Friday, March 27, 2009

Success Factors

Thanks to one of my networks (thank you MIT Alumnae and Garage Tech Ventures) I scored a free ticket to the Berkeley Haas School of Business Women in Leadership conference, which is a fabulous event. I went many, many years ago and that one was more focused around life changes, having babies, etc. This one, as you can imagine, had a large focus on career changes and finding a job in this economy, although that was likely my own narrow focus. What's not to love about spending a day with smart and savvy women (and a few men), but I have to say the keynote speakers really stood out over the rest. They were some of the most entertaining and interesting talks I've heard in quite some time.

My favorite was, Caryl Athanasiu, an EVP of Wells Fargo, even though, as the final speaker, she was "the only thing standing between us and adult beverages," as she put it. She didn't stand out just because I got my 30 seconds of fame during that talk, although it didn't hurt. During the Q&A session someone brought up a question from an earlier panel discussion, when someone asked about overcoming the challenge of being at the same company for 14 years. "That was me" I whispered to my seat neighbor, someone I happened to know from my stint at BUILD. I had asked that in an earlier session, and an employee admitted she would be biased against candidates like that. Managers rarely leave WF, so I didn't figure Caryl would have the same issue. But I digress...

What struck me most about her talk was how she captured the positive in every story, in every life challenge. From a serious back injury to dressing in a bright orange ski sweater for a bank board meeting. As the only lesbian with a family at the executive level at Wells Fargo, you might assume she's had some barriers put in her way, but she focused on the humor and silver linings she found along the way. Caryl told us the five keys to success at her job, and not once was work-life balance or finding a job you love mentioned.
  1. Be genuine and authentic with yourself
  2. Align your personal and professional values with the company
  3. Don't make decisions out of fear
  4. Intentions matter, understand the power of intentions
  5. Be self-aware and coachable
Now of course she didn't just list these out, there were entertaining and instructional personal anecdotes for each one. For example when she first started working at Wells Fargo her boss, herself still deep in the closet, told Caryl never to tell anyone she was a lesbian, as they'd never let her work directly with customers again. When Caryl was vague about her reasons for leaving, they assumed it was her manager. She finally confessed she was leaving to follow her partner to LA. They did their darndest to get her to say, and long story short, she ended up returning to WF years later, was given the deep south as her territory and was the top sales person within a year. She has stayed with the bank as it's values match her own.

She spoke of keeping quiet in a meeting out of fear of losing her job, only to realize later there are worse things than losing one's job, and indeed her idea, which she shared later, was welcomed and not spurned as she'd suspected. On a lighter note, when she and her partner went in to have their first child, they were shocked and concerned to be assigned a male nurse. They decided making assumptions about him was just as bad as those who would make assumptions about them as a lesbian couple. He ended up being their favorite nurse.

I wish I could remember all that she shared, however it left me feeling a little better about my job search. After all, if the behemoth Wells Fargo has a lesbian mom rising to the executive level, I've got a fighting chance to find something for me.

1 comment:

  1. Good tips for everyone to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.