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Tracy Avin: Navigating gender stereotypes, finding support in other women & building a community

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In honor of Women's History Month, we present to you the stories of three women who are dedicated to making work a better place and inspiring us by fully embracing their true selves. This is the third story from the series.

 “So, what do you want us to do? Pay you while you stay at home and do nothing?”

This is what Tracy Avin’s boss told her when she was trying to figure out her maternity leave back in 2010. It was a humiliating and hurtful experience, to say the least.

“Everyone in my organization was either much younger or older than me. There seemed to be no one who had needed maternity leave before me. Everyone I spoke to was pretty clueless about the leave policy around pregnancy. My boss redirected me to HR. I was told that under the Family Medical Leave Act, I could go on leave without pay but retain my job so I could come back whenever I wanted to. The second option was Short-term Disability Act which I finally opted for and that paid me a partial amount of my salary as I spent days and nights caring for my newborn.” 

Years later, in another setting and on another occasion, Tracy had yet another demoralizing experience. Tracy was working with a healthcare startup and even though she wasn’t in the C-suite, everyone regarded her to be right up there with the leadership team. “It was an amazing role and I was happy with my salary too. But a friend of mine in the same company kept insisting that I ask for a raise, which I simply didn’t understand why. Until I found out that the company had hired a male candidate ten years younger than me in the same position but in a different vertical and he was earning a hundred thousand dollars more than I was! I was shocked.”

Looking back, Tracy knows that these experiences had to do with her gender.

“Workplaces didn’t know - and some still don’t know - how to support women. When I brought up the pay difference during my exit interview at the organization, the leaders were taken aback. They had no idea that something was terribly wrong there. To them, all they did was match the salary the male candidate had asked for. That’s also when I realized that women have also been conditioned to probably negotiate far less than men do.”

These dramatic experiences and the realizations that came with them went on to inspire Tracy’s decision to quit Business Development and start an HR community. But the real reason lies closer to Tracy’s heart and who she is as an individual.

From Business Development to TroopHR

Tracy started her career in Sales and then moved to Business Development. “Even though a lot of people use the terms Sales and BD interchangeably, they mean very different things to me. As a Business Development professional, I was in charge of building and nurturing relationships and partnerships. And I thoroughly enjoyed that.”

Tracy spent more than two decades in this role, working across enterprises and startups. “In 2013, I joined an on-demand healthcare startup and the people I had to interact with were HR leaders from tech companies.” 

That’s where Tracy’s tryst with HR began. “I became friends with a lot of HR leaders and became more and more entrenched in the HR world. That’s also when one day I had an idea. I told Nicole Fealey, one of the HR leaders how great it would be for HR folks to come together to share their ideas and experiences and learn from each other. And guess what! She agreed with me. She said if I could plan something, she would invite her folks to attend too.”

That’s how Tracy ended up hosting the first-ever breakfast session for HR folks and the get-together was a huge success. So much so, these get-togethers became a quarterly affair and also got a name, Post’d People Group. For Tracy though, this was still all a side hustle, something she loved doing in her free time.

“I’ve always seen myself as a connector, a resource, be that in my personal or professional life. And Post’d People fulfilled that part of me. But I never thought of it as a full-time project even though my husband kept insisting that I should.”

During the course of this time, Tracy moved to another job where she was being paid to evaluate HR technologies and services, all of which only made her get closer and closer to HR leaders and the work that they do. “And then, out of nowhere, COVID happened. Suddenly, a lot of these leaders reached out to me to find out what others were doing. How were people managing furloughs? How were they handling a distributed workforce? So on and so forth”.

That’s the moment when Tracy finally decided that she needed to create a community where HR professionals could support each other and grow together. “So I interviewed more than 50 HR professionals and laid the foundation for TroopHR.”

TroopHR started in 2021, a community where people leaders can learn, connect and elevate each other in their roles. There are two components to TroopHR - a forum and LIVE learning sessions for HR-specific knowledge and professional development. “And because we are building a community, we are constantly listening to our members. For instance, six months into the launch, we had a few members say that they would like to form meaningful relationships with their peers. To facilitate this, we started the ‘Leadership Squad’, a leadership coaching group program with 10-12 people in a group.”

Similarly, another challenge that a lot of TroopHR’s members pointed out was the inability to find relevant and credible content on the internet. To combat this, TroopHR introduced an Academy with courses that are only 10-20 minutes long.

Tracy with TroopHR members at the Transform 2023 Conference

But what was Tracy’s biggest challenge in starting TroopHR?

“I’m a natural connector/resource. Like I said earlier, that’s who I am. The whole idea of monetizing who I am through a membership fee-based community threw me into confusion. I think I worried that the passion that came with it being a passion project would be lost the moment it becomes a commercial entity. But I also realized that the fee was allowing me the opportunity to further build, curate and create more for the community I loved so much.”

Not an accidental entrepreneur

If the way it all panned out sounded like Tracy is an accidental entrepreneur, that’s far from the truth. “My father was a dentist. I have grown up seeing him run a large practice and also make time to do more things that he loves. I am not creative in the traditional sense. But I’ve always wanted to build and grow something.”

Tracy Avin with Nicole Fealey who is now the Experience Lead at TroopHR

Today, a decade or more after facing gender-based discrimination in the workplace, Tracy is slowly but steadily carving out a space where she can influence positive change in the workplace.

And Tracy always had the support of HR leaders, most of whom happened to be women. Every one of them told her not to be afraid and to go for it when she began TroopHR. “I’ve always had these inspiring women around me supporting me. Contrary to popular assumption that women don’t support women enough, I see a lot of work being done by women to support each other, which is beautiful.” 

“Even after all these years, I have moments of doubt. But if that doubt ever stops me from moving forward, I have a bunch of inspiring women who I go to and ask what I should be doing. And to be honest, the only thing that separates people who have doubts and those that are successful is, the latter have doubts, kick it in the ass and move on. That’s how we all grow.”

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