Women's History Month: an Interview with Frontline Groups female CEO, Jill Blankenship
By Frontline Group March 22, 2022
Women's History Month: an Interview with Frontline Groups female CEO, Jill Blankenship
By Frontline Group
March 22, 2022
Women's History Month: an Interview with Frontline Groups female CEO, Jill Blankenship.
I’m Jill Blankenship and I’m the CEO of Frontline Group. Frontline Group encompasses two companies, Frontline Call Center, which I founded in 2005 and Frontline Services, which I founded in 2013.
What made you want to have a career in the contact center space?
It was all a matter of opportunity, timing, and a lot of luck. I lived on a very small island in the Pacific Northwest and I was a single parent with three kids and finding year round employment was really hard to do. So I was looking at what I could do to start a company on the island that didn’t require people walking in the door or to be dependent on the seasons when people came. I asked a good friend of mine who was a financial planner, and he said that I should open a call center. And I said, what? I think the Island’s too small to have a call center. And he said, no, you would get your accounts from the mainland. And you would be able to hire people to work the call center from the island. And this is back in 2005 when cloud technology and remote working was just, it was just becoming a new thing. So having that technology in 2005 was a critical piece of me being able to start that company. Once we grew and I realized we needed more agents off the island, I loved the idea of having a remote workforce so that people like single moms like myself could have the opportunity to still pursue a career while also being able to support their kids or any other responsibilities they had.
Now that you are in this industry, given your experience in it, is it primarily led by males or females?
It’s definitely led by males. The history of this industry starts from telephone communications. That’s really what started this. So we could even take it back from Mabel. Even though it was kind of named after a woman, it was a very male dominated industry where you’d have your telecom guys or your phone guys. It was the old school way that people would refer to those who worked in this industry. It’s emerged so much since then and we can take calls through our computer, through different devices and things like that, but in terms of leadership it has continued to stay primarily male. However, within this last year at Frontline we’ve grown our female employees within our company by 37.5% and our C-Suite is now 80% female, so I’ve been really grateful to be a part of seeing a change in the gender ratios within the contact center space and I know other companies in the space are urging to do the same.
Now that it has emerged to be what it is, what do you think are the benefits to having women in leadership in this industry specifically?
Well, I think that diversity is critical in how we do business together. Whether it’s our point of views, or experience, or how we make a difference, those opportunities should be given to whomever qualifies, regardless if they’re male, female, they/them, nonbinary. Unfortunately, a lot of this industry is who you know. So as a woman coming into this field, not knowing anyone, I was really just taking it from the research I did, the business plan I put together and using what I would want as an experience as my guidelines for creating this.
My benefit to this industry was having a fresh point of view for sure. As hard as it was being a single mom and going into this, I had to walk in unafraid. It was just me going in and disrupting, asking questions, creating things that have never been created before, based off of what I thought people needed and wanted to see. And I had a great team of developers that took my ideas and made them into reality.
When you were coming in, were there moments where you felt a lot of imposter syndrome? And how did you navigate your way through that while also building the company?
I felt it every day. Every day and every hour of every day. It’s a mental hurdle and I think what helped me is knowing that so many people, especially women, do feel this. Once I was able to accept that it was a common thought, and with a lot of mental practice, I stopped being afraid to ask questions or not knowing something and asking so that I could learn and grow. Leaning into the unknown with curiosity and an eagerness to grow as opposed to judging myself was key. I was out there wanting to learn. And it seemed like everyone that I ran into and worked with were very eager to help me learn. So it was one of those win-win situations. I was there, I was asking questions. And again, I was interacting with people who really wanted to share that information with me, which is just as important to have in whatever company or industry you’re in.
What is something that you wish you would have known earlier on in your career now looking back?
I think not being so afraid of failure. That being said, it was a huge driver for me that I was afraid of failure because it kept me moving. But it did create lots of sleepless nights and nightmares about ending up in the gutter. When I would have to make cold calls to help get customers, it was just the scariest thing in the world to me and I’m sure I sounded like an idiot on half the calls, but that was how I learned. That was how I learned to talk about what we did. That was how I learned to better understand other companies, what their needs were and how they provided customer support and how we could help them with that. And then I learned that they’re just conversations and other people just like me on the other line too. I think it’s important to have some nerves and fears of failure within you because that means you care, but I wish I had balanced it out more where it didn’t take over my day to day because failure is just another step of growth.
You have now built a company that has 80% of the C-Suite as females. So what are some qualities that make a great female leader in your opinion?
Empathy. Hiring women has not necessarily been a conscious decision that I’ve made. I’ve hired the right person for the right role and it’s kind of grown to that percentage. So I’m just thankful that I have the leaders I do. And I do think that women leaders do provide more empathy. They’re peacemakers, they want to resolve issues and they want happy employees. And to me that’s the key to success. Especially in our industry where our ultimate goal is providing quality customer care and making sure someone’s problem feels heard.
If you could give advice to a female entrepreneur, what would it be?
Be present, be curious, allow yourself to listen and learn. And then really follow your instinct on how you can make a difference. Because we’re all different. We all come with our own strengths and our own intentions. I really think as women, we have that sixth sense. We have that feeling if there’s something happening with our child or if a project we’re on is working or not. Things like that. So I would definitely recommend following that. That’s a gift as women, we are given. So follow it.
How do you feel like we can stop gender bias in the workplace? What are some steps that you think can help there?
I mean, we live in a country where companies are allowed to do whatever they want. I think making that change definitely is going to take a lot of time to where we see it 100% balanced. But I think great steps forward is every company going back and re-evaluating their hiring and recruiting process each year to see how they are remaining non bias. I also think creating more flexible work options is huge. We’ve been a remote working company for over a decade now and because of this we allow someone of any gender to optimize their working hours based on their location and other responsibilities they have, like a child.
Are there any female public figures or mentors past or present who have inspired you in your time as a female CEO?
People like Oprah and Mel Robbins who really have made such an impact on women empowerment continue to inspire me. I follow them and their leads all the time. But most of the females inspiring me have been those I’ve surrounded myself with, who have strengths in areas that I don’t. Joan Roulac has made a huge difference in my life and I’ve been working with her for 16 years now. Laura Robbat who I’ve been working with for almost five years now. Both of these women I look to for guidance. It’s crucial to not only surround yourself with powerful, talented females, but ones who have more knowledge and strength in areas you may not so that you can lift one another up.
What does Women's History Month mean to you?
It allows time to reflect and make change on the need for equality, the need for being able to really highlight women who have done so many amazing things. I mean, we’re still coming out with documentaries and stories of women in history, during the times of war, back in the 18th, 19th centuries, and seeing what an impact these women have made in our history and up until this point have been mostly unknown. Nobody really knew what they were doing and what an impact they were making until hundreds of years later. Women’s History month encourages intentional time to dig into those stories and appreciate what the women in the past have done for us females now and what we all are continuing to do for society. But it’s important to remember that this work needs to continue being done beyond this month as well. It’s just a great reminder to continue the work.