I took the longer route to get to where I am today.
I started out in educational publishing and then became a high-school English teacher at a boys' school in inner-city Chicago. This really helped me hone my facilitation skills. Then I finished a masters degree, and I decided to move into international consulting. To do that, I needed to learn a language, so I worked in Colombia for three years, where I learned Spanish and taught in schools that served the Colombian and international community.
I then moved to Washington, DC as that was the best place to get into international consulting. I started with a small, women-owned firm and then moved to Booz Allen. Whilst there, I worked on my doctorate in human resource development and business. I completed all but my dissertation, but stopped my studies for family reasons.
In 1992, I joined what was then Coopers & Lybrand (C&L) US as a director, and I became a partner in 1997.
I never had any dreams of becoming a partner. Having four children, I thought that I was on the “mommy track”. But I saw that my work was of the same calibre as those who were entering the partnership, so I worked towards it with a great sponsor, who told me firmly that I was not on the “mommy track” and that I could go all the way!
I’ve always considered myself to be a business builder. I love to design, develop and disappear. And then leave everything in capable hands behind to take it on. For example, I built up the training business at C&L, and then started working on knowledge management and outsourcing projects for PwC after we merged.
During the sale of PwC’s consulting practice, I was asked to stay on and re-build the people and change capability for the Advisory business.
I believe that the differences in how men and women network may be one of the reasons women are sometimes not appearing in the leadership ranks of large organisations as much as they should.
Men form work networks that become social networks. They connect during the types of social events which often don’t appeal to women, for example sporting events or dinner with colleagues. These are the male environments in which male networks are formed and names get known.
Women tend to network more through day-to-day business activities, depending less on networking that takes place outside of work. Women tend to be more open as they work, and do not require as much of the outside social interaction to build trust. As a result, if much of how one gets known well in an organisation is through external activities, women could be at a disadvantage.
Individuals from other cultures will also interact and network in different ways. For this reason, all organisations need to have very formal and structured means of assessing and promoting leaders. They cannot rely on just the traditional networks to surface those leaders.
I’ve found that I try to use my femininity as an advantage and, by not sounding like one of the men, it’s helped me. It’s considered to be refreshing. I’ve also found that humour helps in a male dominated environment. And I find that I can engage men in other topics which they may not regularly discuss, such as family issues.
I think it’s very important for a woman to be the woman she is. Don’t change your way of interacting—don’t take up golf just because you feel that “you have to play golf” to get ahead. Being female is not a sign of weakness.
Business is all about relationships—and relationships require an emotional IQ. Learn to acknowledge this and to trust your emotional IQ.