Being a 'fearless' leader is when you are inspired by others who have walked the same path and can share their wisdom to help you on your journey. Which is why we are excited to introduce you to Dr. Anne McIntosh, President, CEO, and Founder of Safe’N’Clear, the first FDA-approved mask with a clear window that shows the user's mouth and facilitates inclusive communication. This innovative design allows the deaf and hard of hearing an opportunity to lip-read and see facial expressions. As Anne notes, "100 percent of the population is affected by deafness. Our parents, spouses, children, neighbors, employers, employees, family, and friends all are impacted by hearing loss... so, we are in this together."
Read on to find out how she overcame her own professional challenges, the advice she would give to her 13-year-old self and her secret to building win-win relationships.
We would love to hear about your professional journey. What sparked you to do what you do?
I am a college professor at heart; I teach and do research in communication. When I had our first child, I ended up needing a C-section which we had not planned on, so I went from a Labor and Delivery room where I could lipread medical providers to an OR where the medical staff and my husband were literally garbed from head to toe, including masks. I could no longer lipread and understand what was happening. I decided the solution to this communication problem was a clear-window mask.
Self-advocacy is one of the toughest areas for women based on Wet Cement survey findings—yet if we don’t advocate for ourselves, we won’t be able to fulfill our missions. What is the biggest professional challenge you had to overcome and how did you do it?
Owning up to the challenge in a way that presents opportunity is my superpower gift. I realize not everyone glamorizes deafness or hearing loss. But communication is important; lives depend on good communication. Health depends on good communication. Relationships flourish when we have good communication. Thus, I try to address the communication challenges by role-modeling good communication behaviors. I get up every day, put my pants on like everyone else, and go about my day role-modeling good communication habits.
We love Webster's definition of courage: "Strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." What advice would you give to others related to acting courageously in the face of fear? Please share a specific example and/or lesson learned with detail.
Fear is what we do not know, understand, or have familiarity of. If you are not familiar with deafness, I understand how hearing loss can be frightening to others. I can understand how they can build up a lot of fear because they do not have the wherewith, skill sets, and coping strategies in place to effectively manage deafness. Specific example: I lipread; while lipreading is not 100 percent accurate with all communicators, it's a great tool in the communication toolbox. I also carry pen and paper with me. I can use speech to text apps on my iPhone. But the lesson learned is that I NEVER give up. Somewhere in that big old communication toolbox, I have something that will work with others when we need to communicate. Fear not; we'll figure out what works.
We believe confidence is beautiful. All of us stumble sometimes when it comes to feeling confident in our careers. What do you do to overcome self-doubt or ‘Impostor Syndrome’ when it starts to creep in? (Imposter Syndrome is feeling like a fake, fraud or that you are not as good as others may think you are, so you need to work harder and longer than others.)
After I learned about Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I believe I have reached self-actualization, I do not really have doubts anymore. I identify challenges, speed bumps, and hurdles and then immediately try to think of who in my support/network can help me tackle those items... I am never alone; I have a tribe of people who are willing to pitch in with a great idea or a helping hand.
Research shows girls lose 30% of their confidence between the ages of 9-13. What advice would you give your 13-year-old self?
I would tell myself that my faith in God would only grow stronger and that God always provides a path and a way... my role would be to listen well and to readily identify opportunities when they appear and to do my due diligence in analyzing opportunities that would advance myself and others in the communication arena. Assistive technology, interpreters, and hearing aid technology is only going to get better, and that the world does not rest on my shoulders. But I should do everything within my power to help others and serve others... and the rest will come.
Assertive and effective communication is a key skill for success. And women have the added challenge of navigating the 'double bind' and needing to demonstrate both warmth and competence at the same time to be taken seriously in the workplace. What is one of the most important attributes of your communication style that has helped you achieve your goals? What advice would you give to others?
Assertive communication for women is indeed a key skill for success. Dr. Madeline Albright once said that women should always help other women (in this man's world). Women have the capacity to be kind; and being kind is not a sign of weakness but rather, a strength. Advice for others--try to figure out what works well with each type of relationship you have. No one way for every relationship and to be willing to try something and work with others. Respect yourself and others. Always! And, if you need help, ask.
Networking is critical for career growth and success, especially for women. Yet it can feel uncomfortable and transactional. What is your secret to building win-win relationships?
Networking is critical; and not just to network, but to find synergy. Who are those people who naturally have the same kinds of goals that you have? Who else is out there on the same mission as you but maybe serving in that mission in a different role? Win-win relationships are great when we value one another and see that each brings something different to the table that enriches everyone... I like to welcome everyone to the table. "If you are not at the table, you are on the menu!"
Wet Cement research shows that women are not as comfortable as men when it comes to taking control of difficult conversations and feeling empowered at work. How do you overcome any barriers—internal or external—to take control in challenging situations?
A painful outcome could be that I will share what I need with well-meaning people who are endowed with the power and authority to help make my situation better and yet, they choose not to do so. For example, I once taught at a college during the COVID-19 pandemic and masks were required. I asked that clear-window masks be used so I could lipread. I was basically told that if I could not do my job, I could file for FMLA. The College was purchasing covered masks; changing to purchase clear-window masks would not have created a problem for the College but would have solved a communication problem that others like me had. Taking control? I found another teaching position where clear-window masks are the norm! Pay is better; the work environment is more respectful, genuine, and authentic.
We want to celebrate the accomplishments of Fearless Leaders like you. What are you most proud of accomplishing?
At Safe'N'Clear, we have a Deaf Leader Series in which we lift up and highlight other deaf and hard of hearing professionals who are out there every day advocating and personally working to provide communication accessibility. Being able to spotlight these phenomenal professionals is a proud accomplishment of our Safe'N'Clear team. Knowing that we are making healthcare safer for everyone is a good feeling, too.
Research shows that the gender equity pay gap is impacted by women's hesitance to negotiate at work--when it comes to pay, equity, promotions, and partnerships. What advice do you have for women on how to adopt a negotiation mindset and critical tips for maximizing their outcome?
Go in with documentation of what your pay should be based on years of service, education level, job responsibilities, and all of that. I have never discussed 'men vs. women' pay but just looked at pay, in general. Utilizing objective third party salary monitors, such as salary.com, govsalaries.com, and Glass Door are ways of equalizing the documentation but also, examine the leadership; do you see women in leadership roles? Hopefully that women will seek out employment where women are already valued!
What is your ‘mission’ or the work you are most excited about that you are currently focused on?
Changing the face of healthcare is our mission; until every mask is a clear-window mask, we have work to do.