40 Under 40: Catherine Porth encourages women leaders to speak up

Knoxville Business Journal

40 Under 40 Class of 2022 member Catherine Porth, founder and chief advocate of Let Her Speak.

After nearly 10 years in the corporate world, Catherine Porth realized that it wasn’t for her. In an attempt to bring women like her together, she interviewed businesswomen in Knoxville about frustrations and topics of discussion.

This allowed her to start Let Her Speak, a program designed to help support and encourage female leaders. It has continued to grow since it started in 2017, and Porth has more planned in the future.

As an entrepreneur, she’s also joined the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and has helped businesses refine their models and supported programs like Real Good Kitchen and 100Knoxville.

Without a doubt, starting Let Her Speak is the achievement I am most proud of so far. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but it took me a little while to figure out how to make entrepreneurship a part of my life. What stands out for me more than the act of founding an organization is the community that has come together to support Let Her Speak and share my vision. The women I have met through this journey are truly the most amazing people I have ever had the honor of knowing.

I have a terrible tendency of letting myself get in the way of my own success, so I would have to say that my own self-doubt has been my greatest professional obstacle. Imposter syndrome is very real. Overcoming an obstacle like this isn’t easy and requires daily work of being mindful of how I talk to myself and how I value my skills. When I stopped telling myself, “No,” and started asking for what I wanted – that was a huge turning point for me and my career.

What will you focus on in 2023?

I have a lot of big goals for 2023. In 2022, I started a new podcast based on a project I did during the pandemic called “She Speaks.” I will be working on expanding the reach of the podcast in 2023. I will be launching a brand-new cohort program called “Let Her Lead,” which I have been working on for over 2 years. We plan on hosting our first cohort group of five women who are rising leaders and five women who are established leaders. Lastly, I will begin plans for expanding Let Her Speak outside of Knoxville.

Professionally, I would love to make Let Her Speak a nationwide or worldwide organization that helps to create more women leaders in our communities. I also have dreams of becoming a published author. Growing up in Iowa, it has always been a goal of mine to graduate from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and go on to a successful career as a novelist.

What mistake did you learn the most from?

I have had to learn again and again throughout my life that I know myself a lot better than I think. In high school and college, I took classes in entrepreneurship and absolutely loved it – but I still convinced myself that I needed to work in Corporate America. While I learned a lot in the almost 10 years I spent climbing the corporate ladder, it was always very clear that I didn’t belong there, yet I tried to force myself to fit into a mold that wasn’t me. Now I am better at owning who I am.

Seeing my support and mentorship directly impacting the success of others.

What is the most overrated piece of business advice you’ve heard?

Advice that has to do with needing to constantly hustle or having to wake up early to succeed is completely overrated in my opinion. I have seen too often how hustle culture leads to severe burnout and health issues. It’s not sustainable, proven to be less productive, and definitely not an enjoyable way to live a life. And as for having to wake up early, that may work for morning people, but research has shown that night owls accomplish just as much as early birds. It all comes down to doing what works for you and your natural state.

What trait do you most want in a co-worker?

A willingness to speak-up and challenge the status-quo.

Knoxville is FILLED with so many amazing people from all walks of life, yet many are relatively unknown, unappreciated or unseen by the general public. I hope one day through the work I’m doing as well as many others in our community that we will see a wider range of representation in our community leaders, business owners and corporate executives. I truly believe the more we make people feel seen, heard and valued, the better a city and community will be for everyone.

What don’t people know about you?

While most of my daily work centers around business, research, strategy and financials, I have a lot of creative hobbies. Besides writing, I dabble in quilting, painting and gardening. I love doing interior design and have renovated the majority of my house with my husband. Cooking and anything having to do with food or learning about new cuisines is one of my favorite things to do. I am not a coffee drinker at all, but I treat my afternoon teatime as my own form of meditation.

  • Family: Husband Dr. Jack Cahill and family dog Zoey
  • Years at current company: Five
  • Degrees and certifications: Bachelor of science, marketing and management, University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business; master of business administration, entrepreneurship and innovation, University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business
  • Community involvement: Co-admin of Women in Entrepreneurship – Knoxville; marketing committee at Knoxville Museum of Art; advisor to Young Leaders Collective United Way; partner liaison of Knox Writers Group

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Keenan Thomas

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