As I rode the elevator thirty floors up in the Thompson Reuters building I couldn’t keep out the thoughts of doubt that crept into my head. What was I doing attending a seminar in a room full of perhaps the most successful women I had ever met when I had a college degree and no full-time job to show for it?
Still, fueled by the (somewhat fictional) power that my press pass gave me I stepped out as the doors swung open to find a seat before the panel. Kathleen Saxton, Lynda Clarizio, Lisa Utzschneider, Fiona Carter, Geri Wang, and Rebecca Jarvis filled the white Eames chairs on the stage with a tangible presence that captivated the attention of several hundred women (and a handful of men) who filled the room.
The competitor in me instantly sized up the crowd around me- so many young, confident professionals who walked in the same shoes I longed to fill. I took a spot near the front and pulled out my notebook, hoping it wasn’t a dead-giveaway of my true “student” status.
For the next forty-five minutes I listened as these women became human. They shared stories about starting out at the bottom, having to earn the respect of their co-workers and men who dominated the field at the senior level. They laid their flaws on the table so that those of us listening could connect and learn from their mistakes.
Chief Revenue Officer at Yahoo Lisa Utzschneider shared a story about being called out as a “mother-hen” in the New York Times and how a label at first seemingly insulting became something she was proud of, “mothers are caring and strong, so I’m ok with that,” she said.
Geri Wang, President of Sales at ABC, admitted she was an introverted, uptight high school student who would get so anxious before taking an exam that her body would break out in hives. One day Wang said she’d had enough, and simply willed herself to be calm and confident in what she brought to the table.
By the time things wrapped up I realized that, like me, Wang, Utzschneider, and the rest of the women who sat before me probably still had doubts and fears but learned how to channel confidence and develop a skill set that helped them rise to leadership positions. Like me, these role models were once looking for jobs or unsure of their future.
Instead of rambling on about the anecdotes each woman gave about their journey, i’ll share the five powerful takeaways the panel gave for others hoping to follow in their footsteps:
- “Care more about being respected than being liked”- Kathleen Saxton
- “Be authentic. It’s ok to be emotional, too nice, or bossy” – Lynda Clarizio
- “It’s ok to take a job no one wants or one that is out of your comfort zone. No risk=No reward” – Lisa Utzschneider
- “Believe in yourself and be vocal about what you feel you deserve. You have to be your own Champion”- Fiona Carter
- “If you want to get elected, you’ve got to get the votes! Develop a network and invest time in creating your own board of directors-peers who will give you quality feedback and also leaders who will speak on your behalf to benefit you” – Geri Wang.