Who better to give career advice than the 5 very impressive Pittsburgh businesswomen nominated for the prestigious Athena Award?

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce has been honoring the area’s inspirational businesswomen with the ATHENA Award since 1991.  All nominated are not only savvy about their careers, but also deeply involved in their local community and in mentoring other women.

This year’s  finalists come from the banking, education, healthcare, finance and online marketing industries. They spoke to NEXTPittsburgh about what their many years of career experience have taught them. The winner will be announced on Monday, September 29 at a luncheon–known for inspiring women–that attracts upwards of 900 attendees and sells out every year (buy your tickets now!).

Linda Croushore. Photo by Tracy Certo

Linda Croushore. Photo by Tracy Certo

Linda Croushore, executive director, The Consortium for Public Education

Linda has made a career out of putting students first, no matter what age. She has developed outreach programs not only for preschool learning readiness and literacy, but also for babies with the help of the new mom. She was instrumental in negotiations over the closure of Duquesne City High School and enabling its students to attend other area schools.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?

“I have a quote from John Quincy Adams on my emails that says, ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.’ I think that women can rise to that and perform to that and I would encourage every woman to be one of those folks. I think women are inspirers.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

“I wish I’d known what a long journey it is and it is endless, and it is never boring. Each small victory inspires you to have the courage, the faith, the energy and the commitment to continue.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?

“I think recognizing that everyone is an individual and each one has their story and it is to be listened to and nurtured and supported. Together, a community of individuals can really be a powerful, energizing force.”

What is something you learned or some advice you were given at the start of your career that has influenced you?

“Women have to work harder sometimes and have to rise to the challenge even more than others, but it’s all worth it.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?

“I love to read, cook and I love antiques. I collect 18th and 19th century furniture, stoneware and vintage linens. Once you find something you love, it’s easy to keep finding more and more.”

Diane Holder. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Diane Holder. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Diane Holder, executive vice president, UPMC; president, UPMC Insurance Services Division; president & chief executive officer, UPMC Health Plan

Diane has managed to find work-life balance even as one of the more powerful business women in Pittsburgh. It could be because she was formally trained as a therapist and psychiatric social worker before embarking on her current course and now leading 16 of UPMC’s healthcare and insurance divisions.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?

“Keep your options open, be willing to try different things and try to really find people early in your career that can give you some guidance in ways that are both formal and informal.”

 What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

“Oh my—just about everything! I wish that I knew earlier in my career that there’s not huge downsides to taking calculated risks, and I think that as you get more confident in yourself you start to do that. I think that sometimes young women are more cautious early on, and that’s understandable, but sometimes it’s worth it to take that calculated risk that can allow you to open other doors.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?

“One of the things that’s important is to begin to look at the colleagues around you—both women and men—as both people you can learn from and that you can provide help to. Most of us find in this very virtual world we live in that it’s not really the effort of one person that usually makes a big difference, it’s really people working together.”

What is something you learned or some advice you were given at the start of your career that has influenced you?

“The old adage that most things are ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration—that if you really want to accomplish things, you have to look at what motivates you and excites you to be able to work hard and to deliver on what you’re hoping to accomplish. People early in my career helped me realize that it takes a lot of effort to do things that will produce the kind of outcomes you’re hoping for.”

 What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?

“I like to play tennis, read biographies and historical fiction, go out to dinner, kind of chill. I think that’s important.”

Sue Kirsch. Photo by Tracy Certo

Sue Kirsch. Photo by Tracy Certo

 Susan Kirsch, shareholder-tax advisory services, Schneider Downs

Susan has built a reputation not only for mentoring other women both within and outside her firm, but also for mentoring local non-profits. She serves on several non-profit boards and shares her financial acumen to keep local organizations focused on their missions.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?

“A career is a marathon and not a sprint. I think sometimes that folks tend to believe that they have to accomplish everything yesterday. Your career is really a growth experience and you grow and change over time, and find yourself in new learning environments.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

“I think as you age that you become far more comfortable and far more confident in your contribution. I wish I had recognized that I didn’t have to know everything right at the start and I didn’t have to take it all so very seriously. I think it’s very important that you’re networking externally as well as internally—really building that network. I tended to be one-dimensional and there wasn’t the right balance—if I’m being completely honest—in my approach to networking in the beginning.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?

“I’ve often said that if you lead with an open heart and an open hand, you can lead other women in the workplace. Collectively we’re stronger and far more powerful than we are individually. Sometimes I think we all get caught up in needing a program and a rulebook to engage in mentoring activities, when it’s really about connections and helping others make connections.”

What is something you learned or some advice you were given at the start of your career that has influenced you?

“That I didn’t have to abandon my goal of achieving the balance that would make me happy and fulfilled in having a successful personal and professional life.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?

“I exercise—spinning, hiking, biking, skiing. I run when I have to. Exercise has been a very important part of my life as I’ve matured. It has been wonderful for me. 7 Springs and Big Sky Montana are my favorite skiing spots, and the Laurel Highlands biking trail is spectacular. This city has so much to offer!”

Karen Larrimer. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Karen Larrimer. Photo by Tracy Certo.

Karen Larrimer, chief customer officer and chief marketing officer, PNC

Karen has held many different positions in the nearly 20 years she’s been at PNC but perhaps the most important ones aren’t part of her current job description. She’s one of three women on PNC’s 13-member executive committee, and she focuses on mentoring working mothers and other young bankers.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?

“People need to stay open to being out of their comfort zone. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone and staying there as long as I could improved not only the depth but also the breadth of what I was learning. You need to believe in yourself. I really emphasize to women, especially those starting out, that you need to build your confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself, people won’t believe in you.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

“I wish I would have known that the first job I had taken in banking would lead to a 30-year career in banking. I tell young people to watch that first job you take when you get out of school. If you’re just taking it as a job and not really thinking ahead, sometimes you look back and think, ‘How did I end up doing this for 30 years?’ Sometimes that first opportunity puts you on a track.”

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?

“I think it’s so important to share the things you’ve learned. In particular, to help women understand that things are not always easy; there are hurdles, but there are ways to get through them. It takes both skill and will to be successful in your career. I think a lot of women have the skills but they think they don’t have the time or the energy to take on whatever it is. I like to be the role model who says you can figure it out, and you can figure it out in your way.”

What is something you learned or some advice you were given at the start of your career that has influenced you?

“To raise my hand. There was a certain point in my career years ago when a senior manager asked me why I wasn’t raising my hand and speaking up when jobs were opening up. He told me that when big jobs opened up, his phone would start ringing with mostly men calling about them. At the time, my answer to him was, ‘If you knew how qualified I was, I figured you would tap me on the shoulder and ask me about it.’ But he told me that upper management had come to think I wasn’t interested and was happy staying right where I was, and that wasn’t true. I recognized that if I don’t ask, I’m surely never going to get what I want.”

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?

“I’m not sure I know how to relax. I’m really happiest when I am on the go and completely overbooked. It’s something that gives me so much energy, and with four children and a husband in my life, there just isn’t much time for relaxation. I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my family. We have a place in Deep Creek, Maryland, and when I’m there I’m just being myself and having fun.”

Suzy Teele. Photo by Tracy Certo

Suzy Teele. Photo by Tracy Certo

Suzy Teele, chief operating officer, SnapRetail

Suzy has occupied nearly every position imaginable—from trainee to CEO—and every job function imaginable—from sales to strategic planning to human resources. She’s now known as an expert in tech marketing strategy and is heavily involved in advising and mentoring women in technological fields.

What career advice would you give to a young woman just starting out today?

“I would love to see more women get involved in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]. There are tremendous opportunities throughout the technology sector, and many women have found some great work/life balance for themselves in the tech field and I would love to see more women take advantage of that.”

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

If you find ways to be creative at solving problems for companies, that is one of the key ways that you will be successful, no matter what your career is. Look for creative ways to get things done. Sometimes younger people who are just starting out feel timid, more timid than they should be about making recommendations on how to make something more successful.

How can every woman help promote others in the workforce?

“I think what’s key to recognize is that we have the capacity for networking and supporting each other’s career ambitions and too often we don’t take advantage of these opportunities. We get so focused on what we need to do at work and at home and we don’t make the time to network. Really taking the time to form relationships with other women is what we all need to be successful and we should feel that it’s ok to do that and to build it into our daily lives. There is more than enough room for us all to be successful.”

What is something you learned or some advice you were given at the start of your career that has influenced you?

“I had a CEO who said, ‘Every relationship should start with trust and it’s up to you and the other person to maintain that trust.’ It’s up to both people to build trust. Often, people have suspicions or concerns about the other person and many times that hampers the ability to get the best solution for both.

What do you do to relax after all you do for your company and community?

“I read a lot—mostly mystery novels and suspense. I enjoy taking trips and vacations, my favorite place to go is someplace warm and that has an ocean! My husband and I are always looking for new opportunities to explore new countries. My children and stepchildren live all over the world, and I enjoy taking vacations to visit them.”

Meet all 5 Athena finalists along with the Young Athena finalists at the luncheon on September 29th.