Women Lighting the Way: Allyson Waldman
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re talking to women who support their communities in collaboration with United Way for Southeastern Michigan. We’re discussing their experiences, sharing their passions and motivations, and shining a light on the women who have inspired them along the way.
Below, we talk with Allyson Waldman, chief financial officer at Roush, a provider of engineering and product development solutions with more than 2,500 employees across the U.S. Allyson joined Women United in 2020 and serves as the group’s chair.
United Way: Allyson, we understand you’ve made a major career move in recent years – leaving Ford and becoming CFO at Roush in 2019. Tell us about that.
Allyson: I love Ford, and I am so grateful for the 20-plus years I spent there. I learned and grew so much, both personally and professionally, based on the wonderful experiences the company afforded me. There is so much opportunity at Ford for a finance professional – you get to experience so many different areas of the business. But the last few years, I no longer enjoyed going to work and I just wasn’t happy. The relationship had run its course and it was time to make a change.
United Way: A lot of people who have spent that amount of time at one company might be hesitant to try something new. Was it scary, making that change?
Allyson: Although I retired from Ford, I knew I wasn’t ready to stop working. I knew I still had a lot to offer, a lot of value to add in the workplace. I felt like I still had a lot of gas in the tank. Of course, closing one chapter and opening another is hard. But life is short. If you’re in a situation, be it a personal situation or a professional one, you must trust yourself, listen to that inner voice and have confidence in yourself to walk away from an undesirable situation, and know that you will be better for it on the other side.
United Way: That’s powerful advice. Was there anything or anyone that helped you during that time?
Allyson: My family and friends are amazing and were incredibly supportive. Their confidence in me boosted my confidence in myself. Also, something happened one Sunday at church that really helped. The homily that day was all about change, and how even when change is thrust upon us, often it is for the best. That really struck a chord. And then, in the bulletin that same Sunday, there was a quote from the Dalai Lama that I still carry with me to this day, “Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” It’s a great reminder that life often gives you exactly what you need, even if at the time, it doesn’t feel that way.
United Way: Love that you still carry the quote! You also mentioned support from your family. When you think about the women who inspire you, are there family members that come to mind?
Allyson: My mom, for sure. She’s the GOAT of all moms! She’s an amazing person. She epitomizes goodness and selflessness. She makes everyone she interacts with feel important and better about themselves. Also, my daughter, who’s 17. Well, actually both of my kids; I also have a son who’s a junior at Penn State. My kids inspire and humble me. I want to be my best for them. Being a parent has increased my empathy and patience. I love seeing the world through their eyes, from their perspectives. It’s taught me to be more cognizant of others’ perspectives and journey, which I hope makes me a better person and leader. It sounds cliché, but I truly can’t imagine my life without them.
United Way: So, your son is in college and your daughter graduates soon. Let’s talk about the importance of education.
Allyson: My parents were the first generation from our family to go to college. Their immediate families wanted their children to be successful and believed education would pave that path. My parents believed the same thing. There was never a question growing up – I was going to college. Doing well in school and getting good grades was also non-negotiable. If I came home with three As and a B+, my dad would ask, “Why did you get a B+?” My parents always pushed me to do my best and to work hard.
United Way: That’s great. Did your family’s emphasis on education inspire your involvement with Women United, which focuses on early education and childcare?
Allyson: I think so. When I made my career change, one thing I wanted to prioritize was giving back. I attended the Women of Influence Summit in 2019 at the invitation of then-chair of Women United, Beth Ardisana. When I saw the work Beth and the Women United group were doing, I knew immediately I wanted to get involved. I loved the energy and the mission – early education, and more specifically, certifying childcare providers. The last two years I co-chaired the Women of Influence Summit with Beth, and this year was my first year as chair. The events are so inspiring and wonderful – all the credit for the events goes to the United Way team and Women United members. It’s an amazing group of women and I am so grateful to be a part of it. At this year’s event, some new folks have expressed an interest in joining the group, so I’m excited for some fresh perspectives and to see what else we can accomplish.
United Way: What was it about certifying childcare providers that hit home for you?
Allyson: Well, my kids went to daycare and so I know the importance and the impact having quality caregivers can have on families and children. It’s hard to be a working parent. It can often feel like you’re failing at both work and home. It’s tough. When you find daycare that you are comfortable with, it is such a huge relief. Knowing your kids are happy, learning and are in a safe and nurturing environment makes all the difference in the world. Making sure everyone gets to experience this is important and will make the world a better place.
United Way: Staying on the topic of education, were there any teachers who stood out to you or who left an impression during your early years?
Allyson: For sure. The one I remember most was my high school typing teacher. She’s the one who encouraged me to take a newly introduced college-level accounting class that the high school was offering. I took the class and loved it. It also came relatively easy to me so I thought, “Hey, maybe I should major in accounting in college.” Mrs. Leftke (my typing teacher) told me all about the opportunities an accounting degree could afford me and honestly, I never looked back. Who knew at the time that just that little bit of encouragement. and my teacher taking the time to nurture an interest, would have such a major impact on my life?
United Way: Wow, that sounds like a pivotal moment. Have you had similar experiences throughout your career?
Allyson: I have been extremely fortunate to work with high-caliber women and men throughout my career. When I started out of college as a staff auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers, there were several women who took me under their wing. They understood the importance of mentoring the young women joining the firm and took time out of their busy lives to spend time with me. They understood the power of coaching and would point out positive things that I did, as well as things I needed to work on. They would show me how to navigate male-dominated meetings and interactions. That was super important guidance for a 22-year-old just entering the workforce. It’s why I always encourage women to build a relationship with a senior female in their organization. It really helps to get the insight of someone who has “been there /done that.”
United Way: How should women who are just starting out go about building those relationships?
Allyson: Be proactive and seek out coaching and mentors. Work at building relationships with the women senior to you. Invite a female you admire to lunch or coffee. I promise, you will better for it.
United Way: Thanks, Allyson. We appreciate you lighting the way.