This week, I had the pleasure of organizing a fabulous Boston female leadership event as a part of my role with Young Women in Digital. We featured influential women executives in the Boston area who gave 75 young ladies career advice, then answered their questions on an open and honest panel.
There's not a ton of women in tech, and even fewer women role models to really look up to. I've just landed a great gig where I'm fortunate enough to have two women - my boss and the CEO - who are fabulous mentors, but know in this industry that's often tough to find. So I sought to put together an event where other women in Boston like me could get access to some of the smartest lady brains in Boston.
The women featured were Cindy Stockwell, President of Trilia Media, Jenna Colombini, VP of Marketing for WhoSay, and Diane Hessan, CEO of StartUp Institute (previously of Communispace, now known as C-Space). While some amazing quotes were made - and you can check out the event hashtag for those - I did notice three main themes that kept coming up as important strategies to consider for career growth:
1) Just Breathe: It's All Going to Be Okay
I know I'm not the only one who worries constantly about everything, all the time - mainly of which, my career. But looking at a broader scope of your work / life, there are only so many aspects that are actually within your control and only so many hours in the day to control them. One of the speakers had a great gut-check idea: what if you really looked at your life and thought, "what would I do if I knew everything was going to be okay?" Would you quit your job? Would you try something totally new?
Also, Hessan tells us we were raised to believe in trade offs: you could either be a great mom OR a great manager. But if you work hard enough, there's no reason we can't swap that out with AND. By the way, you won't be a great mom every day or great at your job every day, either. Stop beating yourself up about it and wake up tomorrow. Guys know there are occasional tradeoffs, but they accept that as part of the job - there's no reason why we shouldn't too. And that guilt you feel about not being there for your kids that one time? Her kids turned out just fine - and yours will be, too.
2) The Skills to Succeed
Stockwell made the great point about really raising your hand and mastering the art of public speaking. Whether it's at a company meeting or a formal client presentation, nailing this skill is critical to your success. In comparison, Colombini also stressed the importance of listening: if you are listening, you are learning - and learning is never done. You should never reach a point in your career where you "know everything", which is something that I've noticed starts to creep in with age. There will always be a new technology or tactic that you should be up to try - don't be afraid to do it.
Lastly, Hessan talked about the most important skill you can learn - regardless of your industry or job function - is sales. It is a skill that is not only critical to your company's success (all employees are salespeople!) but being able to sell yourself, sell your ideas, is a critical part of laying the foundation to your own success.
I also noticed that all panelists spoke about having a life outside of work. Not just for the work / life balance, but to feel fulfilled and bring the passion you have outside of your job back to your 9-5. For me, it's volunteering to put events together like this. I make great connections with speakers and attendees, and always learn something new that I can bring back to work the next day.
3) Moving Up: Getting that Promotion and Rocking It
I believe it was Colombini who told us to "say 'yes' to everything!" She managed projects that were so completely unrelated to each other, but she learned new things and interacted with people she normally wouldn't have. It also helps distinguish yourself when you are up for a promotion: knowing you are up for anything and willing to work hard is a big part of leadership. Building off of that, it also means how you are perceived by people - Hessan gave the example, if you were to get promoted tomorrow and an email went out to that regard, would people at your company be happy for you, because you deserved it? Who would or wouldn't? That's something to examine.
Stockwell also stated that if you are not scared when you get a promotion, you aren't being aggressive enough. Never sit back and go with the flow of things. Be ready to ask for what you want, because no one is going to give it to you. And be prepared to get it.
The Bottom Line: Support Each Other
One of the most interesting takeaways I got out of the other night was also the need for us to support each other. Gone are the Mad Men days where there was one "Queen Bee" in the office, yet many women still act that way and are overly competitive with each other. I'm hoping building a support system like these networking groups and within your own organizations will help break down those walls a little bit.
We should also stop being so judgmental of each other outside of work: if someone wants to quit her job and take care of her baby full-time, she has the right to do that - and by the way, she can always come back in a year or two. If someone else gets promoted to CEO and can't make a baseball game or PTO meeting, it doesn't make her less of a parent. Dads or partners are there to share the load, and we should start leaning on them more.
I'm a motivated, self-starting marketer and working mom looking to make a difference in the world - one story at a time.
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