Recently, I attended the Stern Women in Business Conference, held annually here in New York by my alma mater. At my second consecutive year, once again, I found the insights by the keynote speakers and panelists to be both uplifting and insightful – so much so that I will cover what I found in a couple of blogs.
Morning keynote speaker, Karen B. Peetz, Vice Chairman and CEO, Financial Markets and Treasury Services, BNY Mellon and named among U.S. Banker’s “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” spent her career in the man’s world of banking and clearly has had success. She shared five points of wisdom and then answered some of our questions, which of course included, “How do you play corporate woman and mom?”
Some of you may or may not want to move up the corporate ladder, but Ms. Peetz’s points were quite valid and each of them should have relevance for you regardless of your career goals. Her five points of wisdom included:
- High Potential Women Aim Higher and Take Risks. In other words, they tend to speak up about what they want and they go after it. As she said, “If you want it, ask. Men do it.” I was reminded of this during February’s Second Tuesday dinner where one of the girls acts as a mentor to fresh- out-of-college high potential men and women. She is astonished by how much of a difference still exists between the genders. For example, the women tend to ask for permission while the men “just do” and ask for forgiveness. More importantly, if the men make a mistake, they just move on while the women ruminate over that mistake. She sited one example where one of the trainees decided he knew what his next rotation should be so rather than go through her, he called someone in that department to go after the assignment. She said the women never did this, nor would they think of doing so.
- Don’t Underestimate Business Line Experience. If you are looking to have the “top job,” you must manage a P&L (profit and loss), which can include operations, finance, and product management. If fact, Ms. Peetz suggested that the broader your experience, the better, which includes international experience, and as she said, “You can’t grow if you don’t change.” Oftentimes, women end up in senior positions like Human Resources (HR) but then have no place to go because they moved up the ranks within one functional area. Even Ms. Peetz sited changing jobs every 18 months throughout her career and yes, she fought for her international role. Surprisingly, she found that many assumed she would not want such a role because she had a child, so again, if she did not ask, she was not going to get. And yes, she suggested that had she been a man, her company would not have thought twice about asking her to move abroad. You know what they say about assumptions? ASS-U-ME!
- Seek Out Honest Feedback. Before joining the non-profit world, I spent a part of my career a sales trainer, communications coach, and consultant to the training field. Time and again, I found that managers and colleagues don’t give feedback unless it is time for the annual or mid-year reviews. Thus, my recommendation is to ask for the feedback – over and over – and there is a way to do it. For instance, when one typically asks for feedback, the question tends to be, “What did you think?” If you have asked this question, I am sure you noticed that the typical response is, “That was “great” or “fine.” Am I right? Here is my suggestion: Ask for specific feedback, be open to what you hear, and make sure the person giving the feedback understands your expectations. For example, if you have a specific skill set you are working on, ask about that competency and how you came across in that meeting or presentation. The more you do this, the more honest people will be with you and the more insight you will have into your effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Also, the more you ask for feedback, the more likely people will be to give it to you when you forget to ask.
- Build a Strong Women’s Affinity Network. At BNY Mellon, they have a Women’s Initiatives Network (WIN) acting as a global resource for women and their professional development. Ms. Peetz has found this helpful for women to connect with each other and share best practices. Not all companies have something like this, but you can either create your own or join one that may be external to your company but is about networking for women.
- Get a mentor and a sponsor. While the mentor and sponsor can be the same person, there is a difference in their function so if you choose one person, make sure s/he can play both roles! What is the difference? First, the similarity is that both should be trusted, well-respected people who are willing to give you their time. The difference is that the mentor will provide you guidance on the corporate landscape but the sponsor will help you get there. The sponsor is well-informed about various opportunities, has good connections, and will put in a good word for you.
After these words of wisdom, the group was anxious to learn how Ms. Peetz has balanced her family and career.
- Let perfectionism go. I am not even sure I need to explain this one. If you are a woman, you get this.
- Don’t be ambivalent. Define for yourself how far you want to go and then create a plan for how to get there. It will require the support of a small army (i.e., mentor, sponsor, family, friends, and yes, you!) to help get you where you want to go. If you don’t want to be CEO and and Director or VP level is enough, then great! If you are happy where you are today and don’t want to change, then fine! The point is that if you have a dream job in mind, you have to be the one to make it happen…along with the support of others.
- Communicate to your company and spouse. If you know what you want, tell the people that matter. It will help them understand what you want so that they can help you, and it will help ensure incorrect assumptions are not made about you. As an example, once Ms. Peetz got to the top, she realized she was missing family time and requested Friday’s off in the summer. While she works harder during the week, summer Friday’s have given her quality time with her child and makes her more appreciative of her company, which keeps her working hard. Recall that she also communicated to her company and spouse about her desire for an international assignment!
Yes, as we get older we realize life can be tough but we have more control over the roadmap of our life than we think we do. Hopefully, these “words of wisdom” will help you re-set your compass.
Good luck on your journey…where ever it is you choose to go!