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Local Profile’s 2023 Women in Business: Rhonda Gilyard

The annual Women in Business Summit is scheduled for September 8, 2023
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Photo: Jason Kindig

Local Profile's annual Women in Business Summit brings together over 600 influential women from various sectors such as global enterprises, non-profit organizations, small businesses and government agencies within the North Texas community. It serves as a platform to celebrate, unite and empower the leading ladies of the DFW area.

On September 8, 2023, women across North Texas have the opportunity to connect with notable guest speakers, participate in enlightening panel discussions and meet like-minded professionals.

Meet one of our speakers:

Now with over 20 years at Toyota, Rhonda Gilyard began her career as a quality engineer for the catalytic component business. Gilyard recently rotated to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA in Huntsville, Alabama, to support the joint venture between Mazda and Toyota as the vice president of administration. Gilyard enjoys spending time with her family, enjoying church activities, praise dancing, weightlifting, sewing and writing. 

What is the biggest challenge women face in the workforce? How can they overcome it? 

There is still a disproportionate number of women in leadership positions in the workplace. There have been gains made and more women are making it to the C-Suite, but there continue to be ways to go to reach parity. I was reading a statistic that women account for 47% of the U.S. workforce benchmark but women account for only 28% of all executives in the top leadership teams of the S&P100. Only 9% of CEOs in the S&P100 are women.

We must continue to help each other attain leadership positions and support each other once we get there, paving the way for others. We need to continue to mentor one another, give and receive honest and constructive feedback and ensure we are learning the skills and getting the growth and developmental opportunities to have more visibility and impact on our companies’ goals. In addition, we need to continue to encourage women to apply for different opportunities, seek mentors, both male and female, network as much as possible and step out of our comfort zones to further development.

What's your biggest motivation?

I have two things that motivate me:

  1. The appreciation I have for my parents for the sacrifices they made to give me better opportunities than they had. Unfortunately, my parents were unable to go to college after high school, however, my mother went back to school after having five children to earn a teaching degree. They worked hard to ensure that all five of their children had educational opportunities that evaded them, participated in extra-curricular learning opportunities, and attended four-year universities. The drive and passion they had for us to have better opportunities rest within my spirit, so it is with me daily and I am convinced it is my duty and responsibility to do the same for others.
  2. The second thing that motivates me is people. This may tie back to my feeling of responsibility to pay it forward, but I really enjoy collaborating with people, helping them and being of service. I love to see people excel and reach the goals they have set for themselves — it gives me joy. Growing up and early in my career, I often felt that this could be a strength or weakness because of the widely believed misperception that you had to be the only and the best to do something. From my experiences and understanding, it takes a team or village for one to reach their goals and no one does great things in isolation; we all need some assistance at times. I now know that this is a strength for two reasons. First, because it helps me be a better servant leader and secondly, it makes me my authentic self.

How do you change a company's culture to promote inclusivity and diversity? What are you leaving for future women now that wasn't there before?

I think you change a company’s culture to promote inclusivity and diversity by leading by example and by defining the culture you want. You must do the work and be intentional with your development of others and move towards the culture you wish to see.

I am leaving an example of another minority woman who didn’t give up and stayed true to her values, her family and herself. She did not compromise her beliefs, or passion to help others succeed. She measured success by what makes her happy and contributed positively to society, her work environments, and the world. I want to leave the blueprint of passion in what one does and is capable of doing, a giving spirit of servant leadership and a responsibility of assistance for the next woman who deserves an opportunity.

What was the most difficult decision you’ve made in your career so far?

The most difficult decision has been the decision to take an assignment away from my family. I grew up in Southern California, attended college in Northern California and returned to Southern California after graduation. I thought that was where I would live my life. Opportunities have come along to allow me to contribute differently to the organization, learn more functions within the organization and grow as a person and leader. I had to make decisions to live in a different state than my husband and family. Being close to my husband and family made the decision to relocate difficult, but at the same time, made it less difficult to execute because we have a strong support foundation to help each other reach our potential, goals and dreams.

What was your breakthrough moment?

If I had to name one breakthrough moment, it would be when I rotated from a function within the company where I spent my first 12 years. I was very comfortable in this role but had no idea I was comfortable, and at the time I didn’t believe I needed a change in order to grow. I was not totally confident that I had experienced enough to be ready for the next challenge. Being an introvert, the first day I had to stand in front of my new team of over 100 members to explain a safety concern, I had all sorts of feelings, thoughts and questions running through my heart and mind —  How did I look? Do I know enough? Do they know I am unsure of myself? and the biggest feeling was fear. Once I started speaking and after hearing my voice recover from the few seconds of trembling, I spoke loudly, clearly and knew what I was talking about. Some team members nodded their heads in agreement while others asked questions. It was at that moment that I realized that my support system (parents, family, mentors) was right - they told me I can do anything, I am ready and believed in my capabilities. That was the moment I felt 100% comfortable with being me and ready for the next challenges. This is not to say that I still do not get uncomfortable or have fear, but I am continuing to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and how to face my fears. As my husband often states, bravery is not the absence of fear but proceeding forward in spite of it.

What advice do you have for women hoping to break through?

My advice would be to define what success looks like to you in terms of the personal and career goals you have set, believe in your authentic self, and surround yourself with positive people and mentors, who will give you good and constructive feedback. Buckle your seatbelt for an adventurous ride. Your time and breakthrough moment will come. Don’t look over into someone else’s lane, nor compare yourself to others. We all have a journey to travel, a race to run, and a time to get there and please realize that all of our expeditions are different. Run your race, learn during the journey, sharpen your skills, create your support system, be patient and intentional, accomplish your goals, succeed and most importantly, enjoy!

How do you promote a healthy environment for yourself and your employees?

I am a servant leader — I am excited about serving and supporting my team. It’s more than just a transactional relationship or a reporting structure. It is truly understanding what people need and want from their careers. Focusing on other’s needs before my own, listening to each of my members, supporting them to lead and take control of their development and other aspects of their career journey while assisting them remove obstacles. I strive to assist them in reaching their full potential and grow in ways they may not have imagined. With that, there may be challenges that require difficult or crucial conversations, and I conduct those conversations timely when needed.

I am transparent with my communication to ensure my members feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions. I want my members to feel a part of the team. Connection and a feeling of belonging go a long way to boost confidence in our everyday lives and how we show up.

What is your most noteworthy achievement as an agent of change? What are you most proud of?

I believe my most noteworthy achievement as an agent of change is helping others see the potential and talents they possess. Not only seeing those gifts in others but using them to help them reach their goals. I am grateful to have been in roles where there was a change on the horizon and I wanted to support to get everyone involved and all voices heard to move whatever initiative, project or department forward. For me, in leadership, it is always important to get everyone engaged to continue learning and development for all.

This is also what I am most proud of. I have had the privilege to work with and lead teams and team members to overcome large challenges and obstacles to reach company goals as well as outstanding personal growth. That really makes me proud of them and myself, as well as gives me the feeling of accomplishment.

How long should you be willing to fail before you succeed?

You need to try something until you get to your end goal. I do not think you can put a time limit on how many times you have to start over or approach a goal from a different angle to reach it. Every “failure” is a success in helping you learn something — something about yourself, something you did not know before. Failure and success require a personal definition. Simply for me, never give up on your dreams. There is always a road to get there. I have been discouraged before when results were not what I wanted or expected, but that motivates me to be better and figure out what I can improve. You are going to have setbacks or failures, and the by-products of setbacks and failure are knowledge, data, learning opportunities and preparation for the next challenges. Not to repeat an old cliché, but one of my favorites is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” We are competing with ourselves to be the best version of what we can be. Each failure gets us closer to our best selves.

If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently? What would you keep the same?

This is not an easy question to answer, because I think everything I have experienced, and the choices and decisions I have made, have made me who I am today. A few things I may do differently is believe in myself more and sooner. I would be more fearless and think less about what others might say or think. What I would keep the same is who I am, my foundation, my faith and the relationships I have made. I will also keep the person I have become, my purpose in life and my drive and passion to fulfill it.

What do you do if you find yourself in situations where things are not going the way you want them to?

The first thing I do if a situation is not going the way I want it to is lean on my village — my faith, family and friends. This could be for personal or professional situations. First, I pray about it. I believe I am put in a certain place for a reason, and it is for a greater cause, not just for me. I strive to remain positive and surround myself with positivity which leads me to reach out to my family, friends and mentors about the situation and gather different perspectives and insight from those who have experienced the same situation or something similar. This is an example of becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable. I also try to use the situation as a learning opportunity and a challenge. I am motivated by having problems to solve and I look at the situation as another chance to flex those muscles and learn something new to use in the future. Going through a difficult situation does not come with a rear-view mirror to reflect or see the outcome and is honestly difficult to see the positives that may come from it, but I try to pull from previous experiences to help guide me in the right direction.

What's the best advice you've received in your career? Who gave it to you?

The best advice I received was from my parents. There were four things that have stuck with me through the years. The first was, always be me. People today would say be authentic, but my parents would have phrased it as be yourself or be the Rhonda God created. There were points in my career that I questioned if I needed to be different, but really, I was not being different, I was just learning how to leverage my strengths and learning how to improve skills that I needed. I aim to be authentic. The second is never stop learning. Education is something that you will always have no matter what form it is in. My parents were highly intelligent but did not have the opportunity to go to college. They were incredibly supportive of their children getting a higher education. Being a life learner is something they instilled in us and something they modeled. In fact, my mother went back to school to get her degree to teach Pre-K after having five children! The third thing was it is ok to be afraid to try something new but do not let that fear stop you or paralyze you. A little fear may help you “stay on your toes” and be conscientious, thorough and not take things for granted, but too much fear will talk you out of taking risks and trying new things. The fourth piece of advice I received was to be humble and grateful, especially when you are called to serve others. It is a privilege to be a leader.

Who is your biggest role model? How can you be a role model to others? 

My biggest role models are my parents. I cannot express enough how much they gave me during their lives that shaped me into who I am presently. I feel I have gained those traits from them, and I try to demonstrate them to others. Those include confidence and strength from my faith; perseverance, never giving up on yourself, your goals or others; unselfishness and charity, giving of yourself expecting nothing in return; showing love, compassion, empathy and patience to others. Those are just a few examples of traits taught to me by my parents. I can be a role model by being a continuous example of those traits and helping others to see the positive impact you will have and the footprint you will leave for others to follow.

What is your motto?

I learned and embraced at an early age that giving was the most fulfilling way to live life for me. I adopted the motto of JOY that I learned somewhere along the way in Sunday School, it resonated with me and has truly been the foundation of how I try to live my life and make decisions. This is what JOY means:
- Jesus first
- Others second
- Yourself last

This has worked for me and the more I give back, the more accomplished I feel and the more I feel like I am living my purpose in life

What book do you recommend every professional woman read? 

There are so many terrific books to read. The one I will recommend is the one I am currently reading via Audible which is Successful Women Think Differently by Valerie Burton.

One that I never get tired of is Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess because it is a reminder of the various and diverse opportunities the world has to offer. I received that book from my college study partners, and it serves as a reminder that there that my journey may be filled with many twists and turns, but the lessons and wonderful destinations will be immeasurable.

Don't miss out on the 22nd annual Women in Business Summit, organized by Local Profile and presented by Baylor Scott & White Health.

Tickets are still available for the summit but are selling fast! Click here to reserve your spot.