A study conducted earlier this year found that the percent of women in prominent C-suite roles is now 25%—up from 23% in 2018.
Greater gender equality in corporate settings has been shown to improve collaboration and problem-solving and even positively impact the bottom line. However, with only a quarter of the country’s highest-ranking leadership roles going to women, there’s still a lot of progress to be made in the coming years.
In the meantime, we find inspirational female business leaders in Dallas-Fort Worth such as Rebecca Buell, CPA, the CFO of National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. (NBCF). NBCF is a leading non-profit that works to provide help and inspire hope to those affected by breast cancer. This Frisco-based group provides early detection, education and support services.
This year, an estimated 250,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 40,500 will die. And, there are many more living with the disease. It’s no wonder that everyone knows someone with breast cancer. That’s why it’s vital to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages when it’s more treatable.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an important reminder for all women and men to be aware of the risk of breast cancer. It was also the perfect time for us to sit down with Rebecca to learn more about her fierce dedication to NBCF’s cause, her thoughts on the role of a successful leader and the secrets behind her rapid rise to the C-suite.
Snyder Bode: What originally drew to you NBCF? You didn’t start out in the non-profit world.
Buell: I gained a lot of initial knowledge through a homebuilder that I worked for right out of college doing full-cycle accounting and much more as the only financial person in house. It set me up to be confident in what I could do, but during my 2.5 years there we went from a staff of 11 to a staff of three, and I had no other opportunities to challenge myself. When the position at NBCF presented itself, I knew there’d be a lot of growth. I was moved by the core mission of serving others; I’m motivated by the fact that every day is in service of people in need, and it became a world that I will always want to be a part of.
Snyder Bode: After eight years here, what inspires you the most?
Buell: Everything. The mission, the power of the women, the community they’ve built. There’s no other community like the breast cancer community—being there for each other, the support groups, how they lift each other up. It’s pretty impactful. Our team also motivates me. Everyone wants to go the extra mile to serve. Working alongside these people, it’s so inspiring.
When we talk about NBCF overall, we want to be the bridge to hope; we want to walk alongside patients, hand-in-hand, throughout their whole journey by conducting education and outreach programs.
One of the things that is great about NBCF is our ability to be flexible to the needs of women. It’s one of our core values: Championing the needs of women, where they are right now. As an example, I would have said five years ago that having support groups here wasn’t necessarily in the plan, but we started them to meet the need in the community.
Snyder Bode: What was your dream job growing up?
Buell: I wanted to be an educator. I had a great teacher in high school that inspired me. I also like the idea of taking complicated things and making them uncomplicated for people. I tutored a lot, and I enjoyed that moment when it clicked for somebody. My English teacher that I loved had a lot of fun with us, and I knew whatever I was doing, I wanted to really enjoy it. And of course the impact that you’re having on students: to educate and to give them lifelong lessons that stay with them.
Hoffman: There are plenty of women who want to move up to a leadership role, like you did. What advice would you give them?
Buell: I didn’t stay in my lane. I didn’t just stick to finance or accounting. I branched out. For example, our intern program was something that I saw a business need for very early on. I felt we had a need for interns, for getting more entry-level people. It’s something that exposed me to people across the company and top-down. I found an opportunity to show off what I could do that would have a broad business impact. I didn’t want to just sit there and wait. I had a lot of ideas, so I took the opportunity. It also helps having a great leadership team. My boss pushed me, and our leadership believed in me and didn’t force me to stay in my lane.
“I didn’t stay in my lane … I had skills beyond finance and accounting, and I found an opportunity to show off what I could do.”
I think my ability to be flexible and adapt to different people and situations helped me succeed as well. I argue it’s your skills and resume of work that get you in, and your emotional intelligence—being able to work across departments and with different people—that helps you rise up to the point that people want you in the room.
Hoffman: What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve encountered in your career?
Buell: One of my challenges was owning the role of CFO at a fairly young age—knowing that I got there for a reason and that I do have a talent and skill for it. Of course, I don’t pretend to be the expert on everything. Sometimes people get in a role and they feel like they have to project, “I know all the things,” instead of just relying on their people. I respect what each employee brings to the table. They know their stuff, and I’m here to support them, make sure they don’t have any barriers in their way and make sure they are seen by leadership for all that they’re offering. I want people on our team who are collaborative and want to work together to find the best solution.
A continuing challenge in our day for working women is being a working mom. You see article after article around the U.S. being among a small handful of countries that do not have a national paid parental leave law. With the challenges of daycare and going back to work and the kind of support needed—we as a country just need to care for women (and men!) more. Not only to allow women to stay home with their newborns longer, but changing the leave policy for men to communicate to society that they should be equally involved with the upbringing of their children. Fortunately, I am at an organization that supports a generous leave policy and overall flexibility to support the needs that come with raising children, but I fully recognize this is not the norm for many. We need to be better in this area.
Hoffman: Can you comment on the importance of women supporting other women?
Buell: I have seen women snub others, and I think in some cases it’s just based on fear and a lack of self-confidence. When you’re young, you’re trying to find your place, your voice, your expertise in what sets you apart. When you’re older, and you’ve gotten to a place you’ve fought for, you might worry that someone else is coming along to take your spot, or you’ll be ‘found out’ for not being ‘worthy’.
As a leader, I’m trying to be an example of encouraging others and celebrating people when they support each other. I don’t tolerate women throwing each other under the bus, and I’ve always wanted to support other women at all levels. It’s about building a positive culture and being a role model myself of what that looks like.
“I’m trying to be an example of encouraging others and celebrating people when they support each other. I’ve always wanted to support other women at all levels.”
Leadership makes such a difference. Whatever their values are, it trickles down. So if they’re OK with people running over people, or are not bringing women to the table, it’s not going to change. It all starts from the top.
Snyder Bode: You’re a working mom with small children. How do you hope to motivate them?
Buell: I want them to see the dynamic of both me and my husband being working parents. I hope that they see what a loving, successful relationship looks like—that they see what a true partnership is. I also care so much about giving to others, and I want that to be a big part of their lives. I want them to see that stepping outside of yourself and helping others—whether it’s at church or at work or with a non-profit— is a unique joy that you can’t always find when you’re just focused on yourself.
Interested in getting involved? Visit www.nbcf.org for more information, or reach out directly to Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org, to learn about opportunities to volunteer or contribute individually or as a corporate team.