Women on Having It All: Dawn Gerrain
Dawn Gerrain; President, Milady; Schodack Landing, New York
Under Dawn Gerrain’s leadership, Milady has become one of the most widely used providers of educational materials and continuing education across the globe for beauty and wellness students and salon and spa professionals. Dawn has been in publishing for 20 plus years, with a well-rounded background in the industry. She is currently making the development of cutting-edge technology and producing digital products a priority at Milady. Gerrain holds an MBA from the State University of New York at Albany, and she currently resides in Schodack Landing, New York, with her husband and two children.
Do you believe a woman in the professional beauty industry can “have it all?” And, what does that mean to you?
“The definition of having it all is relative to each of us individually, so my perspective as to what it means can be different than someone else’s perspective. That being said, I don’t think that any one person can truly “have it all.” I believe that both men and women have to make certain sacrifices in order to maintain a positive work-life balance, whether that means missing a family member’s event, not being able to get to the gym as frequently as you would like or having to compromise on a vacation date based on schedules. Certainly, how great those sacrifices are will vary from person to person, and what one considers as a sacrifice, another may not. From my perspective, being able to have a family that participates in many activities together, having a very rewarding career and finding time to fit in some things that I personally enjoy are my idea of having it all. My perfect week would consist of, achieving the work goals that I’ve set for that week, attending my kids sporting events, getting to exercise at least four times and sitting down to a few dinners together as a family. Some weeks this works out, others it doesn’t.”
In the pursuit of “having it all,” what sacrifices have you had to make, if any?
“I have two children, a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. Missing out on some of their activities is a definite sacrifice. I love watching them play sports, and if I’m traveling, or have a work conflict, not being there is a disappointment. Growing up, I had the privilege of having both of my parents attend all of my sporting events. Their support at the games meant a great deal to me. However, I am very lucky in that I do have the opportunity to see many of their games although this means I tackle a number of Milady-related responsibilities once the sun goes down. In many instances my husband, in-laws, mother and sister also attend games so it takes some of the pressure off if I can’t make it. My husband travels with his job, and juggling our schedules so that one of us is home with the kids can sometimes be challenging. For now, that’s important for us, so even though we can be like two ships passing in the night, we are able to avoid a lot of travel conflicts. We also have a lot of support from family and friends, which makes a world of difference. That being said, I think the fact that both my husband and I have demanding careers has made us appreciate one another more. It also makes it more important that everyone in our family chips in to keep things running smoothly. In addition to having great support at home, I am lucky to have a great group of people at work. The team I’m privileged to lead at Milady is driven, focused on customer needs and always willing to help one another out. It takes a great deal of pressure off me knowing I can trust them to get the job done and get it done right.”
If we were looking through a scrapbook of your life, what would be your favorite page?
“One night in particular stands out: My husband, kids, siblings, nieces and nephews were sitting around a campfire at home telling jokes and stories and having a lot of laughs. Being able to have a close-knit family that actually enjoys spending time together is fantastic.”
If we were looking through a scrapbook of your life, what page would you want to rewrite?
“Honestly, I can’t think of a page that I would rewrite. Every experience that I’ve had has helped shape me into the person that I am today.”
What’s your favorite tool or strategy for maintaining balance in your life? “Maintaining balance can be a challenge, but planning and scheduling is critically important. As I’ve said, my husband also travels with his job, so juggling our work trips and our children’s schedules can sometimes be crazy. I also am an officer for our school district’s athletic booster club and sit on our school district’s community budget advisory committee. Incorporating these duties into the mix of work and family adds more challenges to our schedules, but it’s important for me to help give back to our community and local schools. Therefore, I believe having a support network I can depend on is the most important “tool” or “strategy” to maintain balance in my life, as it allows me to be present no matter where I am—work or home. This support network primarily includes my mother, sister, brother, and my in-laws. In addition, my husband and I have become friends with the parents of many of our children’s friends. Depending on family and friends for rides to and from practices has helped us out tremendously.”
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you, and how did it change your life? “The best advice that I’ve ever received was to always treat others the way you would like to be treated. I follow this in my work and personal life. There is nothing I expect from members of the Milady team that I wouldn’t do myself.”
What wisdom would you share with a young woman entering a career in the professional beauty industry?
“I would tell her to first make sure she focuses on where she wants to go in her career and ensure she is developing the skills she needs to continue to grow. Learning never ends. Education and professional development are critical to career growth. In addition, networking and building relationships are extremely valuable and not to be overlooked.”
What keeps you up at night?
“Thinking about how to fit many things into a sometimes short period of time can keep me up at night. When I have a trip coming up and it is one of the times my husband is also traveling, making sure I have all of my work deadlines met as well as making sure I have plans for the kids to get to and from where they need to be. This means making multiple calls depending on how busy their activities are for that week—school, practice, games, religion, etc. Prioritizing and planning are of the utmost importance to help keep these types of situations at bay.”
What makes you feel powerful?
“Accomplishing goals I’ve set for myself makes me feel powerful, especially overcoming the challenging ones. It gives me the confidence to know I can accomplish anything once I’ve set my mind to it. Nothing feels better than finishing a big project or going above and beyond to exceed goals. In addition, helping others develop and improve their skill sets is a great sense of accomplishment. In a leadership role, some people don’t always realize the impact they have on others. Every decision I make will shape a person’s perception of me and impact how that individual leads. When someone tells me they hope they can be as good of a leader as I am, that is a wonderful feeling, and something I don’t take for granted as it makes me aspire to be even better. Keeping in mind, Milady is celebrating its 85th birthday this year. There has been fantastic leadership before me, and I have no doubt there will be fantastic leadership in the distant future after me, so sustaining the legacy and making my own contributions to one of the most successful businesses in the industry is quite rewarding. “
What’s the best thing anyone’s ever told you about yourself?
“That they’ve learned leadership skills by watching and experiencing my work ethics. They’ve commented on the fact that I am able to build loyalty by completing tasks I could easily ask others to do, developing employees to prepare them to take on new roles and building confidence in others while challenging them to excel. I take this as a huge compliment, because I perceive the person who told me this as an extremely effective leader.”
What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
“Professionally, over the next five years, I’d like to continue to develop the skill sets of both myself and my team. In addition, I’d like to help Milady continue to grow and evolve in this ever-changing education environment. We will continue to expand providing educational resources, not just for students that are in school, but to also provide resources and education to them once they are in their career. In addition, we will continue to expand our reach in the global market since this industry includes individuals all across the world who are hungry for education and are striving to be successful. Personally, I would like for my husband and I to help our children successfully navigate their teenage years by instilling in them a good sense of values and helping them as they prepare to find careers that will be as rewarding as the one I’ve worked so hard for.”