Nancy: I have a background in international law and always wanted to practice overseas, so when the opportunity came up to run an Asia Pacific legal practice, I asked for the job. At the time, my daughter was two-years-old and I was pregnant, and the response was basically, “Huh, you?” I heard that if I made the move I’d be “out of sight, out of mind” and would never make progress. It turned out to be the most fun years I’ve had, and one of the best decisions to take that leap. But the challenge was asking for the job and getting over the inability to advocate for myself.
Kristine: When I was 24, I worked for a healthcare startup which was a great experience—but for the first five years I was told that every senior position would have to go to a doctor. I had to continually hire physicians to do work that I trained them to do, and they would get paid twice as much. I knew I could do the job if I had the chance and it took me five years to say, “I’m not doing this anymore.” I drove cross country, took another job (in Tijuana!) and then heard from the two founders that they didn’t accept my resignation. Eight months later I came back to a leadership position, so it was all worth it—but it was a huge challenge to get the idea across that you should give me the recognition that I’m worth.
Angie: My biggest lesson learned came early in my career as a senior consultant at Booz Allen. I have a military background, and if you have a problem in the military you don’t escalate it unless you have a solution. It was a very different culture coming into Booz Allen but I came in so hell-bent on solving things myself—I learned the hard way that I needed to reach out to the next level up with my ideas. The power of diversity comes when people join together to solve hard problems. Don’t always try to have that answer, but work with others to get it to the right place.
Their message to young professionals
- Follow your passion, but stay flexible. Nancy discussed that passions change, but that’s normal and should be embraced. Every six months, something different may be a motivator. For example, a new parent trying to balance life has different motivations from someone about to send their kids to college.
- Become an expert in your field. After landing on an area of focus, the panelists suggested a laser focus on that field. Then you can “lead with content,” which Angie stressed as critical for demonstrating know-how and taking opportunities on the table.
- Be bold and reach out to leadership. Kristine shared that an employee recently asked her to be his mentor. She was impressed by his confidence and accepted. The employee comes extremely well prepared for every meeting and shares updates from previous action items. The experience is valuable not just for him, but for Kristine too.
- Take action for a diverse workplace. Don’t be afraid to ask why things are done a certain way, and then pursuing change. Progress is not just about creating dialogue but it means we actually get somewhere and hold ourselves accountable along the way.
Listen to Kristine talk more about empowerment and diversity at work.