Taylor have moved on to new opportunities outside of Relativity. However, they’ve left some episodes of our beloved podcast in the vault for us. The energetic and delightful Blair Cohen—who you may recognize from Relativity programming like Relativity Fest—will share these in the coming weeks and months as she begins to take the helm as our new host.

In this episode of Stellar Women, we sit down with leadership coach Emma B-F. She demystifies what it takes to be a senior leader, helps us define our leadership styles, and offers insights on how to shut down the voice in your head that tells you to worry.

Emma B-F

Emma B-F

Speaker & Leadership Coach

Emma B-F Consulting


Mila Taylor: Emma, we are so excited to have you with us today. We were just chatting before this about how we have so much to get through in not such a long amount of time, so I'm going to jump right in. Could you share with us your story and what's been your journey to becoming a leadership coach?

Emma B-F: My name is Emma B-F. I have a very long last name. It's Bloksberg-Fireovid, so I've been known most of my life as B-F, so you can roll with that. Mila, as you mentioned, I'm a leadership coach. Five years ago, I didn't even know that leadership coaches existed. It was something I wish I had at the time because I was in a senior leadership role at an organization that I worked with, and I was the only woman. I was junior by about 20 years. I'll never forget this one meeting that I went to. There was this room. It was back in the day when we were in person, and we had those elusive boardroom doors that close when a senior leadership meeting happens. When you're outside those doors, I remember thinking, “What goes on the other side of those doors?” I see you both nodding.

Mary Rechtoris: Mila and I haven't been privy to those doors yet, so we'll have to see.

EBF: This is one of the big questions out there, especially for women who want to step into leadership. What happens beyond those doors? I remember that the first time I was on the other side of those doors, I was wearing this power black blazer. I was like, “Here I am. I am in a senior leadership role. I'm going on the other side.” I went in being like, “This is the room where it happens—almost like that song from Hamilton.” I wanted to be in the room where it happened, and I was like, “This is the room where strategy happens. This is the room where big-impact decisions happen. This is the room where we really take our power and use it for good.” And I stepped into that meeting, and little did I know that we would spend the entire time color coding a project tracker for our CEO's priorities. I remember thinking, “What the heck is this?” This is the seat that I've been wanting to be in for my whole career. This seat is something that we are told that you need decades of experience before you can be in this leadership chair, or you need to wear a black blazer, come in hot, and show up in a way that gifts the powers that be who can open the door for you. In that moment, I thought, “Oh my gosh. It's like I've stepped into The Wizard of Oz. We've pulled down this big curtain about what Oz is and what leadership is. It’s like a tiny man here with a fragile ego trying to keep the smoke and mirrors going.” That really started my own journey of understanding and demystifying what it takes to be in leadership. And more importantly, I want to empower other people who don't necessarily look like what we consider a leader to be, which is usually a white male in a dark suit. [It’s about] empowering those people to say, “You know what? You can do this, too. And most importantly, you can learn to do it your own way.”

MR: That's awesome. Do you still have the blazer?

EBF: I do, but I have not worn it in years. I'm so much more comfortable now in more comfortable clothing. I can wear more colorful clothing; I have no problem almost wearing hiking gear into a powerful meeting.

MR: You’ve got to be comfortable. It's really about that. I'm in joggers right now and I feel great. So, five years ago, you had this epiphany, if you will. Then two years ago, you started your business. Is that correct that’s when you launched officially?

EBF: Yeah, just actually a year ago, I launched my business during the pandemic to do leadership and coaching for women in tech. I left my full-time technology consulting role in November 2020.

MR: What was that like? I imagine the thought process of going out on your own, and maybe that started in that room when you were thinking about it. Then, the pandemic hit. It could have been easy to be like, “Well, let me stick with what I know versus going out on my own at such an uncertain time.” How did you do it? Tell us your thought process and how you moved forward with that.

EBF: I feel like I was stuck with those two voices on either side of my head. There was that one sound voice of fear, and it was mostly, God love her, my mother's voice being like, “So you're not going to have health insurance? You're going to do this during a pandemic?”

MR: Mmhmm.

EBF: And with other people in my life, I had a mentor who I love dearly. He told me that he didn't think I had the swagger to start my own business. That is hilarious to me because I'm a hip hop dancer. I have a lot of swagger. So, there were those voices on the one side. On the other side, I had this clear vision that had been growing in me for the last few years of working with women in tech because I am and was a woman in tech. I've seen women give themselves permission to show up in a different way in the workplace when they understood these core leadership skills—how to have executive presence and have courageous conversations. At the end of the day, that vision was bigger and more important to me than these fears. But it wasn't a fearless choice; oh my gosh, I have never cried so much out of fear before deciding to leave my job, and I had a huge support system with me to make it happen.

MR: Awesome, and you're killing it.

EBF: Definitely, my clients are killing it. It’s wild.

MR: So being a woman in tech and now working with women in tech, there are obviously a lot of challenges that could be contingent on people's individual career path or what have you. But what's a universal challenge that you see women in tech facing? What’s the number one, if you had to pick?

EBF: Feeling like they have to show up a certain way to garner respect, authority, and influence. The problem is really crushing confidence in the workplace. I talk with women from all backgrounds, educations, and socioeconomics. It’s the same thing. I feel like if I don't show up in a loud, aggressive, or in a male-centered way, then I'm not going to be heard. I'm not going to be understood and I'm not going to get what I want, whether that's a promotion, more money, more influence, more visibility, or honestly, more inner peace or knowing who they really are. We know it's not just women. It's people of color, marginalized groups, and anybody who has felt like they cannot accept themselves or be accepted by people in positions of power or company cultures who are saying you have to show up differently. This is the issue of our time, especially for companies who are focused and committed to retention and development. It's this opportunity for individuals like you to say, “Even though it may not feel like it, I have a choice of how I show up in the workplace.”

MT: That resonates with me really hard, and I’ve been nodding the whole time while you were talking. This leads me to my next question. So, let's say, you know, everyone is true to themselves, and they work up the ranks and they find themselves in this position of leadership. How does someone know what their leadership style is? Is it an extension of strengths? Is it a working style? How would you define that if someone's found themselves in this new position of leadership? Like, what is my style?

EBF: I love that, and not enough people are asking that question. For me, the way that I coach and train on leadership style is a values-based approach. How do you know what your core three values are? These values are actually, as you're saying, sourced from your strengths. What I help people do is identify key moments in their life where they felt on fire, or you feel like you are yourself. Have either of you experienced that like, “Yes, I am 100 percent me?”

MR: Mmhmm.

EBF: It's in that moment that we can unpack and distill your core ways of being when you were in that moment. Then, those are your values. I've been in conversations where it takes hours or days trying to understand our values or leadership style. It's a super complex process, but I believe in simple and actionable approaches. Think about that moment and bring your body back into that moment. It's like looking at a picture or listening to a video from that day. Remember that and identify those core feelings. With the women I work with, they'll come up with some values—empathy, excitement, love, badassery. If you take a values-based approach to defining your leadership style, then the core values begin to show up in your thoughts, actions, beliefs, and how you show up in every room.

MR: It may be silly or trivial, but I just need to have fun. And I think when I have fun, I do good work. I'm a good fiancée. I'm a good dog mom. That's just how I would describe myself. I need to have fun or I'm not happy and not productive. So that's something I've realized that's a value of mine, and it doesn't sound as polished as “I value time management,” which is actually something I value.

EBF: Who says that isn’t fun?

MR: Yeah, I'm really big on deadlines. My thing is that, you know, it's almost like you do have this epiphany.

MT: Fun is my number one, too. My best friends, my fiancé, and the people I'm closest to are the people that I have the most fun with.

MR: I'll be in meetings, and if there's someone new who joins … First of all, people are joining in virtual environments which already feels isolating. People would be like, “I’m blah blah blah.” And I'm like, “Do you watch Bravo? Have you seen Summerhouse?” And people kind of look at me like, “What?” I'm like, “Let's get to know this person for five seconds.” I think Mila and I are the same. We both also watch Bravo, and I know our listeners are probably sick of hearing about it. This podcast, it's not about Bravo. It’s just keeping it personable. And if you're laughing throughout the day, you're not counting down the minutes until the clock [strikes five].

EBF: I'm sure that your listeners can even hear the change in your voices. I heard it when you started talking about what fun means to you and how you're infusing it in the workplace. I mean, back to your question, what's my leadership style? It's nothing external. It's all internal. It's like, what lights me up? Because when you are in that energy, I could plop you into a room with executives from all different companies. And if you show up in that fun energy, guess what? They're going to see you as a fun leader. You know, I've had women who go through my group leadership coaching program, “Rise Up.” With one woman in particular, we went through this values exercise, and she realized that she had this value of connection. It was missing in her culture. She ended up bringing that concern to her leadership team and letting them know that she saw a gap where there was a lack of connection. Leadership was so thankful that she brought up that feedback and they ended up creating different spaces for people to simply connect.

MR: I love that.

EBF: She advocated for the value that she wanted to see in the company, and the space was created based on her doing that.

MR: Sometimes, you just have to realize that you internalize things, or you think that everybody has the same experience or whatever. But people are busy. It's kind of like advocating for your own work in that no one is wondering “What did Mary do today? Let me go and analyze her emails and see if she's doing well.” You have to speak up for yourself. If there is a value that you want that you might not be getting, maybe it is asking for it. Maybe they'll be amenable to it, maybe not. But I think that's a great point, to speak out. Recognizing what you want, and need, is a great step, and then you can assess whether or not that is actually coming to fruition.

EBF: One hundred percent.

MR: Emma, we love chatting with you. I hope we can continue that conversation. Thanks for joining us on the Stellar Women podcast.

EBF: Thank you so much. It was awesome being here. If any your listeners want to connect more, you can find me on social media or check out my group coaching program, Rise Up.

MR: We’ll link that in our show notes so you guys can definitely check it out. And for Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.

MT: And I'm Mila Taylor.

Both: Signing off.

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Blair Cohen is a brand program manager at Relativity, representing the company with enthusiasm, authenticity, and her flair for humor. When she isn't shining a light on women in tech via Stellar Women or cracking jokes on the main stage at Relativity Fest, you can find her running around Chicago finding the best places to eat with her dog, Goose.