20 Years with Televerde: What I’ve Learned as a Woman in Leadership

Thanks to LinkedIn, I was recently reminded that March marks my 20th year working at Televerde. I’ve received an outpouring of congrats for which I am so grateful. It’s remarkable to see how many people I’ve connected with over my career. Even one of Televerde’s original founders commented on the great work we’ve been doing to grow the company and humanize our story. And since my work anniversary syncs perfectly with Women’s History Month, I felt compelled to share a few lessons learned from my history and experiences with Televerde.

Eat the elephant, one bite at a time

Entry-level to executive for the same company is typically a road less traveled and there are countless challenges and hardships that are faced along the way. I’ve seen the business landscape change dramatically and for the better, especially for women. There’s no doubt that women have a stronger presence in business today more than ever before. More female executives are leading the charge and we are leaning in and demanding to be heard. Although we still experience gender gaps and biases, we’ve come a long way and each step, whether big or small, has taken courage and tenacity. This same mindset applies to your career. I’ve learned there is no challenge too big. If you focus on the desired outcome and put your time into finding the right solution, you will succeed. Seek out the challenges and amplify your voice. Every ounce of effort will be worthwhile.

Earn the seat at the table

A former boss of mine used to tell me, “Michelle, stop being grateful for your job.” This seemed backwards at first but her underlining point was to start recognizing that I had earned my job. I worked hard to achieve all my accomplishments. Everything I had was because of my dedication and commitment to the company, and most importantly, to myself.

One of my MBA professors shared a stat that less than 30% of company board members or executives at the time were women. I looked around the classroom and calculated almost the same percentage of women sitting around me. This statistic hasn’t changed much, but now almost 60% of graduate degrees and 53% of doctoral degrees are earned by women. How is it that more women are continuing their education but still fall short in C-suites and boardrooms? We’ve got the tools, resources and more than enough power to break through these glass ceilings. The work isn’t easy, but the table isn’t full either. Make room for yourself, pull up a chair and prove your value with the time and energy you put in.

Authenticity is key

Just like any relationship, the ones you have with your colleagues must be built on trust. And much of this starts by being true to yourself first. For years, Televerde kept our business model in the background, which meant I kept a part of my history hidden as well. The reality is this: speaking up and speaking out about my time at Perryville Correctional keeps me grounded and helps to lift up others around me. My journey is my truth. This is why I was determined to host the TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional event last year, the first of its kind at an Arizona prison. And today in my new role as Chief Social Responsibility Officer, I’ve become an advocate for criminal justice reform, sharing loudly and proudly how Televerde’s business model empowers people from disempowered communities to change their lives. I’ve even been invited to the White House in April because of the waves we’ve made with the #FirstStepAct! From our authenticity, we elevate each other to be the best versions of ourselves.

“Raw, real, transparent, humble, and a servant’s heart—these are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of Michelle Cirocco. She immediately welcomed me into her world and cared for me as if we were childhood friends.” This was written by friend Brian Mohr from Conscious Capitalism. I attribute this generous compliment to my ability to show my colors even during the darkest times. Partnering with Brian and Conscious Capitalism is a testament to how emboldened people can become when those around you are your biggest cheerleaders. So, find your passion and put all of you into what you do (don’t focus on the money, that will come later). Along the way, you will find the people who will encourage you to keep going because they believe in you just as much as you believe in yourself.

These last two decades “almost” feel like a never-ending vacation. What I mean by this is that the overall experience has been filled with unforgettable highlights and breathtaking moments that I’ve tried to capture and soak in for as long as possible. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve had my share of bumps in the road and disappointments—but they always brought with them teachable moments and lessons learned, making each stop or pause worth my time and sometimes tears.

Although I need a real vacation, I am beyond grateful to celebrate this amazing accomplishment with all of you and I’m excited to share the next leg of my journey. It has been a trip of a lifetime.

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