Bold Women in the C-Suite: Caitlin Donato

Bold Women in the C-Suite: Caitlin Donato

Name: Caitlin Donato

Brand: Volofit 

Title: COO, Area Developer/Franchisee

Age: 35

Years in franchising: 10

No. of units: 9 open, dozens in the pipeline

How important is making bold moves in a woman’s path to the C-suite? I think it’s more about doing the small things right so that when the opportunity presents itself, you are in a position to be forward-thinking or “bold.”

Describe bold moves you’ve made in your career. I left a very well-known and successful franchise fitness concept for an opportunity to grow a young brand. One of my top personal core values is growth, so for me jumping to a young brand looking to grow aligned with my values perfectly. However, to others, that jump may have seemed risky or scary. I guess it was, but to grow, either personally or as a brand, it’s going to be risky and absolutely scary. That’s the part that I love.

How did you envision those moves changing the brand you were with? I felt it was important to create a fitness concept and program offering that was truly for the masses and, for the first time in the industry, perfectly balanced.

How has your leadership helped evolve the brand? I think it has played a big role in growing the corporate team. A growing brand needs leaders who can help raise others up so that they have a chance to be bold.

Was there pushback? How did you handle that? Call it pushback. Call it growing pains. A brand doesn’t grow without it. I always try to rely on facts and logic. Let’s document it and understand what must be changed to align on priorities.

How are you imparting a culture of boldness to other women in your organization? Early in my career I was empowered by an amazing woman in the industry. She took me under her wing and helped me along several steps in my career. I have always been devoted to doing the same for talented women in this industry—whether helping female coaches understand that they don’t have to stop at the aspiration of becoming a head coach when they can own their own studio, or helping guide and grow a corporate career.

What are some ways women leaders in franchising can drive change? 1) Bring others up with you. 2) Learn from your critics and appreciate your supporters. 3) And, like I tell my kids, always, and I do mean always, be the hardest working “kid” in the room.

What role has mentoring played in your career? How did you meet your mentors? I am not alone. Some I’ve met through the workplace and by listening to podcasts.

Describe one of your biggest failures. What did you learn, and how did it contribute to greater personal or business success? I have been a runner my whole life. One of my big scary, audacious goals for the past 12 years has been to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I have failed over and over and over again. Most recently, I trained for six months in the most intense training of my life. For all intents and purposes, I should have qualified. Every time-trial training run would tell you the same. The day of the race my body and the weather had other plans. Around all of my friends and family, I failed to qualify for the third time. After dusting off my pride and putting my ego aside, here is the lesson I learned: Know when to fail. You will not always win. You might think you know the answer and you’ve done the research (or practice), but race day might have other plans for you. You have to be brave enough to know when to fail. Sometimes it’s just as important as winning.

What is one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make, and how did it affect your life? As a single mom, making the decision to double down on my career is constantly a tough decision. There are only so many hours in a day, and the decision to lean into my career has often come at the cost of spending time with my young children. I like to assure myself that they have a strong mommy to look up to. However, the fact is I have sacrificed time—and, most importantly, memories—with them.

If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? I’d love to say nothing and that everything has led me to where I am now. But honestly, a ton. I would have done a thousand things differently. That’s only because life doesn’t always allow you to learn the lesson before taking the test.

What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders? There will always be voices. It is up to you what you listen to. It’s not always about being right, proving points, and being bold. This took me a long time to learn, and I’m still learning every day. Sometimes, if you pause and listen to the voices, you can extract value and learn from others. Listen to the voices that have lessons to teach and do your best to block out the ones aimed to knock you down. Also, your gut is always right. I wish I would have learned to trust mine a lot sooner.

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