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International Women’s Day Roundtable: Extra Space Storage Leaders Discuss Speaking Up & Challenging Norms

The number of women leaders and their influence at Extra Space Storage continues to grow. Championing gender equality is part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion. During Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the vital role of women in the workplace by talking with Extra Space Storage leaders about career growth and challenging norms. Monica Ruedas, Director of the National Sales Center, led this virtual discussion. Participating in the conversation with Ruedas were:

  • Allie Leininger, Senior Paid Acquisitions Marketing Manager
  • Andrea Kitterman, Accounting Manager
  • Iveth Rubio, District Manager
  • Risa Saavedra, Senior Division Learning Manager

Below are video clips and highlights from the discussion.

Q: To start, can everyone introduce yourselves and give us a little history about your professional background with Extra Space Storage?

Rubio: I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for 16 years. I started as a Site Manager in Los Angeles, and I’ve transitioned to a District Manager in Atlanta, GA.

Kitterman: I’m a manager in the Accounting department. I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for almost seven years. The job I had when I started versus the job I have now as a manager has completely changed, but it has been an enjoyable and challenging phase of my career.

Saavedra: I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for five years. I started as a Division Learning Manager and currently a Senior Division Learning Manager here on the West Coast.

Leininger: I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for almost two years now, and I work in the Marketing department as a Paid Acquisition Manager.

Q: Do you have a personal leadership philosophy that’s guided you?

Rubio: I would say, for me, it’s always been to lead by example. Lead my team by example with integrity but also candid and honest feedback.

Kitterman: My leadership philosophy has developed here at Extra Space Storage. I’ve learned over the years that if you can find out what each person on your team needs and provide that to them, you’ll earn their trust, as well as you’ll earn their commitment to whatever the job requires.

Saavedra: I picked up a quote a long time ago that has stayed with me: “If you’re looking for faults, look in the mirror.” So I take a moment any time something goes wrong—and where looking for someone to blame sometimes seems the easiest—to reflect on something that I could have improved upon or something that I could have done better. And I take that forward into the next situation or conflict that comes about. It definitely brings a level of humility in a leadership role when you think you have to know everything all the time.

Leininger: I agree with a lot of what’s already been said. I would also say, for me personally, it’s to keep moving forward. When you’re faced with something challenging or when you’re overcoming something, figure out what you can do to keep yourself and your team moving forward.

Q: Let’s talk about inclusion. Not every team has a perfect gender equivalence. What advice do you have for leaders to ensure their employees know that there’s a space at the table for everyone?

Kitterman: I think it starts with your own mindset. If your team hears and sees you being genuinely open to differing perspectives, that mindset of inclusion is contagious, and then it eventually becomes cultural.

Leininger: In addition to that, it helps to create structures for your team to participate. Not everyone likes to participate in the same way. When you can learn what people like to do and create opportunities for them to work one-on-one or in groups or in written participation, I think it helps increase inclusivity.

Saavedra: I would add, don’t doubt yourself. I feel like I do this quite a bit. I’m not sure if anyone else feels the same way. But if you want to be included and if you want to be in the room where it happens, you have to be bold. You have to believe in yourself and never for a second feel like you don’t belong there.

Rubio: From personal experience in my time with Extra Space Storage, I was the only female District Manager for a long time. I had to make my voice heard. I was in a setting full of men, so I had to be confident, say what I meant, and own what I had to say. I would encourage everyone to speak what’s on their mind.

Q: This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge.” What does challenging the norms mean to each of you?

Saavedra: I think this works well with our current Extra Space Storage theme around innovation. We’re talking about challenging the norms and the things that we’re used to. We want people to ask questions, and we want people to challenge views. Views that maybe worked for us then, but now we’d like to see that innovation, diversity, and inclusion come forth in 2021 and move forward. We definitely need diverse voices speaking up to share those new views.

Rubio: It means asking questions. I work with an employee who is always asking the why. She has to know why, and it’s not because she’s challenging what we’re saying—she is asking to seek understanding. With one person asking why, your entire team will often benefit from the answer because that one individual was not afraid to ask.

Kitterman: I think challenge can feel like a big word and like you need big actions to challenge. But I think challenging can happen in small ways, such as living in a way that’s true to you. When you challenge the norm or do something outside of what’s expected, you can feel like you’re out there alone or open to criticism. But it’s an important thing to do what’s right for you. People admire that quality when they see it.

Rubio: If I can add, I’ll say that our industry is not a very glamorous industry, and for us as females, we have to bring our girl! For me, that’s wearing heels. I wear heels to work every day. I can walk in heels, climb ladders, and do audits in heels, and nothing has ever stopped me because I wear heels. So I think it’s just being comfortable with who you are, putting it out there, and bringing your girl to work every day.

Ruedas: Iveth and I actually worked together in retail and she recruited me to Extra Space Storage. She’s been a great inspiration for me and someone that I’ve always tried to follow as a leader. I’ve seen her growth and her success in storage and challenging those norms.

Leininger: For me, this is a bit of a personal challenge. I often think I want to be friendly, or I want to be agreeable, and I’ll all hold back on ideas or something that I believe in because I’m worried about being disagreeable. So, for me, the challenge is to speak up and not worry what other people will think of me.

Q: What advice do each one of you have for people that are looking at you and your role and thinking ‘I want to be there’?

Leininger: Ask for what you want. All of the big moves I’ve made in my career have come from things that I’ve asked for. And be specific. If it’s a new responsibility or a type of project you want to work on, speak up. The answer won’t always be yes, but I think you have to share what you’re passionate about because, otherwise, people might not know.

Rubio: Put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid. Nobody knows what you know. Specifically for women, I would say don’t apologize for your successes and don’t apologize just to apologize. Often, we lead a conversation with, “I’m so sorry, but…” Put yourself out there, be grateful for your successes, and don’t apologize. You’ve earned your seat at the table.

Saavedra: I mentioned it previously: Don’t doubt yourself. If you look at a job requisition, and there are some requirements that you don’t fall in line with, still go for it. You can learn on the job and pick up as you go. Doubt is going to be that barrier between you and your goal. Just go for it!

Kitterman: I would tell someone that the path they take will be unique to them. It won’t look like the person’s path who you admire. It also won’t be linear. There will be setbacks and lessons learned, but in the end, you’ll be grateful for those deviations because you will reach your goal, and you will also have wisdom and experience gained.

Extra Space Storage is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace with its Diversity & Inclusion committees and internal initiatives like the recent “Ask—Listen—Act” campaign. Learn more about our values and company culture.

Featured Image: Extra Space Storage: International Women's Day Roundtable
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