No matter how successful we become, for some of us there is a whisper we hear that never quite goes away.
Call it imposter syndrome or just self-doubt, but it’s there if we allow it. I have learned that we can silence this intruder to our success. But it takes effort and consistency.
How we see ourselves is directly related to how we portray ourselves to the outside world. We will either limit ourselves in what we are able to accomplish or may desire to prove what we can accomplish, but those successes do not bring peace and fulfillment. I like the picture of a small kitten who looks at its reflection in the mirror and sees a mighty lion. If we feel small with not much to offer, we won’t invest in ourselves and will limit what we can accomplish. On the other hand, if we see ourselves as strong and capable, the possibilities are unlimited.
Why do so many people fail to grow and reach their potential, or accomplish many things and be unable to experience joy and satisfaction from it? I’ve concluded that one of the main reasons is a low self-image. When we have a low self-image, we feel poorly about ourselves, and tend to make the situation worse through negative thoughts and critical self-talk. If we don’t feel worth the effort, the image we have of ourselves will remain low without the chance to improve.
Unfortunately, negative, critical self-talk can be ingrained in us from childhood. In their book The Answer, businessmen-authors John Assaraf and Murray Smith speak to the negative messages children receive growing up. “By the time you’re seventeen years old, you’ve heard ‘No, you can’t,’ an average of 150,000 times. You’ve heard ‘Yes, you can,’ about 5,000 times. That’s 30 no’s for every yes. That makes for a powerful belief of ‘I can’t.’”
You can choose to silence your inner critic. For some of us it is easier to let go of this lens we view ourselves through, for others it feels like a constant battle with our inner critic. It takes time and work to change this perception that has been reinforced for years. The good news is by choosing to have positive thoughts about yourself, you can begin the process to change and improve your self-image. Here are a couple of ways I have found to be helpful in silencing our inner critic:
Guard Your Self-Talk
One way to build your self-image is by guarding your self-talk. If you think about it, you will realize you talk to yourself many times a day. Is that self-talk positive or negative? Are you being kind to yourself or critical? When faced with a problem do you tell yourself, “I’ve got this. I will figure it out” or instead say, “I’ve messed up again – I never get it right.” It can be helpful to log your thoughts to determine how you are doing.
Take time to be kind to yourself. You can be kind to yourself with the intention of being more kind to others, but it starts with you.
When you realize your own special value, you will see yourself as strong and capable. You will believe you are worth investing in. The result will be growth and development and living up to your full potential.
Focus on Your Strengths
Change your focus to all the things you excel at. What are your strengths and how can you choose to use them to make life better for yourself and others? Turn around the negatives and focus on your positive attributes. Anytime you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, take the time to stop, take a breath, and reassess why you are having these feelings. Often, we overlook our greatest assets, so by intentionally examining ourselves in the mirror to find our inner lions we can choose who we see.
If you want to formalize the process take a strengths self-assessment like Birkman. Spend time with the results. Live with them and remind yourself often about your unique gifts and talents. I found this particular assessment so helpful that we took our entire management team through it, and I am now certified to conduct the assessment for others.
Another way is to ask your friends and colleagues what they see in you. You might be surprised at how others view you. It is a great exercise, and a very encouraging one. Again, live with the positives you glean from it.
You are a Lion
If you are reading this, you are a lion. You have ascended to leadership or started a business or are just getting started on a life of accomplishment, but there is so much more to do. Silence the whisper that holds so many people back. Be proactive about reminding yourself often that you are more than capable. You are strong and you have proven it over and over again.
Janelle Bruland is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and high-performance coach who inspires others to live impactful and successful lives. She is Founder and CEO of Management Services Northwest, a company she started in her living room in 1995 and has grown into an industry leading company, named one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies by Inc. magazine. The CPO of Microsoft, Mike Simms, describes her as a true pioneer in her field. Janelle is also the Co-Founder of Legacy Leader, a leadership development company that teaches business professionals how to build a legacy, transform their leadership, and love their life. She is the author of The Success Lie: 5 Simple Truths to Overcome Overwhelm and Achieve Peace of Mind.
The opinions and views expressed by guest contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of theglasshammer.com
Being curious will get you far on your professional journey, finds Angie Sabel. “It drives your understanding of the ‘why’ and the people and the process.”
And that’s an approach that helps Sabel always anticipate how she can best serve her clients. “I am always anticipating and prepared with solutions no matter what the discussion might be with clients and colleagues.”
Helping Families Drives a Successful and Fulfilling Career
Sabel started her career in public accounting with a goal of advancing to a position where she would work hands-on with family offices or family enterprise. She gravitated toward this work because of the desire to be an inclusive contributing partner across all touch points of a client’s financial vision. “Helping future generations offers a connectivity and longevity that has been very rewarding,” she says. She finds that the best part of her position is meeting the entire family and understanding each individual’s role and how they want to use their wealth to positively impact their families and communities.
Sabel finds fulfillment in knowing that her team of thought leaders provides the most knowledgeable resources to help her clients. “Wealth clients are unique in their needs and clients realizes we have a depth of resources available, including connecting with other clients, that provide options to assist with decision making,” she says. “I’m proud to work with people who have spent their whole career developing their craft. Because each one is unique in its own way, we can share our knowledge, research and experience to help them achieve their goals.”
For Sabel, building these long-standing relationships has been one of the professional achievements she’s most proud of. “In school you’re always encouraged to earn the best scores in order to show you’re prepared and capable, but I have realized that even more important is really understanding the person with whom you’re working—whether it’s a client or manager. By focusing more on them and less on yourself, you’ll find ways to connect and that is how you are going to create the relationships that will lead to a rewarding career.”
Embracing the Benefits of Being a Mentor and Mentee
As Sabel nurtures the next generation of wealth advisors, she assures rising talent that no one needs to feel as though they have to strive for perfection. “It’s more engaging when we come as our real selves,” she says, adding that she wishes she had known this earlier in her career, as she would have been more prone to making decisions faster and being more confident knowing that she didn’t have to come with all the answers.
To that end, she encourages rising talent to explore avenues to build their self confidence. The good news, she says, is that this trait isn’t relative—it’s about what makes you personally confident. And for that reason, there’s no single prescribed path to success, but everyone needs to think about what they want to do and why they are seeking a particular position. “Be honest with yourself and trust your instincts to make good, informed decisions,” she advises.
Sabel always looks for opportunities to build her professional skills, and knows that learning can come at any time, and from any direction. She finds her direct manager to be an important resource and frequently learns from the mentees she has met through her work as a mentor with Smith Family Business Initiative at Cornell, noting that their energy and questions inspire her.
Professional development is important, and she particularly appreciates participating in roundtables, as she finds them to be a very practical model for sharing what you’re dealing with in real time, and obtaining advice and best practices from others who have been in applicable situations. “Because roundtables are less formal and structured, they encourage people to come together and share ideas in a more free-form manner, without having to rely on a prepared agenda. It’s a forum where people feel comfortable to share their vulnerabilities, and learn from each other.”
Sabel enjoys exploring new restaurants in New York with her husband, and sharing her experiences with friends, family and colleagues. She considers her husband to be one of her most influential advocates. “It’s important to have someone outside of work who can serve as a mentor in another way—someone who offers a different perspective, but always encourages you.”
Akila Raman recommends to others: “Treat the senior people you work with as clients.”
Raman, who graduated with a degree in political theory and a certificate in finance from Princeton University, said she “found her home” in corporate derivatives at Goldman Sachs. She says of her decision to pursue a career at the firm, “I wanted to work at Goldman Sachs because I knew it was a very team-oriented culture.”
While she originally thought she would remain for only two years at Goldman Sachs, Raman stayed at the firm during the financial crisis and beyond.
“During the financial crisis I had a unique vantage point for observing the firm’s leaders coming together to adapt to changes and anticipate client needs,” said Raman. “As volatile markets became an increasingly important focus, our corporate hedging business became even more important for our clients, and I was ultimately asked to lead a joint risk management and debt financing effort.”
Hard Work Yields Results
After several years, Raman was named head of Natural Resources Debt Capital Markets and Risk Management within the Investment Banking Division. Reflecting upon her most significant client achievement, Raman cites her work advising Great Plains Energy, the local utility company in her Missouri hometown, on its merger with Westar Energy.
“Goldman Sachs was one of few banks that could have structured the Great Plains-Westar transaction given its unique complexities. We were able to bring together a variety of resources across GS and deliver comprehensive solutions, which ultimately resulted in value for our client and its stakeholders,” notes Raman. She continues, “Working on that transaction allowed me to form deeper relationships with the management team and also had a meaningful impact on the people in my hometown, making the deal extremely rewarding.”
Looking ahead, Raman is also interested in the effect of technology and renewables on the natural resources space. “We’re at a very interesting time in the energy space, particularly as energy policies globally are responding to changing dynamics due to technological advances, consumer preferences and investors’ ESG objectives,” says Raman. “I expect we’ll see the natural resources sector evolve over the coming years to adapt to these factors.”
Reflecting on her career, Raman, who was recently named a partner, said that being asked to join Goldman Sachs’ partnership was a career-defining moment. “As someone who began her career as a summer analyst looking up to senior bankers, being welcomed into the partnership was such an honor.”
Serving Clients Is a Priority
Raman is also keeping busy on several transactions that include complex financing and risk management solutions. She notes that Goldman’s involvement in these deals is a result of “many years of hard work and relationship-building in order to gain the trust of clients to be tapped as an advisor on these large-scale, intricate transactions.”
Raman places the same level of priority and focus when preparing deliverables for internal clients: “Treat the senior people you work with as clients – because they are,” advises Raman.
Carving Out Time for Your Passions
“Speak out, and don’t be afraid to have open lines of communication with your manager and your team around deadlines and deliverables,” recommends Raman. “Being able to carve out time for your own interests and your life is so important, especially as a junior team member.”
Outside of the office, Raman is passionate about supporting entrepreneurs: “I enjoy spending time investing in women-led companies. We don’t talk enough about wealth generation among women. I feel very passionately about having my investments reflect my values, and working towards making the next generation of entrepreneurs more diverse.”
In addition to investments she makes in her own time, Raman is also involved with Pursuit, a nonprofit that helps adults with the most need and potential receive technology training so they may get their first tech jobs and become the next generation of leaders in technology. Given many of Pursuit’s graduates are immigrants, this mission resonates with Raman, who is the daughter of Korean and Indian immigrants herself.
And, Raman makes sure to set aside plenty of time each week for her family. “No matter where I am each week, whether I’m in New York or traveling abroad, I always carve out time for my partner, and we try to make sure we have at least one kid-free evening together each week.”
She notes, “It’s important to make clear to my family that they are just as important to me as my career.” During this dedicated family time, Raman loves to experience New York’s parks and galleries with her husband and daughter, insightfully commenting, “It’s always a joy to experience New York through our daughter’s eyes.”
You know the first things you are quick to sacrifice when it comes to meeting all the demands of work (self-care, well-being, downtime)? Well they are the last things you should.
If you have been able to reach and stay at the executive level, then you are more likely to have learned that self-care is inextricable to leadership. You have ideally dropped the cultural self-sacrifice story a long time ago in your leadership journey.
A study of self-care among executive leadership in healthcare organizations found that “Leaders’ with high self-care ratings were likely to be from an organization with a high profit margin, while leaders with low ratings were likely to be either in their role for less than a year or from an organization with a lower profit margin.”
How much leaders practice self-care has a trickle down effect within organizations, and especially, in your own life and ability to show up.
Sacrificing Self-Care Benefits Nobody
We already know that playing the long hours game has a strong adverse impact on women’s short and long-term health relative to men. We know that a female-skewed over-conscientious approach to work can lead to emotional exhaustion. And research has shown that high work-related fatigue is even stronger for highly educated women.
Mindfulness researcher and author Jacqueline Carter shared with theglasshammer, “it was amazing to see how basically the higher you got in an organization, the higher the level of the executives, they all took time to exercise, they slept well, even despite ridiculous travel schedules and ridiculous scopes of jobs,” says Carter. “It was really clear that if you don’t start taking good care of yourself and setting good boundaries and saying no at an earlier level of your leadership journey, you’re gonna burn out.”
According to Harvard Business Review, “burnout cuts across executive and managerial levels…the major defining characteristic of burnout is that people can’t or won’t do again what they have been doing.” Identifiable characteristics include: “(1) chronic fatigue; (2) anger at those making demands; (3) self-criticism for putting up with the demands; (4) cynicism, negativity, and irritability; (5) a sense of being besieged; and (6) hair-trigger display of emotions.”
When in burnout, you lose your heart for where you’ve come to and where you’re at and what you’re doing.
Investment: Healthy You, Healthy Leadership
“I think there’s a mind-set shift that happens when people start to take this seriously, which is to go from seeing the investment of time in sleep, exercise, and mindfulness as a cost to thinking of it as an investment,” says Caroline Webb, senior adviser to McKinsey and author of How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life.
“In fact, it’s not just an investment that pays back long term, it’s an investment that pays back, all the evidence suggests, rather immediately,” says Webb. “The idea of that shift—that this is not down time, it’s simply investing in your ability to have more up time—is something which I’ve seen at the heart of everybody who makes a difference in the way that they’re living their lives, and also in the way that their teams around them are living their lives.”
The Value in Reset and Renewal
There are many ideas for how to incorporate self-care into your daily routine – such as meditation, being in nature, spending pockets of time in silence, drinking more water, starting a gratitude practice, scheduling your day to include work and non-work activities, practicing affirmations, getting massages and more. The thing is when you approach these things as something else on the task list to fit in when you’re already at overload, self-care can feel like yet another chore.
Research shows it can be valuable to step away from it all, take a bigger breath and dedicate attention for yourself to reset and renew. The right health-related vacation can shift things – it can bring you back to yourself, to open perspectives and return to a center of clarity and expansiveness, with benefits that last long beyond the time you spend away.
Research has shown that “individuals who attended a spiritual retreat for 7 days experienced changes in the dopamine and serotonin systems of the brain, which boosts the availability of these neurotransmitters” that relate to positive psychological effects. Additionally, meditation retreats have shown “large effects” on anxiety, depression, stress, mindfulness and compassion. Studies have also shown improvements in physical health, tension, and fatigue.
“A one-week wellness retreat (including many educational, therapeutic and leisure activities, and an organic, mostly plant-based diet),” according to a scientific study, “resulted in substantial improvements in everything from weight to blood pressure to psychological health – and sustained at six weeks (the last check-in point of the study).”
Beth McGroarty, director of research at the Global Wellness Institute, said to Travel Weekly, “in a wellness retreat, therapies/experiences often happen in concert and over multiple days, and combining them may have unique outcomes.”
As the research report states, “Retreat experiences provide a unique opportunity for people to escape from unhealthy routines and engage in healthy practices and activities that lead to immediate and sustained health benefits.”
For transparency, the writer of this article hosts women’s retreats, and my direct experience in facilitating a space in which a woman can connect with other women in vulnerability, return to her own center, show up from this place, and impact her own life trajectory is the inspiration for my personal commitment to this work.
No Matter How You Do It…
The bottom line is that no matter how you start or improve self-care – whether taking small moments for big impact changes in your daily routine or taking a bigger break away from it all to truly reset and renew – what’s most important, on all levels, is that you do.
Aimee Hansen, freelance writer for the theglasshammer, is the Creator and Facilitator of Storyteller Within Women’s Retreats, recommended by Lonely Planet Wellness Escapes. Since 2015, she has hosted nearly 150 women across 18 intimate retreat experiences. Her Journey Into Sacred Expression Retreats involve meditation, yoga, self-exploratory writing and sacred ceremonies, all in beautiful natural surroundings. She’ll be hosting two upcoming women’s retreat events this summer – in late June and late July – on the stunning Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, for women seeking self-renewal.
From her leadership vantage point, PwC’s Charlotte Hsu knows that it is critical to help build a robust pipeline by encouraging other women in the industry.
“Now that you are there, don’t forget to look out for the little girls who were once you,” she says.
To that end, Hsu herself devotes time to helping bolster the careers of younger colleagues. The key, she shares, is that while basic technical competency or product knowledge is important, soft skills—or as she calls them, “fundamental skills”—are equally or more important in advancing your career. In fact, that attitude is what allowed her to build her audit career.
An Unconventional Start Leads to a Successful Audit Career
Hsu was a groundbreaker from the start, considering that she did not graduate with an accounting degree, yet is now an assurance partner in a Big Four firm. When she started her career in Singapore in the ‘90s, the most attractive jobs were management trainee programs with banks and oil and gas companies; however, as she acknowledges, her university grades weren’t sufficient to earn a spot in one of those programs.
Instead, she pursued qualification as a Forex dealer and life insurance agent—also lucrative professions—and it was through her insurance instructor that she became introduced to the auditing profession. She found herself fortunate to be recruited by a Big Six firm as an audit trainee, the program offered to non-accounting graduates.
From there her audit career took off, and she has worked in Hong Kong, New York and Shanghai over the past 20 years. She came full circle back to Singapore in 2011, while still an assurance partner, and was given the opportunity to head the Learning and Development department and is now PwC’s Asia Pacific Diversity & Inclusion partner, as well as a member of PwC’s Global Corporate Responsibility Board. “If I had not taken the chance to try a new qualification and had let my graduate status hold me back, I would not have this career, one that has made my life so meaningful,” Hsu says.
Looking back at her 27 years as an auditor, the professional achievement she is most proud of so far is the relationships that she has built—clients who became good friends and coworkers who are now part of her personal life. “When you have coworkers who are willing to go above and beyond with you, it speaks volumes about the relationship, and to me this is an achievement that outweighs any awards on the wall or the titles behind your name,” she says.
Hsu also is proud of the role she has played in professional development for her colleagues, especially the junior ones. Recognizing the need for job rotation in order to motivate and develop non-client-facing colleagues, she was able to secure buy-in from various stakeholders to allow more junior colleagues to explore short-term internal secondment and job rotations. That has allowed them to develop new skill sets, as well as get out of their comfort zones to take on new tasks.
Right now, she is taking an active role with the PwC’s Global Corporate Responsibility Board to fulfill an ambitious global target they set in 2018: to invest in the future and growth of 15 million people, NGOs and social and micro enterprises to help them maximize their potential by 2022.
“I am excited to be working with my counterparts across the PwC network in coming up with ideas to achieve that ambition,” she says, adding that it is not about meeting the KPI, but the ability to make a significant difference in so many lives. “At PwC, we believe businesses have a key role to play in solving societal challenges, alongside other stakeholders.”
In addition, like many in the field, she is wrestling with the potential for AI to transform the accounting industry. Rather than take over accounting jobs, though, she believes AI will help accountants improve their efficiency and root out fraud detection.
The Ongoing Quest to Promote Balance and Equity
Work-life balance is important, and she dispels the myth she heard back in the day that you have to leave the office after your bosses in order to be promoted. She tells her younger counterparts that it is not impossible to pursue a thriving career and have a family at the same time. “Many people have done it successfully, and there will be more and more such cases,” she says.
Unfortunately she sees that women are often tested when making choices in balancing work and personal lives, largely because the auditing profession is known for demanding hours. “For women who have to put in those hours at work and at the same time fulfill their obligations as a mom—call it maternal instinct or social pressure—most women choose family over career,” Hsu says. And even though they are seeing a rise in the number of men homemakers, the pace of the increase is still slower than that of females leaving their job to assume the role.
That’s why she sees a gap in women who are reaching the upper echelons of the industry. In fact, the fairly equal representation of females in the industry, particularly in managerial positions, should yield a reasonably strong pipeline of highly qualified women to become partners. However in reality they are seeing that women tend to drop out of the pipeline at the managerial level as that is usually the age when they start a family.
Still, she is proud of the strides that PwC has made, with women making up approximately 53 percent of managerial positions and above. As a Diversity & Inclusion partner, she has the privilege of sitting in promotion meetings to encourage equal opportunities and diversity in decision making. The firm recently reviewed its internal policies for everything from recruitment to job allocation to promotion to ensure there are no policies biased against women. In the coming months they will be running a refresher program on unconscious bias and are looking into better support for new parents and women returning from maternity leave. “We understand that returning to work after maternity is tough; thus if we are able to help smoothen the transition, we believe more new mothers will choose to stay in the profession,” Hsu notes.
Her own “off time” includes indulging in a wide variety of interests that include cooking, cars, collecting whisky, electronic gadgets and video games—in fact she just bought a VR set for the home. But what interests her most is finding ways to help the elderly and less-privileged women. “We talk a lot about gender equality but often times it’s in reference to professionals. We should not forget to care for those less-privileged women around us who are not professionals,” she points out.
This column will surface the topics that are buried by most of us due to many reasons including fear, exasperation, denial, taboos and lack of information until we stumble upon the topic itself as a challenge. Also, happy Mother’s Day.
I am going to start by telling you I do not have all, if any, of the answers, but I do want to create the space for each of us to come up with our own answers while offering insight into the individual and common psychology that binds us. I believe there is value to putting on the table the systemic and psychological reasons that explain why important topics are often ignored by the best of us as it pertains to careers and the person we are inside and outside of the office building.
How to spot a difficult subject
There are so many things that we aren’t willing to talk about in society and, in this instance, corporate life. How do you spot a taboo or something that just isn’t “on the table,” or, weirdly, is half on the table, whereby the topic seems like it is being dealt with or is resolved already, but really isn’t?
A sign to look for is when the topic is mostly talked about in a personalized (subjective) way, pitting women or people against other women or other people, suggesting somehow it is not a systemic issue but rather a matter choices and opinions. This is false reasoning when the so-called choices are a binary revolving around a lose-lose paradigm that only one societal group has to participate in.
The topic must be identified for real solutions to be found.
Why is motherhood a minefield topic?
Motherhood is a tricky topic as it is an identity and a job in itself. Fatherhood, when played out as many fathers do now in the legacy mother role of primary caregiver, also begs analysis for bias, but for now we shall discuss motherhood. Not everyone wants (another taboo) or can have (another under-discussed taboo) babies. But for those who do, there is not a woman alive in a defined career trajectory who has not given serious thought to the timing and logistics of how having a kid will affect her career. Anxiety at worst, mindshare at best. Once in it, motherhood can become both a Chief Operations Officer job and an internship as moving parts and project scheduling and learning plus actual execution are all very much part of the job. This is on top of a (big, busy and important) day job.
Just to be clear, this column is not one of judgment or even grouping as everyone has different feelings towards ambition, guilt and their own individual needs regarding work and what they glean intellectually, emotionally and financially from doing it. Additionally, there are so many influencing elements around each person’s spousal division of labor, capacity to organize and delegate support. Then there is the other topic of how much money each person has to throw at solutions should their preference lie there. And if the primary care giver is your spouse – man or woman – the conversation certainly changes slightly.
The difficulty of saying small humans disrupt life as we know it
Why has it taken me 13 years and 8,000 articles published to touch this topic? Simply put, we were in another time era. It is only very recently that corporations are in a place to discuss policy around parental leave as opposed to maternity leave. Equal pay for the same job in the US and elsewhere – such as the UK – is still being truly decided and addressed. We are not as advanced as we think we are.
The perception around women and babies and how that somehow negatively affected productivity or competence was just too strong. It felt like even indulging in the conversation of babies impacting careers was an admission that there was validity to the possibility that it was so. Instead of speaking in terms of systemic changes, we were very much stuck in an individual choices discussion.
The denial around impact of any kind was necessary because it felt like a betrayal to the messaging around “you can do it,” “just lean in” and other Generation X messaging to women. Good men with willingness to change have continued to be messaged more or less the same “provider” talk until recently and those who bucked the trend have had their own bias to deal with, from being excluded from mommy coffee dates to how to enter a bathroom to change their babies.
Motherhood has been said to be the unfinished work of feminism in a matricentric theory and movement being proposed by Andrea O’Reilly. Motherhood has been largely left out of feminist theory and I think this is why my usual “push the envelope and talk about it anyway” trait, which has allowed us to talk about intersecting identities at work in so many forms, has not attracted me to this topic until now. Apparently I was not on my own but like my evolution on the willingness to talk about it, others indicate a sea change with The Guardian’s Amy Westervelt opining that, “Most surprising to me, as someone told by women’s magazine editors for years ‘we don’t cover motherhood’, is the fact that publications like Elle and Marie Claire appear to have lifted their long-standing ban on motherhood.”
Still an issue to resolve
Ann Crittenden, in her book “The Price of Motherhood”, states, “once a woman has a baby, the egalitarian office party is over thoroughly.”
And other people have written at length regarding the bias of motherhood for pay and promotions so it is felt currently by some and is far from a resolved issue, culturally. In fact, if you look at Wikipedia’s definition of “mommy track” it is interesting to see that they define it almost as a choice for women to take, instead of an action that happens to women by others.
No company has this issue cracked. But, some are trying hard to create conditions culturally and programmatically. It still feels like the conversation needs to be reframed and developed to redesign the workplace of the future with a society to match. In the meantime, look for those companies that remove the subjectivity of flextime or where parental leave is taken by men for real amounts of time. Live your values and instead of the lean in message, and perhaps focus on personal renewal while the system catches up.
No two companies are exactly the same, so why would you implement a similar system as other businesses?
Every company has its own unique set of goals, procedures, and challenges, not to mention a team of employees hired specifically to help execute tasks for that particular organization. So, it only makes sense to put a system in place that is designed specifically for your company and no one else’s.
However, one of the biggest challenges an executive will face is finding the time to create an organization-wide management system. But think of it this way: implementing a system that is not only functional, but also bullet-proof will save you time and energy in the future and will give both you and your employees a point of reference whenever a challenge arises that needs to be addressed.
Before we move ahead with how to put a system in place, let’s first look at what exactly a system is. Generally speaking, a system is a method for solving issues and challenges that are specific to a particular business in a strategic and effortless fashion. One of the biggest perks of having a system in place is that, in time, you’ll have step-by-step reference points that you and your employees can refer back to, making the execution of different tasks a seamless and painless process.
Just like in life, where you have an order of things you need to do every morning before you can leave for work, having a system in place at your organization makes it that much easier to move seamlessly from task to task, thus allowing you and your staff the time and energy to tackle bigger things.
There are a variety of things that can be systemized at a business. Some examples include, implementing a communication system; creating a system for hiring new employees; and creating a scheduling system for meetings, tasks, and deadlines. But before you put a system in place, it’s important to figure out what issues need tackling first.
For example, perhaps in-house business meetings need to be streamlined within your company. To make the most of your meeting time, there should be a system in place for scheduling meetings, a plan for taking notes during the meeting, and an actionable protocol for following up and executing items that you and your team discussed during the meeting. Or maybe your team members are struggling with the best way to communicate with one another. Thanks to technology, there is an endless array of tools to choose from, such as email, text messaging, and implementing a 10-minute huddle with your team every morning to touch base on what projects everyone is working on that day. Whatever you implement, keep in mind your company culture. One plan may work seamlessly for a certain group of employees, while not so well for a different group.
As you plan out your system, take into account each step that should be addressed. For example, say you want to create a new meeting system for your company. One step would be deciding what kind of platform should be used for scheduling meetings. Other steps would include addressing who would be responsible for organizing meetings, who should take the minutes during the meeting, and what tasks need to be executed after the meeting is finished.
Once you have a vision of what kind of system you want to put into place and you’ve worked out many of the kinks to ensure that it’s an actionable system that will work for your specific company, share your plan with your staff. The only way your system will work is to make sure that everyone is on board and understands the process and procedures related to the system. It’s also a good way to receive feedback from employees. If anything, they might find areas of improvement in the way that day-to-day operations take place that you might have overlooked. Seeking their feedback is also a good way of making them feel involved and will make them more likely to abide by the system moving forward.
Even though there is some footwork involved in planning out your fit-for-purpose system, remember that the hardest part is creating it and implementing it. Once you pass that hurdle, your system will help address issues as they arise and give you a roadmap of how to navigate them. Remember, having a system is one of the best investments that you can make as a business leader.
Tabitha Laseris a multi-faceted professional with over 25 years of leadership experience in a variety of industries ranging from oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, agriculture, construction and more. Her diverse background has provided her opportunities to work with government agencies and some of the world’s largest companies, including Fortune 500 companies, BP, 3M, and General Mills. Her expertise has fueled her passion to help shape the next generation of leaders, especially millennials, to help avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors and lead beyond best. Tabitha is the author of Organization Culture Killers. The first book in a series of leadership books she calls, “The Deadly Practices.” Follow Tabitha.
The opinions and views expressed by guest contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of theglasshammer.com
As Kimberly Smith has moved up in the legal profession, she’s also advanced her belief that along the way, it’s vital to be true to yourself.
“When I started my law career I often heard this advice, but it took years of experience as a professional woman at a law firm to truly appreciate it,” she says, adding that she has seen situations where people were trying to be someone that they thought they should be, and the lack of authenticity was clear. And, as she has learned, success is not just about being smart and working hard.
Owning her Career
Of course, Smith is both those things.
Smith first joined Katten as a summer associate with a passion for the law. Upon graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1998, she returned to Katten as an associate and became immersed in the dot-com bubble and the funding of IPOs in record time for internet startup companies.
And then the bubble burst. She credits her “trial by fire” experience in the dot-com world with teaching her how not to approach deals. Now, she prefers to dig in to discover and address her clients’ long-term objectives, not just their immediate needs. In the aftermath, Smith easily transitioned to M&A work in many industries, including healthcare.
Her success led her to be promoted to partner in 2006. After a five-year stint at another law firm, she rejoined Katten in 2015 as co-head of the nationwide Private Equity practice. “There were many compelling reasons to return to Katten. It provides a strong platform with phenomenal specialists with robust experience, and one of the strongest healthcare regulatory practices in the industry,” she explains. Smith has been back three-and-a-half years, enjoying the intellectual charge of working on complicated deal structures and working closely with tax partners to find new ways to accomplish client goals that might seem impossible at first glance.
“My clients are under a lot of pressure to get the deals done quickly, and in cases where the other side won’t budge, I need to figure out how to bridge that gap,” Smith says, adding that one of the best parts of the job is the relationships she has built with repeat clients.
“I might work with an entrepreneur very closely as they sell their business and then I’m finished working with them. But with a private equity fund, I might work on their deals for 20 years so we get to know each other and work together well. Time and again I come back to the fact that the intellectual challenges and personal relationships are what make my job so wonderful.”
Taking Advantage of Every Opportunity
Smith shares that she came in to the working world with mindset familiar to many—that if she was smart and worked hard, she would be successful. “I wasn’t prepared for the fact that in every organization, it takes more than just hard work. In order to really start climbing the ladder you need take advantage of every opportunity from mentoring and networking to developing business to seeking out leadership positions.”
“It was when I started to engage myself at every level of the firm – with my clients, the leadership, my peers, and younger associates – that I started to get more traction in terms of advancing my career.”
Along with that, you have to learn to be comfortable with self-promotion, because it’s necessary to put yourself out there and tout your hard work. When she returned to Katten in an authoritative role, she realized that her words carried more weight.
“Women should not be shy about self-promotion. It doesn’t mean you have to go on about how great you are. You can keep it very factual and state something that isn’t an opinion or a boast. In law, both women and men have to make sure that people appreciate their value,” Smith says. So, for example, if you’re a litigator who just won a big case, make sure others are aware of your accomplishment.
Smith enjoys her position on the firm’s Women’s Leadership Forum National Mentorship Panel, which consists of more than a dozen women partners who counsel other women with professional and personal advice. Each mentor is profiled so rising attorneys at the firm can choose whomever is the best resource for a particular topic—everything from how to balance work and family to how to develop business.
Outside the office, Smith spends time with her husband Stephen and their two daughters—Victoria, age 11, and Natalie, age 5—and recently enjoyed a vacation to Orlando with them.
She’s also recently discovered a new hobby, when last year one of her clients invited her to be on their team to compete in the Spartan Race, an obstacle course that involves four miles of climbing walls, jumping over fire, carrying sandbags and crawling through muddy trenches. “It was a great way to develop a deeper connection to my client, but I was terrified of an obstacle course,” she admits. She began training and embarked on a rigorous fitness program that she acknowledges she might not have otherwise started. Although she completed the race a year ago, she’s maintained the workout regimen because she realized how much better she felt being active and strong.
“It presented a great turning point for me to make time to take care of myself. A lot of good has come out of that,” she said. And Smith adds, nothing bonds you more with a client than being covered in mud. “If I can be a warrior on the Spartan field, navigating the battle field of a transaction should be a piece of cake.”
Before starting her career, Sarah Zilenovski had always believed you had to choose your area of expertise while still in college; while in reality, as she found you can build your path as you go.
While obtaining the necessary skills is vital, of course, she believes it’s important to plan while keeping an open mind. “We must remember that we can’t control external variables and that the person we are today is not the person we will be in the future. And as we change, so do our dreams and desires.”
And that means that your career might take unexpected twists, which you can embrace if you are confident in your abilities and potential. “I always believed that I could choose the companies or assignments that were appealing to me, not rely on it going the other way around,” says Zilenovski.
A Career Built on Seeking New Challenges
Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Zilenovski moved to the United States in 2015, bringing solid credentials—including master’s and bachelor’s degrees in finance and business management from a top Brazilian business school—and experience.
She began her career in 2007 as an intern for P&G, working on customer business development. Soon after, she was hired as a finance manager for P&G largest manufacturing facility in Brazil. One year later, hoping to become more involved with the business side, she moved back to P&G’s headquarters to work as a finance manager for the commercial team, specifically working with P&G’s distributors and wholesalers.
After five years of a successful career at P&G, she began to think she’d like to try a smaller company, ideally one with a more direct social impact. For her, it was a leap, but she landed successfully at ClearSale, a company fighting against fraudsters—and was the fastest growing medium-sized company in Brazil.
There, she pivoted back to sales and marketing, where she had started at P&G; her first role was to manage the sales team during a large restructuring in the commercial area. That entailed recreating everything from the sales teams’ portfolios to the go-to-market strategy. In addition much of her focus was on the joint creation and customization of solutions with enterprise prospects and clients.
At that point it became clear to her that she preferred combining her business background with her proven communication and analytical skills, rather than leading the sales teams. She was subsequently invited to join ClearSale’s international team, with three other Brazilian peers, to open ClearSale’s first foreign branch, based in the United States, entirely from scratch.
After that successful launch, she is responsible for ClearSale’s global marketing and sales strategy, excluding the native market of Brazil. Zilenovski also recently started her MBA at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, which she says is “a childhood dream, to attend one of the top American schools.” That’s one of the professional achievements she is most proud of so far—working in a position of great autonomy, at a company that trusts her insight and skills, while attending one of the best business schools worldwide.
A Work Culture That Meets All Her Needs
While Zilenovski has had a number of role models along the way, her first positive impressions started at home, with her parents who both held PhDs and instilled in her the importance of investing in knowledge.
In addition, her first boss at P&G, Ricardo Wasserman, gave her an early education in integrity—making it clear that rules are needed to define right and wrong, and there’s no space to question them.
At ClearSale, she finds the current EVP, Rafael Lourenco, to be a great example of being excellent while respecting your own desires, needs and weaknesses, by truly believing that we first must like what we do on a day-to-day basis. “After all, if our work makes us miserable it will be a lose-lose situation in the long term, even if we make it work in the short term.”
And that fits well with her goals of future success, which to her is far more than aspiring to a specific title or salary. For Zilenovski, success comes from working for a company with a high social impact, while considering that work/life balance can be a day-to-day challenge—it’s a marathon, not a sprint, she says. She appreciates she can build a routine that fits what she wants or needs in any given situation, such as flexible working hours and the ability to work from a home office. ClearSale’s culture, which focuses on diversity and flexibility, has been the perfect fit for her. “There are no distinctions regarding gender,” she says. “And it’s important to me that I have autonomy in an environment where titles don’t shape my possibilities,” she says.
Data analysis positions are currently playing a huge role in tech as corporations around the world seek to understand and utilize big data for their business.
As we noted in 2012, 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies are investing in big data, expecting over $1 billion in revenue as this technology changes the way we use information.
However, despite how these positions in the technology sphere are flourishing, the standard gender disparity of STEM fields remains intact. While women continue to earn degrees in technology and analytics, societal factors and discrimination within STEM industries keep them from getting and keeping these high-paying positions that are, by and large, taken up by men.
The Gender Disparity in Data Analysis
Gaining the education needed to fulfill these positions is the necessary first step to achieving equality in STEM fields. Although the number of women in data analysis and STEM fields remains lower than men, more women than ever are earning degrees in STEM, with 40 percent of statistics degrees currently being earned by women. Women also make up 40 percent of statistics department faculty that are set to move into tenured positions. There are a variety of campaigns that exist solely to push women and minorities towards these high-pay and in-demand jobs, and based on the number of degrees these groups are earning, it seems that their efforts are working.
Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily resolving the problem.
Although women are earning these degrees at higher rates than ever, it’s often still difficult for them to remain in these fields due to the low number of women they often work with, especially in workplaces that particularly lack diversity. A lack of women in leadership roles and as fellow coworkers can often make women feel out of place and unwelcome, and with the casual discrimination that women often experience, they sometimes choose to move on to other roles.
Women can help combat these experiences by furthering their education in data analysis roles and gaining background knowledge on business and marketing touchpoints that make the application of their education even more valuable. Being able to calculate marketing acquisition cost and having the ability to dig through the conceptual data it entails can make women an even larger asset for businesses that are trying to incorporate these skills throughout their company.
The Value of Women in Data Analysis
One reason women are unable to live up to their potential in STEM fields is due to a narrative that is still used throughout media today, generalizing those working in STEM and tech as nerdy males. However, women are just as naturally suited for these positions as men. Although this narrative never had any factual basis behind it, times have changed. The value of women in STEM roles has become more apparent as women excel in roles throughout every related industry.
Still, social conditioning has an impact. When women are not introduced to computing and data analysis skills early on in their life and education, it can be difficult for them to develop the type of organic connection that they would form if they had more exposure to these subjects in early years. In order to close the gender gap that is so prevalent in STEM fields today, experts often espouse the belief that early exposure to STEM and computer-related skills could help make a huge difference to the number of women who pursue these fields.
Another reason that gender diversity is often unbalanced is due to the way companies recruit for various positions. Many recruiting efforts rely on referrals to determine top candidates. However, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 64 percent of employees recommend candidates of the same gender as themselves. In 2015, a study found that women are three times less likely to seek tech internships than men, which is another common way that companies recruit for STEM-related positions.
Strong, bold, and intelligent women are in the public eye now more than ever. Still, women tend to cause surprise and even strike uneasiness in some of their male coworkers because of how uncommon women tend to be in STEM industries. This type of environment causes women to turn away from tech and data analysis directions as options in school and for their future careers.
There are many factors that contribute to the lack of women in data analysis roles, and there is a lot of evidence to support theories that societal constructs hold women back from taking up space in these positions. Diversity is known to attract the best and freshest talent to growing businesses. Making an effort to reassess company recruiting efforts to draw more women and minorities to these positions can make companies stand out from the rest. Women have valuable perspectives to bring to the field of data analysis, and encouraging more women to pursue data analysis roles and STEM fields in general would advance them greatly.
Sam Bowman writes about marketing, tech, and how the two merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.
Disclaimer: The opinions and views of guest contributors are not necessarily those of theglasshammer.com