EA Creative’s Women in Leadership conversation series recently connected Chief members Talia Kovacs with Sandhya Jain-Patel and artwork by Eunjoo Byeon, an NYC-based graphic designer and frequent collaborator. Through interviews and artwork we are committed to showcasing women in leadership positions who are making history today. Please send us a message on Linkedin, e-mail us, and share socially to nominate someone in your network.
Sandhya Jain-Patel: Where do you work and what is your current role there?
Talia Kovacs: I am the CEO at LitLife, an international literacy consulting firm specializing in social-emotional literacy instruction. We partner with school districts in 11 countries to make sure teachers are empowered to teach joyful, purposeful, reading and writing lessons.
Sandhya: What was a defining moment in your career which has led to your current role?
Talia: LitLife was at a crossroads, we had to figure out how to continue to serve our students while ensuring that the company remained stable and healthy. I began our internal systems organizing as the EVP of operations. I continued running the team and systems as COO, then the owners were looking to step away and asked me to step up and run the company.
I became LitLife’s CEO at 29 years old with a background as a teacher and a COO. I quickly learned that the role difference between CEO and COO is very different. COO you have to ensure the ship is running, but you’re not as responsible for strategy decisions and long term vision. As CEO, I had to make sure that all of the systems I implemented as COO continued, and also steer LitLife in a very uncertain time in education with budget cuts and the many competing priorities of school districts.
Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult? Are there any times it was easier?
Talia: As the CEO of LitLife, I went to this meeting with two very seasoned sales people. I could tell when they walked in that I wasn’t being taken seriously. They gave me a ludicrous offer that no one with even a day of experience would consider. I told them I needed to reschedule, and at the next meeting I brought in a board member who is a former education salesperson.
This board member also happens to be an older man. Once he sat down, all of a sudden everyone had much more reasonable offers to make and the tone completely shifted. I was really disappointed that that’s what it took but also knew to use all the tools at my disposal for the betterment of the company.
Sandhya: Have you had a mentor or sponsor who has helped you in your career, and how did they do that? How have you been able to do the same for someone else?
Talia: Yes, I have been working with Pam Allyn, LitLife’s founder and owner, for over 10 years. I met her after I came back from working for half a year in West Africa learning more about their education system. She had recently started a non-profit called LitWorld, focused on international after-school programs. Together, we created profiles of the schools I worked with in Ghana and Togo to better serve their needs. From then on I was inspired to work alongside her, building a story-driven, empowered world for kids.
After my time teaching and as a curriculum writer, I came to work for her at LitLife and have been with this company ever since. Pam is a visionary leader who is always pushing me to think bigger, be bold, (that is her favorite piece of advice!) and never accept anything less than the most magical curriculum and imaginative lessons to be put in front of kids.
Sandhya: Who is a historic or living woman that has inspired you?
Talia: I have two - Zora Neale Hurston and Gloria Steinem. I often think of these ground-breaking, rule-bending, forward-moving women together because they are both storytellers and have exemplified the importance of not only telling their own stories but amplifying the voices of those around them as well.
Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?
Talia: Your career is a series of pivots. You’ll be able to keep focus on the kids no matter what.
Sandhya: What haven’t we asked you that we should and what would your answer be?
Talia: As a former teacher running a business, I make it my mission to speak about the importance of running a values-driven business. I want other mission-oriented people to know that you can run a values-driven, profitable business. Many people who work hard to improve the lives of those around them often think of themselves as “not a business leader” - but I always want to push that narrative and emphasize that if there were more value-driven, social-good-focused business leaders, the world would be a better place!
Sandhya Patel: How is the pandemic affecting your work and daily routine?
Talia: My entire sector is drastically affected, with schools shutting down and work going to virtual. Many districts are no longer continuing with their important professional development and curricular development, and this means we have had to pivot many times already within our business model.
Sandhya Patel: As difficult as it is, has the isolation and social distancing had any unexpected benefits?
Talia: My daily routine has become a lot simpler, and that’s something I’d like to keep with me. I’ve been going on morning walks and spending more time with family - whether over Facetime or quarantined with my sweet nephews - and I have loved this newfound closeness.
Sandhya Patel: Are there specific ways you have focused on staying positive throughout this temporary new reality?
Talia: Absolutely - I am always working to continue my meditation practice, see the water a few times a week, and make sure I’m not consuming too much news at any given time. It’s kept keep me more or less on an even keel.
To learn more about Talia and keep up with her work at Litlife PD, follow the links below.