For many, being a woman in the workplace comes with a host of unique struggles — to be heard, valued, respected, and treated as equal. Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune to work in organizations led by women, and my experience has afforded me a different vantage point.
I learned important lessons not by reflecting on how things could be better but by having excellent female role models throughout my career. The insights I’ve gathered come from the three phases of my career.
At the outset of my career, like many young professionals, I was married to my job. I worked at a fast-growing, privately held company led by a woman. It was acquired and became part of a leading Fortune 500 company. This reality, coupled with the fact that the company had strong women in many key leadership positions, meant that I had not only excellent role models but also leadership opportunities early and often. So, I was able to grow professionally as the company flourished.
During this time, I learned to not be afraid of my inexperience but rather to harness the knowledge and expertise of others. I could lean on more senior colleagues and ask for help when I needed it. Even just talking issues through with someone who had more experience often provided me the fresh perspective I needed.
I also made a conscious choice early in this phase of my career to keep it simple. Today, jargon has overtaken the language of many in professional services, often among more junior people trying to prove they belong by adopting the latest buzzwords. But I realized that especially when discussing complex subjects — such as reimbursement and healthcare — we are more effective when we speak in the lexicon with which we’re most comfortable and focus on making complex scenarios clear and straightforward.
As happens to many professionals, eventually I had more demands on my time than just my career. When family became a priority for me, I had to figure out how to balance this new priority and work. The most natural way I found to deal with these competing demands on my time was to emphasize being present, whether it was at home or at work. The more I was able to fully engage in the moment, the less I struggled with finding the balance.
As I became more judicious about how I spent my time, I also became better about speaking up. I learned to say “no” when I couldn’t take on anything else without compromising the quality and engagement in either world. Setting these clear boundaries was perhaps made easier because I had been empowered and supported early in my career, but it’s an important skill for all professionals to master. At some point, we’ll be pulled in multiple directions without enough time to do everything, so prioritization is key.
At this point in my career, I’m committed to sharing the knowledge I’ve gained with other professionals. An important part of being able to mentor others is keeping abreast of trends and developments in my field so I can speak knowledgeably about the environment. Navigant offers ample opportunities for continued learning and development. I work to use these resources, and I devote time to keep up with relevant published materials.
I’m also now very aware of the critical role my network has played throughout my career, and I continue to nurture that network and engage with new colleagues. I also encourage young women to intentionally build a tribe, take every opportunity to get to know their peers and their superiors, and approach each interaction with humility and openness. I was blessed to not have to look far for female role models, but that’s not the case for all women. Finding a mentor or sponsor you can learn from will pay tremendous dividends as your career progresses.
For much of my career, I’ve been surrounded by female leaders and afforded the opportunity to step into leadership roles myself thanks to my hard work — but without the struggle some women have faced. Regardless of their work environment, young women today can benefit by leaning both on their organizations and female mentors to provide support and direction along the way. Established female professionals should be aware that they are likely already a role model in their organization and seek out young female professionals to mentor or sponsor.