Career Advancement

Really, Truly Candid Advice From Two Seriously Senior Women Leaders

Forté’s 2018 Women’s MBA Conference in Atlanta in June had it all: breakout sessions, keynote speeches, and networking opportunities. When it came to hearing hard-earned wisdom from women at the top of their career games, the “Dialogue with Leadership” session – led masterfully by Erika James, Dean, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School – truly delivered.

Here are excerpts from that session, which featured Lori Heinel, EVP & Deputy Chief Investment Officer at State Street, and Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America, sharing their thoughts on everything from artificial intelligence and a new way to look at networking to negotiating that next salary or promotion.

Know what makes you special

Lori: “Find that thing that even senior people want to come to you for because you have some depth of knowledge and experience … that people in your organization find valuable and seek you out as a consequence of that.”

A new way to network

Julie: “Usually people think of networking as ‘where to get your next job.’ Think about networking as how to be the most effective at your job…it’s really important that you not think of networking simply as ‘who do I know to get ahead?’ but ‘who do I know to be really top at what I do?’”

What you need to know about tech

Lori: “You don’t necessarily need to be an expert at technology, (but) …be skeptical and critical of information…because that lets you draw out the technology in a way that will be much more useful in the business.”

Julie: “Every industry and every kind of role today needs to understand how technology is going to create value…my advice is to take advantage of being in school to learn the basics so you can grow and understand technology.”

Keep learning

Julie: “As CEO, I have a quarterly learning curriculum that I set for myself because I can’t drive a business like this unless I am constantly learning what’s happening because there is so much change. Make sure to build the habit of continuous learning.”

Be open to the unexpected

Lori: “I am a big believer that there is no one path …be open to the idea that your journey could take you in some different directions.”

Erika: “There are moments in your life that you don’t recognize as helping position you for the future, but they will come back to you in ways that are extraordinarily meaningful.”

Reframe your experiences to be more expansive

Julie: On being recruited to Accenture: “The CEO [at the time] was trying to recruit me…as a general counsel. He said, ‘I’m not looking for a lawyer. I’m looking for a business leader with legal experience.’ When I joined Accenture, I didn’t think of myself as a lawyer, [and] as I think about, ‘how did I become the CEO of Accenture North America?’…it began with a belief in myself that I was a business leader and, therefore, that’s how I was going to act, and study and execute.”

Mentors and sponsors

Julie: “It’s good to be open to having both male and female mentors and sponsors because it’s quite limiting if you don’t… having someone who is going to pound the table who is in a leadership position is important.”

Lori: “Ultimately what you need to find are advocates…who is that person in the room at the senior level…who will advocate on your behalf? …Networking is good, but it’s not enough. You have to also use other opportunities to make your interests and intentions known so that even people who maybe aren’t close to you …can be your advocate when you’re not in that room.”

Erika: “We often think about mentoring as a senior member in the organization’s responsibility to me, but it’s a two-way street…[also] think about what you’re contributing to a potential mentor that makes you worth the investment.”

Artificial intelligence

Julie: “Artificial intelligence (AI) has been one of the fastest-moving trends we’ve ever seen in our history … to drive our business, I need to be able to understand and articulate (about AI) from a strong base of knowledge.”

The value of diverse thought

Lori: “Build relationships with people outside your vertical so you can bounce ideas off them and get different kinds of feedback; otherwise, you are likely to miss huge innovation opportunities.”

Smart negotiating

Julie: “You need confidence in what you’re doing and clear articulation of your value as you’re thinking about how to negotiate.”

Lori: “Make sure you are able to point to specific places where you’ve added value over and above your day job…and make sure you are always having the conversation about what your company or boss is looking for in terms of the person who is going to get a promotion.”

For women only

Lori: “One of the things I think women do better than men is…seeing the connections that others don’t necessarily see.”

Lori: “Women are way more self-limiting than they should be.”

Don’t wait to contribute

Julie: “It’s important to think about making a contribution and adding value all along the way, and these days we find some of the best ideas are coming from some of our junior people. You have an opportunity at every stage in your career to make a contribution.”

Parting advice

Julie: “Buy the book, Weekend Language, by Andy Craig because communication skills are the single most important thing you can do from a skill perspective. And buy this plaque [that says]: ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.’”

Lori: “Have fun. Life is short.”

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