As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Heath Dietz.
Ashley Heath Dietz is the President and CEO of the Florida Philanthropic Network. She previously served as senior director of community partnerships and operations for United Way Suncoast, where she led the integration of the community investment process, partnership strategies, and regional contract management process across the organization’s five county footprint, ensuring sound stewardship of financial and non-financial resources. Ashley was also selected to be part of Leadership Tampa for 2022 which is coordinated by the Tampa Bay Chamber.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I had been in philanthropy for 13 years before joining the Florida Philanthropic Network (FPN) as a funder. I worked for the City of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, focusing on grants and sponsorship prior to my four years spent with United Way Suncoast in Tampa, Florida. At United Way Suncoast, I was managing their community investments across five counties. So with my role now at FPN, as I lead a state-wide association of funders, I feel like I’ve found my dream job!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I haven’t really ‘met’ anyone yet! I was virtually interviewed and hired for this role over a number of zoom calls during the midst of the pandemic and the vast majority of our FPN members I’ve only met virtually. Our network is all about relationships, so it’s been an interesting experience to only be able to meet via phone or video call over the past year or so. However, I am looking forward to meeting in-person as we head into 2022.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if I’ve had any funny mistakes… But I have definitely had some stumbles here and there. My mantra is to always own up to your mistakes and don’t blame other people, situations or timing. Particularly when you are leading an organization. The past, present and future of the organization are your responsibility. So own up to all of it — the good, bad, ugly and the amazing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mom and sister for sure. I come from a family of attorneys, including the two of them. Both of these women have taught me how to command a room, work incredibly hard and then go home each night and prioritize being a wife and a mother. They are my role models for success in more ways than one.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Practice, practice, practice. Whether it’s a presentation or a difficult discussion, I always write down bullets points and practice out loud what I will say. Sometimes, I will even talk it out in my car when I’m driving or while I’m walking the dog. However you find time, remember to think about the main points you want to hit, and most importantly, what your delivery style will be. Tone matters and makes all the difference.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Equity is a core value of our work here at FPN. We believe in using equity data as a lens to influence our work and educate members around the need and benefits of diversity and inclusion in philanthropy and supported systems.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
The first step for all of us is to consistently take a moment to listen and learn. We all have work to do in this space to help create an inclusive and equitable society and community.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
In my role as CEO of FPN, it’s all about relationships and decision-making. FPN is a statewide association. Our relationships with our members and providing space for our members to build relationships with one another is the core of what we do. Secondly, being able to make strategic yet timely decisions. Too often leaders can get bogged down with the aftermath of a decision or following a new course. But if you know your organization inside and out and believe in the mission of what you do, be bold and make timely decisions.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I have found that a myth about CEOs is that we are too busy to take calls or meetings. For me, this is not true! Oftentimes, it will take three people to get a message to me because the person initiating thinks I don’t have the time. A good leader makes the time or delegates. Don’t leave CEOs out of the discussion. It can get lonely ‘at the top’ and we want to be involved — in a non-micromanagement way! Both with our teams and with our work.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I’ll speak for myself on this one. The biggest challenge I face as a women executive is really about also being a mother. Whoever said you can have it all is lying. There are always sacrifices when it comes to being a successful professional as well as raising children.
We outsource a lot of our help so both my husband and I can work and provide for our family. I think the same applies to men as well, but my husband doesn’t feel nearly as much guilt or pressure as I do to be a top-notch professional and be a top-notch mom.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Because I work from home and was hired during the height of the pandemic, I thought I would be able to better manage my 9-to-5 each day. However, it feels like the exact opposite. I feel so connected to my job from the moment I wake up till I go to sleep. I’ve had to learn to find balance and take breaks to avoid burnout. I take a lot of calls while I am out on a walk and have a strict no phone or email policy between 5:30–7:30 pm so I can be with my family.
Is everyone cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think it depends on the industry you’re in. Some industries demand different personalities. I do believe all CEOs need to be able to view things at a macro level, make decisions and learn to not sweat the small stuff.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Trust your team! Give them the benefit of the doubt and do not be a micromanager. Not only will your team members not like you, but it will start to slow down productivity and create a terrible work culture.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I started my career in philanthropy 13 years ago because I wanted a profession where I could use my brain, but lead with my heart. I know each day, in some small way, our organization is helping to build philanthropy for a better Florida. Our goal is to help people in communities across our entire state.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- When you can meet in person, DO. Zoom is a wonderful tool during this time, but nothing beats an in-person connection.
- Schedule time in your calendar for a workout or time outside each day. I will typically block off time in my calendar as if it was a meeting. Making that time for yourself is really important.
- If it takes you more than five minutes to write the email because you are not sure what to say or how you will sound, pick up the phone and call the person.
- Collaboration moves at the speed of trust, so invest in your stakeholders and make time to build authentic relationships.
- Invest in spiral notebooks! Since starting this job, I have had a lot of 1:1 meetings where I take notes. I’ve filled up to ten notebooks in one year.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Florida-wide universal Wi-Fi and internet access. I would love for all communities, both urban and rural, to have access to Wi-Fi or broadband services across the state of Florida — at no charge.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.” I’m not sure who actually said this quote, but it’s one of my favorites. It is not only important to show up in your own life, but it’s also important to show up for others.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I think I would like to have lunch with Casey DeSantis, First Lady of Florida. There is a lot we could both learn from one another in areas where we share similar perspectives as well as some other areas where our opinions may differ. She is a champion for mental health support in schools. And we are both mothers, so I think we would have plenty to chat about.