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Trusting and Standing Up for Yourself with Deeanna Fleener and Stellar Women

Mary Rechtoris

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Deeanna Fleener joined Mila and I on Stellar Women to talk about a recent project where she took a stand. After other project participants continually talked over her, she decided to take herself off the call. From there, she strategized on how she could participant in a way that felt right for her.

Check out this episode to learn about the importance of trusting yourself and knowing the value you bring to the table. It’s an essential skill for any professional—and it’s especially helpful in a remote environment, where body language can’t help you jump into a conversation like it would in a conference room.

Heena Bhambhlani

Deeanna Fleener

Vice President, Litigation Services


Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.

Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.

MR: Mila and I are excited to be sitting down with Deeanna Fleener.  

MT: Welcome, Deeanna.

Deeanna Fleener: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

MR: Excited to have you. I think what we shall do is jump into our new section “Highlight of the Week.” Because it is only early in the week, we can also share highlights of our weekends or things we're looking forward to. Mila, why don't you go first?

MT: This week I'm actually very lucky to be working from Aspen, Colorado. I have been to Colorado before with my family like 20 years ago. Now, we're here and it's beautiful. We did some hikes over the weekend, and we brought the dog. I think he had the best day of his whole life. So, it’s been a good week.

MR: Good. Tell us, Deeanna. What about you?

DF: My highlight so far this week, and I'm hoping it'll be a highlight since it hasn't happened yet, but I'm trying to become more involved in my local community by doing some more volunteer stuff. Tonight is my first meeting as we're planning a gala event for one of the local charities, Broward Center of the Arts. Tonight's our first planning meeting to plan the gala, and I just love saying the word gala. I'm really excited about that.

MR: I would do anything to attend a gala just because it sounds so boujee.

DF: Exactly. I can't wait to see what people wear.

MT: That's the best bit.

MR: I'll wrap us up here. My highlight is that one of my best friends is getting married in February. We had her bachelorette party in New York. It was just fun to celebrate her, see some old friends, and relax. Before we dive into Qs, I do just want to share for our listeners that if you haven't done so, we really encourage you to join our LinkedIn group. That's where we actually met Deeanna and learned about her story that she's going to talk about today. It's just a really great place to meet you all and get to connect in a different forum. It's called “Stellar Women” and it's on LinkedIn if you're into joining.

MT: It's fun every time that I go in and see the member count ticking up. It's cool. Keep joining everybody.

DF: The Stellar Women group on LinkedIn is awesome. I felt really honored to be invited to be part of it. The women that are in there are awesome. There are men in there too. It's a great group and I love our Friday celebrations of wins for the week. Thanks for doing it.

MR: Yay! Thank you.

MT: Before we jump into questions, Deeanna, do you want to give a little bit of an intro about yourself?

DF: Sure. Absolutely. I have been in the crazy discovery world since before there was an “e” in front of it. It dates back probably eight years at this point to being a business professional in Washington, D.C. Walking around in the full heat in August in D.C. isn't for the faint of heart. I had worked in litigation support in law firms for a long time. I'm a total self-proclaimed computer and technology geek, and I love to see the new changes that are happening in electronic discovery and technology. It's been fun.

MT: Cool. Thanks for sharing that. Mary and I chatted to you before this call and got to know you a little bit better. Your story just resonated with and inspired us, so I'm going to jump right into that if that's okay.

DF: Certainly.

MT: When we chatted, you told us about a time you recently took yourself out of a project. Can you share with our listeners why you might have done that?

DF: Absolutely. I volunteer for everything. It's probably one of the things that isn't great about me, but I also love it. I had volunteered to help with a project in the industry with a large group, and we had our kickoff call for the project. We each gave our introduction with our background, experience, why we were there, and what we could do to help the project along. Then, we dove into really trying to get to the details and drive how we wanted to steer the project. It was a Zoom call—we were on video. I tried a couple times to say something to give my feedback and to dive in. Each time that I started to speak, someone would start speaking over me. It was one of the same few people each time. It was very frustrating. I tried raising your hand in Zoom. I tried waiting for someone to finish. I tried everything I could. After the sixth time of me starting to speak and being spoken over by one of the same two people, I left the meeting. When I first hung up from the Zoom meeting, I had this initial panic wave that washed over me that was like, “Oh my gosh, what did I just do?” But then I had this moment of clarity where I realized that it was a pivotal moment for me. I don't have to sit around and be spoken over. What I was trying to say was valuable, and my experience on the project was valuable. I'm at the point in my life and in my career where if other people aren't willing to see that value, I don't have to waste my time with them. It was a very pivotal and awakening moment for me.

MR: I also am someone that tends to volunteer for everything, which is great that you get to meet different people and have different life experiences. But it also it can expend your energy in a lot of ways. If you're in that [position] where you're volunteering, giving your time, and then someone’s talking over or not really listening to you, you’re like, “Why am I doing this extracurricular, if you will, that I don’t necessarily need to do?” 

DF: Exactly. And I knew that that would be how the entire project went, right? That wasn't going to be a unique experience—the kickoff call. If I couldn't speak on the kickoff call, then I wouldn’t been able to speak on any of the subsequent calls. When would my input have been valued on anything after that initial kickoff call?

MT: I was going to say that I think it's cool to even bring this up because the way we got introduced to you was through a workshop about knowing and articulating your value. That's such a good example of knowing your value. It can take time to get there. Early in your career, you are like “I need to be on every project. I have to do this, this, and this.” But ultimately you get to a point when you're like “No. I know that I'm adding a lot of value to this project, and I was put on this project for a reason.” Being able to articulate that and say, “this isn't going to work for me,” is such a great example of knowing your value and articulating it.

MR: It's different too, personally, and professionally. Personally, we might be more likely to do that if we're in a friendship that doesn't serve us or something like that. But professionally, you're like, “I'm a team player. I want to show that I’m invested [in your team].” But at some point, you must remove yourself. Did you try some tactics to be heard or change the situation?  

DF: I had my typical Deeanna guilt after I dropped off [the call]. I went through my panic and then I went through a pat on the back moment. And then I was like, “Well, I was really interested in this so I'm not going to let these people prevent me from actually working on something I'm interested in.” So, I went to someone else that was in the project and we brainstormed on different ways and different paths that we could all provide input. Each of us [in that group has a] different area of expertise or are coming at it from a different angle. That [diversity] isn’t going to do anything but help the project, so we're going to continue to move forward with it. I'm going to continue to put my my spin on it. For me personally, I feel as though it's still a win because I am getting it out there. I am participating in something that I want to participate with. I'm not letting myself be, you know, “bullied” out of doing it, but I can do it in a way that doesn't require necessarily one-on-one or multiple group interactions with the people that don't feel that value.

MR: That's awesome. What advice do you have for listeners who might be in a similar predicament, whether they're more junior in their career and they might not have the same experience to be able to say no or really know how to move forward? What would you say?

DF: I would always say that the most important thing in business and in life is listening to your gut. If you're sitting in a meeting, regardless of where you're at in your career—if it's your first meeting or one thousandth meeting—if something isn't sitting right with you or something someone says makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, listen to it. That doesn't necessarily mean that you have the power to change anything that's going on with that person, but for you, you have that power. In this situation, I knew that I had a value and worth for this project. Am I okay with being treated this way? That is something that I ask myself, and I wasn't okay with being treated that way in that meeting. But at the same time, like I said, I wanted to still participate, so I changed my spin and the way that I was going to be treated within this project to—can I get something positive out of this situation? Yes, absolutely I can by still participating. And you know what? Maybe I'm going to change these people's minds. Maybe I won't. But that's on them. That's not on me. And I think that's something that's important for men and women that are new to the industry or a job that they sit back, and they say, “Okay, I was hired here for a reason. I'm here to do a job. I'm trusted by these people to do this job, and I have that power to succeed.”

MR: I was reading something that said you can't control people's perceptions or reactions to you. As a professional, you're very much concerned with how you're being perceived. Am I articulating that in a way that someone understood well and knew my intention? But you can only do what you feel good about and you feel confident in. Everybody else will react how they want to. You can't control that. I think that's a great point. Looking forward in your career or working with this team or other teams, what do you think you learned? What are you going to do differently moving forward, if anything?

DF: It sounds so clichéd, but I think I learned to better trust myself and better trust my confidence. I certainly don't know everything. I would never admit to knowing everything. I learn something new every day, which is a big part of my interest in being on projects like this one and others because I know I'm going to learn something. People might learn from me, but I'm going to learn from them as well. Why do anything if you already know everything? That’s not fun, right? For me, I think that being a people pleaser all my life, it's having that confidence to hang up that phone when it didn't feel good and I wasn't getting respect. It wasn't a good situation. I think having that confidence is something that will stick with me hopefully from this experience and going forward.

MT: I can relate, and I know Mary can as well. We've spoken about people pleasing, especially in the workplace. And I feel like when you do these exercises, you're flexing that muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. You do it one time and you see that this is for me, or this isn't working for me. When speaking up for yourself, the world doesn't end, and you don't get fired. In fact, people are impressed by you, and they say, “Okay, good. I'm glad that you did this.” Then you get a little bit more confident every time. For people listening, just try it one time, even if it's something small. If something doesn't sit right with you, pull someone aside. If it's your boss or someone else say, “Hey, I just want to let you know that this didn't sit right with me for whatever reason.” People respect it.

DF: Exactly. Nobody's going to stick up for you. You must stick up for yourself. That's something I know for me personally. When I was a younger female working in a very male-dominated industry—legal and legal tech—it was harder for me to speak up and have those conversations. But they get easier every time.

MT: We speak a lot about women being advocates for other women, which is obviously extremely important. And we look to other women in these types of meetings to say like, “Oh, hey, Mary was actually talking.” We lean on each other, and that's great. But there's also power in being able to do that for yourself.

MR: Deeanna, what's one thing you're looking forward to? What's next for you? What's coming up?

DF: After the gala, and again I love that word, so I have to say it again … There's a lot of cool stuff happening workwise and personal-wise. I'm looking forward to the project that we spoke about a getting off the ground and moving forward with that. A lot of fun stuff going on.

MR: And with that for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.

MT: And I’m Mila Taylor.

Both: Signing off.

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Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.