International Women’s Day with Marianne Fray, Maternity Care Coalition

As a woman-owned business, we are honored to share the stories and messages of incredible woman leaders across a variety of industries for our International Women’s Day blog series.

This interview is with Marianne Fray, CEO at Maternity Care Coalition.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate all the unique and impressive achievements of women socially, culturally, politically and economically. We shine a bright light on women fighting for continued progress, equity, safety and opportunity all around the world. But we know that women achieve incredible things every day. At Maternity Care Coalition, we work with a diverse community of women who provide for each other, support each other and teach each other new things during critical moments like pregnancy, birth and early infancy. Giving birth is both challenging and beautiful for those who choose it. I am honored to witness and celebrate this wonder every day through my work. International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder of that and a joyous opportunity for connection and celebration.

What motivates you to be a leader in your industry?

As a leader, I use my power and influence to fight against unjust systems of oppression. Inequitable maternal, child and infant health outcomes are the result of structural racism. These inequitable health outcomes will only improve when we collectively acknowledge their root cause and invite those most impacted to sit at and lead conversations regarding solutions. Also, representation matters. As a Black woman who grew up often being “the only one,” it means so much to now serve as a living example to others who may feel marginalized, invisible and historically excluded from important conversations. Whether it be any birthing person, woman of color or mother experiencing challenges throughout pregnancy or post-partum, it matters to see oneself reflected in positions of leadership.

Are there any female leaders that have inspired you throughout your career?

There are many women leaders who inspired me throughout my life, but I will highlight four of them – my mother, my oldest sister, a college professor and a professional mentor.

I am ever indebted to the renowned poet Sonia Sanchez, who was one of my professors during undergrad at Bryn Mawr College. She helped me find my voice during a time when I felt invisible. She encouraged me to love my authentic self and to translate my pain into powerful words that could change the world.

My mother is another major player in shaping my journey. She gave birth to my oldest sister in Jim Crow Alabama and was not permitted to deliver her at the nearby segregated hospital. My oldest sister chose to dedicate her life to fighting such racism and practices and teaches family medicine throughout the U.S. and abroad. Both my mother and sister remain my inspiration and remind me to lift every voice and fight for racial and social justice. 

Finally, Charlotte Jones-Burton, MD, MS, was the wind beneath my wings as I took on this CEO role. She, along with me and eight other incredible women, founded a professional society – Women of Color in Pharma (WOCIP) – that is breaking the barriers for women of color to enter the pharmaceutical industry. Charlotte encouraged me to go for this role, to think big and to act boldly. She is a true powerhouse and an example of what is possible when you put your mind to something and bring others along!

What advice or message would you share with young women who are looking to build their careers?

I encourage young women to seek as many different experiences as possible while building their careers. Take different jobs, seek stretch assignments and build a broad network or village outside of your current employer. As you challenge and broaden your perspectives, you expand your knowledge base which will increase your value inside and outside your organization. 

I also suggest women look for mentors up, down and across their organizations and networks. Mentors provide guidance to help make strategic career choices, but I also encourage women to seek out sponsors. Mentors advise while sponsors advocate on your behalf in powerful decision-making spaces. You don’t choose a sponsor; they essentially choose you and the relationship is mutually beneficial. That means women need to be known in and around diverse networks. Both types of relationships are vital to developing an intentional and purpose-driven career. I learned the important difference between a mentor and a sponsor when I collaborated with Sylvia Ann Hewlett earlier in my career. If you wish to learn more about these critical relationships, read more from Sylvia Ann Hewlett. 

Finally, do some self-interrogation. Ask yourself, why are you interested in pursuing a certain industry or role? Does it feed your ego or something/someone else? Does the work advance what is most important to you? Does it align with your core values? Identify your WHY and stay true to that. Someone once told me, “There is no such thing as work-life balance; it’s all about work-life integration!” Choose work options that align with your personal goals and you will be more satisfied.

Read the rest of our International Women’s Day blog series here.

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