Sunday, September 23, 2012

Payal Style

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the famous and highly regarded Mrs. Moneypenny (her real name is Heather) at a TEDx event in London.   I was still new to Britain, without a television, and  preferred to read the WSJ over the FT each morning, so I wasn't aware of her celebrity at the time.  In any case, I was able to impress her unknowingly with my TED talk, and recently she was very generous in offering me some advice as I'm hunting for the right next career move.   I feel very lucky that I had that privilege, and this blog post is to share some of the privilege to the 5 people that actually read this blog (haha).   It's based on some thoughts I stewed over after reading Mrs. Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women and my own operating strategies of being a woman in a man's world.   Everyone needs to develop their own "style" taking things that work for them and borrowing ideas from others.  This is my "Payal style".

Confidence matters.  Alot.  Men tend to carry themselves with more confidence than women.  I don't know precisely why, but from my sample of classmates, friends, and co-workers, it's clear to see.  This confidence thing is an uphill battle I'll likely face the majority of my career.  But, at least I'm more aware of it, and can work to boost it in situations that matter.   Saw this a few weeks ago on Pinterest, and it's my new motto.

Theory #1.  I have a theory that you're an average of the 5 people you hang out the most with.  The company you keep speaks of you as well, so make sure you surround yourself and spend time with people whose values are similar to your own and will make you a better person.

Accept that life's not fair.  In 2010, a report was published by Huran listing the top 20 self-made women billionaires.  11 out of the 20 were from China.  There are a couple of contributing factors including high GDP growth in China, a culture that values ambition and hard work, and one special thing that I hadn't thought about before: cheap and stigma free childcare.  In America, it's much more difficult to outsource your home life, and I for one wouldn't ever want to.   That means I'm going to have to dial down my career at some point.

Be gracious.  One of my favorite Directors that I worked with is a woman named Courtney.  She once paraphrased a quote (I think by Laura Bush?) that has always stuck with me, and something I try to live my life by.  Forgive the inaccurateness of it, but it goes something like "True grace is making anyone, no matter what stage of life they're in, feel comfortable."

Everyone has to eat.  As a sophomore at Texas A&M, I was a student leader/mentor in a prestigious freshmen leadership organization called ASSIST.   I had 64 freshmen that I looked after, helped, and invested time in so that they would not only have a great college experience but also grow as leaders.  This was a life changing experience for me (and alot of fun), but it was an incredible time suck.  A guy in the class ahead of me named Brian gave some advice over a campfire handover session that has always stuck with me.  He said that while this experience would be incredibly time consuming for me the following year, remember that everyone has to eat, exercise, study, shop, do laundry, etc.  And, you should take others to do those things with you.  I've found this advice to be incredibly effective for me over the years.  In college, I ended up taking freshmen to go to the grocery store with me, go run around campus, or spend evenings in the library together.  What we did mattered less than the fact that I wanted to spend time and invest in them. Over the years, I've adapted this to my professional and grad student life.   I think it also brings a sense of genuineness and realness to relationships.  While I do enjoy going out to a fancy cocktail lounge or club in London, sometimes I'd much rather go explore apartments or help a friend prepare for a salary negotiation.

Get your rear in gear.  And go join a gym or sports team.  Physical fitness makes me feel better and is an endorphin rush.  Going for a run is how I de-stress and think about things.  And, my new favorite fitness programme CrossFit also helps build confidence and gives me a sense of community.  I feel all women should carve out at least 3 hours a week for physical activity.

Read something.  All. The. Time.  I have very low tolerance for people who don't read.  I'm busy, but I always have a book (fiction and non-fiction).  Reading helps me continue learning and "escape".  I think it also gives me interesting things to add to conversations.  I love trading book recommendations with friends.

Pay it forward.  I'm blessed to have a number of champions and mentors that have watched out for me over the years.  I can never repay them for the profound impact they've had on me, but I can pay it forward to the next generation.  Mrs. Moneypenny had a great saying for this targeted at females, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." Amen, sister.

Be proactive.  An incredible Managing Director I used to work with named Chuck mentioned something to me in my first month working out of college that has always stuck.  He said that I should be proactive in managing relationships with professional colleagues.  In his words, "The relationship has to be there before you need it."

Accept that men will not cross-stitch.  Some of my hobbies like painting and cross-stitching are very girly.  No man will ever want to do those things as a company outing or social event.  Develop (or at least attempt to develop) an interest in their hobbies.  It turns out I actually love playing poker, and I'm glad I learned the game in business school while playing with a good group of friends in a weekly small buy-in game.   I suck at golf (and managed to hit my study group mate Pete in the face with a golf club...not my finest hour), but eventually I'll get there and progress past the driving range.  I've always loved American football and joined my business school classmates in a fantasy football league this year.  My good buddy Sheldon (aka Mr. Whippy) came up with this great idea as a mechanism for us to all keep in touch given that we're spread over several continents.  It's been great to play fantasy football with them (and I have a great team that is dominating the league!).  They've been very accepting of me being the only female in our league too.  I think women sometimes play the "they won't accept me in their realm" card too hastily.

Ask for favors. I learned this in my Paths to Power class (GREAT class!) at London Business School.  Men are much more comfortable and willing to ask for favors, negotiate salaries, request special treatment, etc.  Women need to do this too (in our own unique ways).  We played a game in Paths to Power that has always stuck.  Essentially, we were put into breakout rooms with 10 people.  Each person wrote two things they needed help with on Post Its and then placed them on the outline of a giant circle drawn on a white board.  The Post Its had everything from requests for interview help to places to live to asking for a coffee during the break.  The students then drew lines from their names in the center to those they could help.  Once all the Post Its were cleared off, you could see the end result was a giant web.  Humans systematically underestimate others' willingness to help, AND we underestimate the happiness that performing favors gives them.

Know the PIE equation.  I went to a fabulous London Business School / Committee of 200 conference recently.   An accomplished fellow woman from the South named Tanya Fratto mentioned something to me that has stuck.  She had a very distinguished career at GE and told us how GE folks use the PIE equation for career progression.  Performance. Image. Exposure.  Each is equally important, and women should not only focus on the P.  Performance will not take you to the top, and the sooner females become comfortable playing organizational politics, the better.  Also, they can demonstrate organizational savviness in the their own unique way.  Tanya gave the anecdote of how a macho man questioned her ability to turnaround a GE plant in small town America.  Tanya coyly remarked that she was selected because she knew how to shoot guns and drove an F-250.   When put into situations like that, women can either get defensive and go into heinous bitch mode or react in a lighthearted way and win people over.

You cannot have your cake and eat it too.  I've always strived to be a renaissance woman of sorts, and I have an unrealistic belief that I'll be able to balance a career, family, personal development, etc.  Mrs. Moneypenny drives home this point that you can't have it all.  List your priorities and make decisions based on them.  You will have to say "no" and disappoint others.  I believe there's alot of merit in this, but it's incredibly difficult for me to do. 

1 comment:

  1. I <3 this post - great collection of learnings and tips :)