Grace Over Guilt: Redefining Success for Women with Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer and Kimberly Rath

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer and Kimberly Rath

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer and Kimberly Rath are two remarkable women who are not only leaders in their respective fields but have also recently co-authored a transformative book aimed at guiding mid-career women to new heights of professional and personal success.

Through their new book, Now, Near, Next: A Practical Guide for Mid-Career Women to Move from Professional Serendipity to Intentional Advancement, Cynthia and Kimberly illuminate a path for women who seek to not just navigate but excel in their careers by fostering an environment of self-awareness, strategic planning, and proactive growth.

Cynthia, with her robust background as a business executive, human capital strategist, and executive coach, and Kimberly, a visionary talent developer, and bestselling author, bring together decades of experience and success. Both women have shattered glass ceilings. They’ve overcome the challenges of being pioneering female leaders in industries that have traditionally been led by men. Through their professional journeys and personal anecdotes, they share powerful lessons on how women can take charge of their careers, advocate for themselves, and find fulfillment in their professional lives.

Check out our interview with these two incredible women below.

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer and Kimberly Rath
Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer and Kimberly Rath

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer: The biggest mistake I have found is that women have a sense of loyalty and peacekeeping that mutes their voices. I’ve had several women hesitant to openly share their aspirations for a role because another colleague was also interested, they thought their boss would feel threatened, or they surmised that others were more qualified. Having aspirations for new or additional responsibilities isn’t a competition. It is an individual goal, one that won’t be realized if you don’t pursue it.

Kimberly, as a talent development expert, what strategies do you believe are most effective in helping women in the middle of their careers rediscover and leverage their unique strengths?

Kimberly Rath: Take time to establish your mission and vision to help you prioritize your time and energy, making sure your daily actions align with your long-term goals and aspirations. Developing a personal mission, vision, and values statement and aligning them to your natural talents can help you lead a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

Your book advocates for women taking charge of their careers by embracing grace over guilt. Could you elaborate a bit more on this and why it’s important?

Women take on 2.6 times the caregiving, more often because we want to. However, when trying to do it all, there is often guilt of not being enough at work or at home. We encourage women to own the choices they make, rather than apologize for them. I work so that… I put in overtime so that… Or I need help with this task so that…

Establishing healthy boundaries is another key theme in your book. How should women go about setting and enforcing these boundaries, especially in professional settings where doing so might be challenging?

As women we are raised to be helpful and accommodating. Those are wonderful traits, unless they are taken advantage of or unintentionally derail our professional brand. It is important to consider whether the tasks that one volunteers for is adding value or volume. If the assignment is simply adding more volume with little opportunity for growth, development, and experience, it should be evaluated. It is ok to say, no thank you, not now, or simply don’t raise your hand.

Can you talk about the concept of creating a “Strengths-Development Plan”? How does one begin this process and what does it entail?

We believe in the science of positive psychology and that we are far better served by investing in the development of our natural talents, than in trying to marginally improve areas of weakness. A strength development plan allows you to identify your natural talents and then commit to development opportunities that will stretch and grow your potential.

For example, if you have a gift for public speaking, where can you increase your exposure? If you are a strong analyst, what projects can you support to stretch those talents?

The elevator speech is often talked about in the context of job interviews. How do you suggest women in the middle of their careers craft their elevator speeches to reflect their experiences and aspirations?

The elevator speech is an excellent way to put into words “what you get paid to do” without using tasks or lines from a job description. It gives life to how you serve others and presents your talents and potential, instead of your performance and mastery.

Cynthia, throughout your career, you’ve navigated leadership roles in predominantly male-led industries. What advice do you have for women who find themselves in similar positions today?

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer: I wish that was an easy question. The reality is, women and men are essential in the workplace. Each individual brings a unique lived experience and approach that is beneficial in decision-making and organizational performance. I think it is important to be very clear on who you are, what you value, and what talents you bring to the table.

Showing up, speaking up, and building relationships is key. The more confident you are in your value and purpose, the more comfortable you will be bringing that forward. Beyond that, read Now, Near, Next!

Kimberly, your work has delivered outcomes for well-known brands through talent development. What common challenges have you observed among mid-career women in these environments, and how did you address them?

Kimberly Rath: Women over-index on performance. They continue to take on volume versus “value.” Women need to intentionally look up and forward to the stretch assignment and put their aspirations into the universe.

Now, Near, Next
“Now, Near, Next” – Available Now

The book includes real-life examples from women in the workforce. Could you share one of these stories that particularly stands out to you, and why?

One that comes immediately to mind is that of Somya Mathur, the contributor of the chapter one reflection. Somya shares a time when within 48 hours, she was first chastised for leaving “early” (5p) to pick up her daughter, followed the next day by a judgment for working late. Women mothers often feel the double bind of putting family before work and putting work before family.

On the topic of “Life’s Board of Directors”, can you elaborate on how women can identify and appoint the right people to this board? What role do these individuals play?

Ones Life’s Board of Directors are those individuals, living or deceased, that have had a positive and formative impact on their life. Taking time to write down the names of those individuals and how specifically they invested in you is an important exercise.

We then encourage you to share this information with those you can, and ask them for their continued support in your aspirations. These individuals can offer a great source of guidance, feedback, and encouragement.

For women who might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of reinventing or taking charge of their careers, what first step would you recommend?

To start working on your future today, you first must create space to invest in yourself, even if it is only 7-minutes a day. Following that, create your mission, values, and vision. Knowing who you are and what you want is critical to setting your non-negotiables. Lastly, get very clear on your natural talents and identify a NEXT that allows you to pour into them.

How do you both stay motivated and driven in your own careers? And how can other women cultivate this same drive, especially if they’re feeling unseen or undervalued?

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer: I have had a career doing what I love. That is core to my motivation. When I am working in a place of strength and living into my mission of amplifying the talent of others, I’m skipping to work. At times when my role was no longer aligned, I made the difficult decision to move on.

Kimberly Rath: Staying focused on my mission and vision of inspiring and empowering individuals to unleash their potential. I tap dance to work when I help someone get promoted or advance their skills and knowledge. When others grow, I grow.

Finally, what’s next for both of you? Are there any projects or initiatives we can look forward to that build upon the work you’ve begun with this book?

Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer: We have a few things in the hopper. We are excited to launch a companion guide for Now, Near, Next that is focused on allies and sponsors. We are often asked how men can support women throughout their mid-career. And we are excited to provide some tools to actualize that. Additionally, we are also in the very early stages of research for an evolution of Now, Near, Next focused on encore careers, women who are anticipating “retirement.” I’m also considering launching a podcast later in the year!

Kimberly Rath: Now, Near, Next applies to everyone. We want to deliver evidence-based research to create a movement to help women and men, emerging leaders, and those entering their Encore careers live a more joyful life creating a better world.

Now Near, Next is now available. Check it out on Amazon here. You can also follow Dr. Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer and Kimberly Rath on social media at:


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Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.

Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site


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