Since 2008 the Catalyst Connects series has provided an opportunity for women senior executives to share their advice and inspirational success stories with an audience of high-potential women. Over the years more than 3,600 women globally have benefitted from the wisdom of over 80 executives who have been featured speakers.
The October 2015 Catalyst Connects, sponsored by RBC, was held in New York City, where Catalyst’s President & CEO Deborah Gillis facilitated a panel discussion featuring Susan Ringler, Vice President, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, Alcoa, and Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief, More magazine.
They shared these career tips:
Susan Ringler told of achieving her dream of working as a federal prosecutor, a job she held for 13 years. But there was another dream that had yet to be fulfilled. “I had always wanted to live and work overseas,” she recalled. When the opportunity to volunteer in Russia for two years through an American Bar Association program came up, she seized it, leaving her job behind her. “My friends said ‘you’re the only person we know who’s working her way down the ladder.’ But it was my aha moment: I realized I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. It changed my whole career direction.” Ringler passed along wise advice that a professor once gave her: “Take advantage of what’s in front of you. Do the things that present themselves and are beneficial to you as a person, and the career will come.”
Lesley Jane Seymour agreed. “You must be open to all the opportunities that throw themselves in front of you—even if you’re not ready for them.” When working at Vogue magazine, she was asked to do the car column—but she didn’t know how to drive. So she took driving lessons—something that came in handy when the role required her to test-drive cars on a media trip to General Motors.
Cultivate Champions and Stay on Their Radar
“You can never meet too many people,” advised Ringler. “Keep up with them, have lunch with them, do whatever it takes to show your interest in what they’re doing.” All the panelists agreed that mentors and sponsors have been critical to their success. Ringler stressed the importance of having people who know you, who can make a call or connect you with someone influential. She got her job at World Bank through a friend who called. And “with Alcoa, I was in China and couldn’t sleep and got the call from a friend that they were looking for a chief compliance officer.”
Give Networking a New Twist
Seymour always envied her business peers who could bring together “seemingly random people and make exciting things happen.” So she gave a new spin to networking with what she calls “Red Cup Salons.” Invite 30 interesting women to a designated home or apartment for a cocktail hour, asking them to bring wine and simple snacks. Use paper napkins and plastic cups, so no elaborate prep or clean up is required. “Be a connector,” Seymour said. “Bring people together and see what happens. It is incredibly rewarding.”
Deborah Gillis talked about a company that urges its women executives to take home a small group of high-potential women, with the understanding that the host won’t clean the house, cook or hide the kids beforehand. “The idea is to show young women that their lives are not perfect. This is the world we all live in.”
Ban the Word “Balance”
Instead of striving for work-life balance, “make a deal with yourself that you’ll always be there for the most important things at work and at home,” suggested Gillis. “You may not be able to be at every meeting or every dance recital. There have been times when something has happened in my family and I’ve had to clear my work schedule, and times I’ve had to miss certain family events because of work commitments. But my colleagues and my family know I can be depended on to be where I need to be.”
Find Your Own Personal Way to Power Down
When an audience member asked how the three women shut off technology, the executives talked about the importance of setting parameters for when and how they can be reached, and shared their personal strategies for dealing with the expectation of being on call 24/7 via mobile devices.
“It’s hard, and I don’t do it as well as others, but it’s really important to shut off sometimes,” said Ringler. On vacation, she said she checks her cell phone in the morning and evenings, but doesn’t carry it all day long, because “it creates a false sense of self importance and can easily get out of control.”
Seymour said, “You have to be very disciplined about it.” On vacation she checks email once a day, and makes sure her staff understands that, unless it’s an emergency, she’s unavailable. “Treat your team the same way you expect to be treated,” she added. “I make sure I don’t call them when they’re away either.”
As Gillis said, “It’s important to role model the behavior you expect.”