Olivia. Advice, Accomplishments and Significance

posted October 28th, 2009 by Janet Graham - One Comment



I asked Olivia about the best advice she had ever been given and what she would pass along to a young woman.  She said: “My dad advising me to go to university and not to an art school, otherwise I would have had many options shut down. Maybe it would have been all right and maybe it wouldn’t have been.  I think keeping your options open would come under the category of good advice; keeping your options open and being broad-minded, not closing your mind to any opportunity. Also, if things don’t fit, don’t force it, try something else, whether it’s an approach to a problem or otherwise. Don’t bang your head against the wall or do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome.  Don’t be afraid, be confident.  And take the advice my mentor gave me, you can do whatever you want. Whereas men might tend to over shoot, women tend to under shoot.  Women can do a lot more than they think they can.  They just don’t see themselves in the role”.


I asked Olivia whether she would advise a young woman to establish alliances and relationships with other women in their own firm or outside their firm. And she responded: “If it fits. No more than establishing relationships with any one else, men or women. I think women naturally do form relationships, they enjoy that.  I had a women’s event in my home last month; it was clients and women from our firm.  Women just enjoy it. It’s not forced.  I think this whole forced networking thing gives people the heebie jeebies but it’s just nice being around women. In our business, we get so used to being the only woman in the room or being part of the 5% who are women in the room, we don’t even think about it. The first time I realized how isolated women are was when I went to work at my last employer and there was actually a group of women working there. You don’t realize the impact until you get confronted by the absence of it.  It was like, oh, this is different, I guess this is the way the guys feel all the time.  It was an eye-opener for me”.


I asked Olivia when she considers her career in its entirety what she would do differently, if anything. She said she would have been more aggressive for herself. She said: “I took a lot of nonsense, particularly when I look at these last years.  My husband is my coach and he tells me no guy would take what I have taken.  Maybe we as women aren’t allowed. If you’re tough that way in the early stages as a woman you’re just seen as difficult, because you don’t have any peer system to support you or the back room activity which goes on. So you just take it and it holds you back.  I do think it held me back, not that I necessarily wanted to be CEO but I look around and I recognize I was easily capable of being head of an investment bank group judging by the men who have headed these groups. So there was no reason not to have thrown my hat in the ring.  I just would never have done it, whether I aspired to it or not it would never have occurred to me that I could have had the job.  I never put myself out there and said to them I want that job, so they assumed I didn’t want it.  So I think you have to speak up and advocate for yourself. Think about what’s possible. My mentor got me there in the early stages of my career. Later in your career, you might not want to put yourself forward but you should open your mind to the possibility.  I wouldn’t have actually changed things because I wouldn’t want any of those jobs. I realize now that this is a great balance for me and I get to do everything pretty much on my own terms but you should open your mind to the possibilities as opposed to just saying no. Advocate for yourself so people know you are interested and believe yourself capable so they can start to see it. You can always say no but it would be nice to be offered”.




I asked Olivia about her proudest accomplishments at work. And she said: “Putting the team in place and some of the client work I’ve done.  We’ve created some great things where there were no precedents.  Working on major transactions, that were  ground breaking transactions.  On the team side, we have brought a lot of great people into the business.  They’re very productive, good partners and that’s probably the biggest thing.”




I asked Olivia what she considered her work of greatest significance. She said the major transactions she had completed were part of it, however, she believes she has influenced a lot of change in her current organization and this is her work of greatest significance. In fact, she said a part of this change is just playing out now so to describe it as her work of greatest significance may be premature but it’s influencing major change which she regards to be her work of greatest significance.  She said, it’s really hard to define or describe but at heart it is cultural change.  She says she thinks she is recognized in her firm for being clear-thinking, not afraid to speak up and identify issues and carry them forward to change the organization culturally and structurally.  She says often people don’t want to deal with it or speak up, so she thinks she is the advocate for change and building a better firm.  She thinks she has been a big influence in that regard.


Olivia was about to get a promotion when I interviewed her, however, she didn’t describe it in those words. She said:Well I’m taking on a bigger responsibility”. And I asked her whether she considered it to be a promotion and she said: “I said I’m just about done doing my current role and I’d look at doing some other things. When all this came up and they asked who will do this and I said do you want to me to do it, they asked whether I would.  It is more travel, it’s a bigger geography and I guess I figured, if I could do the job I did with the one and two year-olds, I can do this one”. And she said: “You sort of think why wouldn’t I do it now which is sort of interesting.  So I said, yes, sure”.    



What Strikes Me?


Keep your options open; be broad minded and don’t close your mind to any opportunity


If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Try something else, whether it’s an approach to a problem or otherwise. Don’t bang your head against the wall or do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome


Don’t be afraid, be confident; you can do whatever you want


Men tend to overshoot, whereas women tend to undershoot


Women can do a lot more than they think they can.  They just don’t see themselves in the role


Be aggressive on your own behalf. Put yourself out there and ask for the job or whatever else it is you want


Speak up and advocate for yourself


Let them know you think you can do the job, so they can see you in the same light you see yourself


Don’t let anyone “off the hook” by not asking for roles or whatever it is you are capable of doing


You can always say no but you can’t say yes unless you throw your hat in the ring


What Strikes You?


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One Response to “Olivia. Advice, Accomplishments and Significance”

Comment from Hattie-san
Time October 31, 2009 at 4:34 am

We don’t push / sell ourselves. We usually hesitate, waiting for one of the big boys to approach us. This is so wrong because unless we go into that CEO office and take that job away from the “guy” they decided to give it to when they were playing golf on Saturday morning at the CLUB, we don’t have a chance of reaching our upper echelon goals. That’s exactly how it’s done. So step up, sisters !!!!!!

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