An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Act The Part: Men, due to their confidence, walk around the office like they own the place. Their heads up, chest out. Women on the other hand, tend to be shrinking violets, heads down, shoulders crouched. This body language demonstrates a lack of confidence and people will treat you accordingly.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Pattie Ehsaei.
Known as the “The Duchess of Decorum” by her 960,000+ followers, Pattie Ehsaei (@duchessofdecorum TikTok ), has established herself as the expert of “P’s and Q’s.” Pattie’s TikTok teachings on social and workplace etiquette and financial literacy have over 6.1 MILLION likes — answering questions such as “How do I make and keep a budget?” “What is this little fork for?” “How do I ask for a raise?” “How can I be financially smart in a relationship?” These are the type of questions that Pattie provides real and honest answers to, that keep her fans begging for more. A lawyer by trade and currently a Senior Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions lending for a major national bank, Pattie is the perfect example of “tough but fair” and believes that success comes from information and empowerment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in Iran and immigrated to the US at the onset of the Iranian revolution. We first moved to Beaumont, TX where our only US based family member resided. I didn’t speak a word of English and had a very difficult time assimilating. Not only was the culture extremely different, but no one looked or sounded like me and my parents. Due to the language barrier, my parents had difficulty finding work and thus, we struggled with our finances.
Out of necessity, I started working at the age of 10, going door to door in our apartment complex, collecting residents’ trash and hoping for a quarter. That is when I first experience the gratification of earning your own money and financial independence, which has been the driver of my success.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I started out as a criminal prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago. As a person of Iranian descent, the expectation is to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a disappointment. Fortunately, I was always very interested in the law and I decided to take that path. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I was set to work at a bankruptcy firm. Prior to starting, I accompanied a friend to a job fair where I met the hiring manager for Wells Fargo Bank merchant services. We immediately clicked and he was interested in hiring me as a sales representative to sell credit card processing. Although that wasn’t of great interest to me, I inquired about the advancement opportunities and learned that if I knocked it out of the park, I could very quickly advance to a management position. I took the job and 4 months later I was the #1 salesperson in the organization. Shortly after, I was promoted to a manager and have worked my way up to now being an SVP of Mergers and Acquisitions financing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I first started out as a prosecutor, I was in Traffic Court. My salary was meager and I had to work as a waitress in the evenings to be able to support myself. One night, a group of men were seated in my section at the restaurant. One of them continuously referred to me as “babe.” I repeatedly asked that he call me by my name, “Pattie.” He refused to listen and finally asked, “why are you so offended by that word?” I replied, “It’s a derogatory term. It would like me calling you ‘Bro.’” He got very offended, called me racist (as he was African American), and asked for my manager. My manager reprimanded me and didn’t listen to my side of the story.
I went into the broom closet and began to cry. To this day, that is the only time I’ve cried at work. While in the closet, I spoke to “the Universe,” and said, “I don’t have power to shut this man down because I’m in a subservient position. But please give him what he deserves.”
The following morning while I was prepping my cases in my courtroom, guess who walked in? “Bro.” Turns out, he had too much to drink the night before, got in his car, and was arrested for a DUI. And his case was in MY courtroom.
He walked up to me and said, “Are you the Public Defender in this courtroom?” To which I replied, “No, I’m the first chair prosecutor, please have a seat.” I then turned my back so he wouldn’t see the huge smile on my face.
Needless to say, I didn’t cut him any slack. He tried to be assigned a Public Defender but based on his car, I knew he didn’t qualify and made sure the court knew. He was forced to come back with an attorney, insisted on a trial, which he lost. In sentencing, he received a higher sentence due to his arrogance and lack of cooperation. It was one of the best and most satisfying days of my life. The Universe does not like ugly.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The 3 character traits most instrumental to my success are 1) persistence, 2) discipline, and 3) consistency. When I started in financial services selling credit card processing, the first few months were rough. I went door to door, in 100-degree heat for at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and didn’t sell anything for the first month. In fact, I was kicked out of so many establishments. Most people would have given up. But I knew if I continued on this path, staying persistent and having the discipline to continue my activities, I would succeed. Every time I failed, I just got right back up. Toward the end of my second month, I signed my first deal and shortly after, my second, and then skyrocketed to the #1 salesperson in the organization. There is no substitute for persistence, discipline, and consistency.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
We have been inculcated to expect women to act and be a certain way; namely demure, gentle, and agreeable. Women can say the same exact thing, in the same exact tone as a man and he will be seen as strong and decisive, whereas we’re seen as aggressive and bossy. The moment a woman does not conform to our expectations of how we believe a woman should act, we’re taken aback and feel threatened. Then we try to muzzle her by calling her unbecoming names so she can stop her non-conforming behavior and to make ourselves “comfortable” again. It’s all a result of sexist societal indoctrination.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
Given I work in a male-dominated industry, I’m typically the only woman in the room. I was in a meeting with all men and one of them made a suggestion which I disagreed with. A male colleague said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea and it opens us up to liability.” I piggy-backed on this comment and said, “I agree with “X”, we should look for an alternative solution which is better in line with the mission of our company.” Later that day, my boss asked me to his office and told me I was disrespectful to the male colleague who made the suggestions and came off as “aggressive.” I was floored. I couldn’t have been more respectful or professional in my approach. I asked if “X” was told the same thing because his statement specifically said our colleague’s idea “wasn’t good?” As expected, his comment was received as perfectly acceptable, and mine was not.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
In order for things to change, women have to call it out. In the example above, I asked my boss to provide me with specifics around how my comment was disrespectful or aggressive. He couldn’t, he said it was just a “feeling.” I didn’t let him get away with it and said, “I’m open to constructive feedback. However, the next time you want to provide constructive feedback, I would appreciate empirical data regarding the behavior at hand, rather than a ‘feeling.” He never did that again.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
We need to understand where our discomfort comes from, which is strictly from our archaic beliefs around the standard norms of behavior for women. Once we understand this, we are more open to look inward and determine whether our discomfort is actually valid. We can ask ourselves, “would I feel the same way if she were a man.” That’s the first step to change.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
In a lunch meeting with a prospective male client, he suggested that I should grow my nails longer because he found it more attractive. I was so shocked by his statement that I asked him to repeat himself, and he did. After reprimanding him for his comment, I got up from the table and left. Unfortunately, this situation is very common for women. Men often give themselves permission to comment on our looks, yet they would never do the same to a man. Further, men believe we are still “Barbie dolls” with the goal of looking attractive for them, and they have little shame in making this known.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The double standard, by men and women, on how a woman leader “should act.” We want our women leaders to lead with compassion and understanding, but don’t expect the same from men. For men, it’s all about business and that is acceptable. Women on the other hand, are expected to be more nurturing. What is missing in this expectation is the understanding that women leaders have to work twice as hard and outperform their male counterparts to achieve their level of success. They have to fight and claw their way to the top. And when they finally arrive to the top, now, that same woman is expected to be “soft and cuddly.” That is impossible because if she were “soft and cuddly,” she would not have been able to reach this level of success because the men would have eaten her alive. To have such an expectation from women leaders is not practical.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
I am not married and do not have children, so my struggle probably is not as great as women who have one or both. However, I have been in relationships where my partners felt I worked too much or prioritized my work over their needs. In those situations, I tried to find out what exactly they required in order for them to feel happy and valued in the relationship. If I could meet those needs without significant impact to my career, I was happy to do it. If not, then I knew it wasn’t a good for either one of us. My fiancé now understands my work requirements as I understand his, and we schedule time to spend with one another that meets both of our needs.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
Truthfully, I can’t say I have reached an “equilibrium” because in order to be exceptional at something, other things have to suffer. However, I did have an eye-opening moment on the rudeness of my behavior. I was dating someone right as I started a new job. My focus was completely on that job and at times, I failed to return his calls or make time for him. He called me out and said, “if you don’t even have the courtesy to return my call, then I don’t think we’re a good match.” The word “courtesy” stood out because he was right. Being consumed with work doesn’t give anyone the right to be discourteous or impolite. While the relationship ultimately didn’t last, I made it a point to be mindful of my manners.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
“Beauty” is a broad term and it means different things to different people. I put a great deal of emphasis on my appearance, but the goal is not to look “beautiful.” The goal is to look professional, polished, and put together. People underestimate the importance of appearance, especially in a professional setting. Before you open your mouth or make any other type of impression, your appearance is the first thing people notice and this first impression will be carried with them throughout the rest of your interaction. This is why appearance is so important. I always say your appearance should never outperform your substantive skills. This means, your appearance should not be “distracting” or take focus away from the business at hand. The moment focus is steered away from your words and directed toward your appearance, you’re losing the business game.
How is this similar or different for men?
Society seems to give men a pass when it comes to their weight and age. Women are more scrutinized in these areas. However, men who are disheveled or dressed unprofessionally are equally scrutinized in the workplace.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Confidence.: You have to believe you are just as good as your male counterparts. We’ve been inculcated to believe that we are less than and because of this, we exude inferiority in the workplace. Inferiority is smelled a mile away and if you feel inferior, people will treat you as such.
- Act The Part: Men, due to their confidence, walk around the office like they own the place. Their heads up, chest out. Women on the other hand, tend to be shrinking violets, heads down, shoulders crouched. This body language demonstrates a lack of confidence and people will treat you accordingly.
- Make Your Voice Heard: Women must speak up in meetings and show our opinions are valuable. I always contribute in meetings because I know my thoughts have value. In a meeting years ago when I first started in private equity, I was the only woman in a room with 8 men. We were prepping for a meeting with a potential client and I suggested we discuss our relationship with Chinese sovereign wealth funds. They all scoffed at my suggestion, and brushed it off as “not necessary.” Shortly after, we met with the potential client and when we finished our pitch, the client said, “I liked everything you said. However, we want to work with a group who has relationships with sovereign wealth funds in China.” The entire room turned and looked as if to say, “you were right.” From that moment on, I didn’t doubt the value of my contributions and never allowed anyone to ignore them without a fight.
- Strength to call out sexist behavior: Studies show that men were more likely than women to talk over others, especially in intrusive ways that silenced the rest of the room and demonstrated their dominance. Because of this, women become intimidated and quiet down, which is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. We need to have the confidence and strength to call out this behavior and not allow it to silence us. When this has happened to me in the past, and it has happened quite often, I merely say, “I would appreciate your allowing me to finish my thoughts without interruption.” This puts others on notice that you will not be intimated or silenced by a man, and demand respect.
- Mentors: Women mentoring women is crucial in succeeding in the workplace. We mostly face the same issues and being able to commensurate with someone whose gone through it and can provide guidance is invaluable.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Lilly Ledbetter. Most people don’t know of her. But she was the pioneer in fighting the gender pay gap between men and women. She was a supervisor at Goodyear and found she was making 75 cents to a dollar of her male counterparts. For 10 years, she fought to close the gap between women’s and men’s wages, fighting with the Supreme Court, lobbying Capitol Hill in a historic discrimination case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
Ledbetter won a jury verdict of more than $3 million after having filed a gender pay discrimination suit in federal court, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the lower court’s ruling. Despite the defeat, Ledbetter continued her fight until the Supreme Court decision was nullified when President Obama, on January 29, 2009, signed into law the first new law of his administration: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Power Women: Pattie Ehsaei On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.