December 21, 2017 — Below is a blog from our Catalyst CEO Champions For Change storytelling series, "Spotlight Stories." Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing these stories to show what’s working at Catalyst Champion companies that help to advance women into leadership.
Colleen Pritchett’s career with DuPont has been 20 years in the making; taking her from positions in engineering, finance, sales, all the way up to global business-lead roles. Her work has taken her from Delaware to Shanghai to Taiwan, and back again. Now DuPont’s Global Business Director of Advanced Printing, Pritchett credits much of the success of her career to the company’s unwavering commitment to supporting and retaining the women in its ranks. She participated in the company’s Accelerated Leadership Development Program (ALDP). To help ensure this culture of inclusivity continues to thrive, Pritchett continues to pay it forward through personal mentorships and leadership within the extensive DuPont Women’s Network (DWN).
In addition to taking on the responsibilities of a new senior role, Pritchett acted as a diversity and inclusion champion during her three year turn in Asia. She worked with the Asia Pacific leadership team and directly with DWN participants to accelerate the advancement of women across the region. According to Pritchett, a robust and well-organized DWN made it easy for her to jump in and engage with existing groups:
I found ready-made networks to join and help lead all across Asia. As an example, I led quite a few really enjoyable lunchtime discussions with groups throughout Japan, China, India, Singapore, and Korea. I’d share my experiences and we would have a back and forth about work and life….Those interactions were always so energizing for me.
Pritchett, who has mentored two to three people per year for most of her career, also took on several mentees in Asia (a mix of women and men). She and her mentees would identify career aspirations and develop go-forward strategies, but most importantly, they cultivated lasting relationships. She stays in close touch with many of her mentees and contacts she made through the DWN in Asia.
In Asia and the United States, Pritchett has found herself inspired by the women she works with over and over again. While they came to her for guidance and encouragement, they were almost always already on the right track. “In the end,” she says, “they were responsible for their own success.”
She is also incredibly proud of the progress she and DuPont’s Asia Pacific Leadership Team made to clear a path for women in the region’s leadership pipeline:
We made strides in terms of giving women in Asia more opportunities to lead. We need to do more of it, but we made good progress.
As much as Pritchett has given support and encouragement to others at DuPont, she has received that same level of support from colleagues and senior leaders alike throughout her career. Of her move to Asia, which was a career accelerator and the kind of international posting too many women often miss out on, she says:
I was encouraged to do the job my way; I did not have to do it like my predecessor. This had always been a big travel job, but I was told to manage it however it worked best for my family. So instead of traveling all the time, I traveled 50% of the time, did a lot of video conferencing, and conducted nightly calls with colleagues in the US and other parts of the world. It took a lot of planning, but it took the pressure off in a big way.
Long before accepting that role, Pritchett got the same message when it came to taking maternity leave after the births of her two daughters. Multiple leaders encouraged her to take as much time off as she needed. Despite what was going on at work, she reports that she never felt pressured to abbreviate her time away:
I felt good about that as a mom. I was in an environment where it was not frowned upon to spend seven and four months [respectively] with my new babies. And when I returned to work full time, I made use of the daycare assistance DuPont provided. It was so reassuring to have them close by. If anything came up, I was right there.
Pritchett regularly reminds her mentees that while they should be preparing for that next role as much as possible, including by socializing their goals with pretty much everyone in their network, they do not have to be 100% ready or perfect for it. There’s a Richard Branson quote Pritchett loves, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” She continues:
DuPont is extremely supportive of giving women and diverse employees opportunities and allowing them to take on developmental roles that they themselves perhaps don’t feel entirely ready for. The company believes in you. I believe in you. Yes, you’re ready!
Pritchett’s experience and those of other women employees like her is the result of a commitment made by DuPont decades ago. The company’s goal was to help more women rise through its ranks by providing opportunities for advancement, a steady support network of colleagues and leaders to help them navigate their careers, and the flexibility to maintain momentum at work while finding balance at home. And it’s working. One opportunity, one success, one career at a time.