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From NYC to NL: Shea Harty's Quest for Workplace Equality

Meet Shea Harty: a dynamic force on a mission to guide individuals through the maze of professional life.

Hailing from the Big Apple but currently calling the Netherlands home, Shea's journey as a first-generation American of Jamaican heritage and an expat in Europe fuels her dedication to uplifting underrepresented communities and championing workplace equality as the Executive Director of the Empowerment Foundation.

With over 20 years of expertise spanning human resources, intercultural communication, digital innovation, and engagement, Shea is a seasoned advisor to global corporations, empowering them to foster inclusive environments, implement sustainable employability initiatives, and navigate organizational transformations. As a skilled business and executive coach, she specializes in catalyzing growth and reshaping mindsets for success.

In an exclusive interview with Expat Life, Shea shares her passion for supporting immigrants in Europe, empowering professionals to unlock their potential, and reflects on her remarkable journey blazing trails across diverse career landscapes. Join us as we delve into Shea's world of empowerment and inspiration!

Shea, you are the founder of the Empowerment Foundation. Tell us a bit about your journey and how it led you to where you are now in your career. What inspired you to found the Empowerment Foundation?

My career is quite broad, from marketing, legal & compliance to human resources, where my roles were focused on a program level. I noticed that people also needed support from an individual perspective, which I offered with coaching. It made me realize that it's hard to process new information when dealing with internal conflicts. So, I fell in love with coaching and how a small shift in mindset could have a big impact on productivity and efficiency.

As a side hustle, I also ran an Airbnb with a woman I hired to take care of the day-to-day activities. One day, she came over, and she just looked gray, run-down, and so unhappy. She had initially agreed to help me out for a few months, until she found a new job. She is a highly intelligent psychologist who speaks five different languages, but unfortunately, she had been made redundant. It had been three years since that time, and she looked very sad. I knew she needed help, but it couldn't come from me as I was too close to her. I contacted my network and asked for someone to help her, and I received an overwhelming response that there were many others in need of help. This led to the ball rolling.

What specific challenges did you identify that unemployed immigrants in the Netherlands were facing?

The specific challenges go beyond language. Language is more than words. It’s also culture. Even if you know the words, you need to understand the culture to understand and to be understood. Some biases play a part in whether an immigrant will be seen beyond their outward appearance, religion, or nationality. Then, there are internal doubts, such as believing that you deserve to be here, that you are good at what you do, and that you can overcome these external challenges.

Being a first-generation American with Jamaican heritage, how has your upbringing influenced your passion for empowering immigrants and fostering diversity?

My upbringing gave me compassion and empathy for what immigrants and migrants face when they move to a new country. I have a deep understanding that you live in two worlds. In your home is the old world, the one you’re used to. It’s comfortable, and you can be your whole self. Outside is the new world, where it probably challenges everything you ever knew, sometimes delighting you and other times scaring you half to death.

Why did you decide to expand the foundation's focus to Women in STEM and female founders?

Through our work with women in tech conferences, we saw firsthand that there weren’t enough spaces and opportunities for visibility. We investigated this further and found that it’s even worse for women working in science and other innovative fields. Many women are sexually harassed so much that they accept it as ‘normal’ OR they leave. We understood that this could change if more women in these industries became decision-makers, leaders, or managers. However, we also saw that even when they are in these roles, they feel alone and discouraged by the lack of change, visibility, or having their ideas recognized.

What are some of the biggest hurdles women in STEM leadership positions face today?

Making sure you are given the mandate to do the job and not just be a figurehead, finding allies to support your initiatives, finding the inner strength to not give up, and creating opportunities for others.

You’ve been in tech for many years - in fact, you were part of the Y2K project. What lessons did you learn from working on such a large-scale tech project at a young age?

Firstly, you should always be prepared for things not going according to the plan. Think of how you want to show up and adapt when it all goes pear-shaped. Secondly, collaboration is more important than trying to be a leader. When people trust you, they will naturally follow you. Finally, it's essential to keep a positive perspective and not let the fear of failure take over.

What are some of the common challenges female entrepreneurs face that you help them overcome?

Mindset! This is huge. The information on how to do things is out there for FREE! You can teach

yourself anything these days. But if you don’t believe in yourself, in your idea, or that the world needs what you have, then it doesn’t matter if you know how to do it.

Many entrepreneurs struggle with work-life balance. How do you manage your various

commitments while staying healthy and fulfilled?

I have a supportive husband who believes in me. I also put everything on my agenda - even going to the market for groceries. Every week, I take a look at my schedule and see what is really important and what I have the energy for. Some weeks, I give myself the Wednesday off to do nothing. I may have to pick up a few things on the weekend, but I listen to my body and give myself the break it needs.

What advice would you give to your younger self, or to any aspiring female expat entrepreneur out there?

Everything that happens, good or bad, is a learning moment that will help you in the future. There are no mistakes, no failures, only learning. There is no end. After each goal is reached, there is a new goal, so try to enjoy the journey and take deep breaths along the way.

What are some resources or tools you recommend for female entrepreneurs seeking to gain a stronger foothold in the tech industry?

Communities. Join them or make them. We all need people to learn and grow.

You had the unfortunate experience of working and living in New York when 9/11 happened, and you were pregnant as well! How did this tragedy shape you?

Wow. It took me a long time to process that day. I left shortly after my son was born. For years, I would get emotional just thinking of that day. When I look back now, I see that everything happens as it needs to happen for reasons we may not know at the time. It also prepared me for COVID. I knew it was all going to work out.

Who are some female role models who inspire you, and why?

There are too many to name. I’m inspired by women in my day-to-day life and female public figures who do not wait for permission to force change and take the hits so other women don’t have to.

Looking back at your diverse experiences, what unifies your work across entrepreneurship, coaching, and social impact?

I think it’s the diversity of experience that gives me the ability to see things from different perspectives, keeping an eye on all the people and areas that are affected by change, and providing support not only from a strategic level but also an individual one.

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