Interview with Jane – Role Models, Mentors and Sponsors. Men and Women in the Workplace

posted October 28th, 2014 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Jane whether she had a role model who inspired her to be ambitious and aspire to succeed in her career and her life.


Jane says: “Well as far as setting goals and benchmarks and that sort of thing, I would say that it’s more innate for me. I didn’t really know anybody who did it that way.  I’m sure there are people, I just didn’t know them. My role model as far as my work ethic and tenacity would have been my mother.  My mother, despite not having an education…actually probably because she didn’t have an education…she just had to work so hard for the family and so I saw her as such a role model, somebody who had put the needs of her family first and worked so hard.  She was such a hard worker and so she’s definitely a role model.


“There were people I came across a little bit later in my career and two people were huge role models.  The first made me understand the importance of relationships and learning from other people and building your network.  It was something that I discovered as I watched him.  He was something else.  He knows everybody. There’s such value in the deep connections and relationships you build because you can leverage these relationships and friendships and help each other out.


“The other person was my immediate predecessor in that this was really sort of a cutthroat environment at times and he was a man who was very steady and very honest, with lots of integrity and I thought he was very courageous.  This is a tough environment to be courageous in.  A lot of people think of courageous and they think about meeting somebody who is prepared to get physically hurt like a soldier or a police officer and people in those roles are definitely courageous.  A leader needs to be courageous as well, somebody who sticks up for his principles, and my immediate predecessor definitely did that and that was something that as a role model I really took a lot away from.”


I asked Jane whether she had mentors and/or sponsors along the way and if she did how she found them and how they impacted her success.


She says: “Well I would say, my two biggest weren’t official.  I know certain organizations have formal mentoring programs and that sort of thing.  I’ve never been lucky enough to work for an organization with a formal program or anything like that and so the two people that I just mentioned as my role models, they became sort of my ad hoc mentors in that they wouldn’t give me detailed career advice per se but I would watch what they did and just sort of emulate that.  One of my former bosses, one of these role models, they actually to this day still look out for me.  If he sees an opportunity to do some type of speech for a professional organization or to participate in an executive capacity in a professional organization, he’ll throw my name out there.  It’s very competitive to get on a lot of boards and executive committees and to this day he has a certain level of loyalty and it’s just wonderful that he does that for me.  In that regard, it would not be an official mentoring program but it just sort of de facto became that.”


I asked Jane about her view on the documented lack of women in executive leadership roles or corporate board positions and what she thought accounted for it.


Jane says: “I guess it depends on industries.  There’s going to be more women in certain industries than in other industries.  I went into the audit industry and IT specifically, because my job is heavily technology-related and there’s definitely a gap in how many women are involved in the IT industry and there are a number of reasons for it in my opinion but I’m not a scientist in this area or a specialist or an expert.  In general, the STEM career field, science, technology, engineering, math, seems to be lacking in girls going into it and therefore there’s fewer women who are going to be vying for the senior executive positions and as a gender we need to figure out why.  We need to find ways to make the STEM career field a little more appealing to all kids and maybe target young girls.  It may be the way that we’re teaching it in the classrooms and that we’re not using things that sound interesting to girls.  I’m not sure.  I really think it’s a pipeline problem as opposed to an opportunity problem.”


For the sake of clarity, I confirmed with Jane she was not suggesting it’s a lack of ambition on the part of women or that women don’t aspire to those positions simply in her field women are just not streaming into it in the beginning of their careers.


She says: “Right, exactly.  Right now I have two key executive roles, high level positions, technology-related positions, and I don’t have any women applying for them at all.  It’s because by the time you get to a senior executive level, you need to have already been in the pipeline, you need to have worked your way up from a junior level and they’re not entering even the entry level positions.  It’s a pipeline problem.  We need to figure out ways to attract women into some of these career fields and then we can help drive them to be more successful and to become senior executives.”


I asked Jane about her experience or impression of the differences between the experience of a man in her environment and a woman in her environment and whether she thought women face obstacles and difficulties that men don’t face.


She says: “The traditional role of a woman with raising children and that sort of thing unfortunately is one of the things where it becomes an either/or choice and when you get back into why there aren’t more senior executive females in certain roles, a lot of it is that at a certain point in our lives if we opt to have children, generally, we don’t say to our husbands or our male partners, sorry, you’re going to stay home with the baby.  That’s just never said, but that question does come up for the woman and so they have to think about that and they have to make that choice.  It’s a good thing that they have the choice now.  Before women didn’t have that choice, you were just relegated to stay at home.  Now that we have that choice, the women who do make that choice to stay at home, when they come back into the work force they’re going to be at a disadvantage from an experience standpoint, however many years they were out of the work force, they have lost those years of making connections and gaining experience, so they’ve sort of lost their footing in a way.  Again, as long as you make that choice with open and clear eyes then that’s the choice that you made.


“My peers here treat me the same as if I was a male or female. I’m just one of their colleagues. They pay me respect. The obstacles for me are that in my personal life I’m probably juggling more from a child raising perspective than some of my male colleagues.  Women tend to assume more of the child-rearing responsibilities.  Again, that’s our choice.  Some people will say we’re hard-wired that way, I don’t know, I’m not the one to make that call, but I know in my personal life I do spend a significant amount of my time with child-raising responsibilities and so maybe that makes it a little more difficult to maintain the same level of achievement.”


What Strikes Me?

Our parents and other role models teach us most by their actions not their words


Our relationships are important; it means we can learn from one another


Build your network


There’s value in the deep connections and relationships


You can leverage your relationships and friendships


We learn a lot by simply watching those we admire


A leader needs to be courageous


Leaders stand up for their principles and their people


Woman face a difficult choice when they decide to have children because the bulk of the burden of raising a family still falls on them


If a woman decides to leave the workforce while she raises her family, she will find it quite challenging to re-enter it years later


Women tend to juggle more from a child-raising perspective than their male colleagues


What Strikes You?

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