In summer 2017, after 20 years in the corporate world I decided it was time to take a break. I had achieved my career north star by becoming a CMO and was even named one of the most influential CMOs by Forbes during my tenure at SAP, the world’s largest enterprise application software company. I was incredibly proud of the team’s accomplishments. At the same time, I was a little burnt out and ready for a different challenge. I wanted to use my success to help rising female leaders find their own career north stars. It has only been a few months, but this transition has already brought a number of valuable lessons.
Take time to unplug
As an executive, downtime is a luxury. You’re always on the go and connected 24/7. I’ve always wanted to take a “sabbatical” summer and this year I made it happen. My sabbatical checklist, included spending lots of time with family, reconnecting with friends, reading books and learning to wakesurf. I spent two months doing just that and I realized how “present” I was with the people I care most about. Taking the time to recharge gave me the energy and clarity I needed to start creating a new dream.
Follow your passion
I’ve always believed that to achieve success in your career, or life in general, you have to know yourself really well. It’s no coincidence that many successful executives and entrepreneurs share the same advice: follow your passion. Thanks to my friends and network, there’s been no shortage of really interesting career opportunities, but they just don’t feel right at this moment in my life. I dug deep on what really brought me joy in my past executive roles and it always came back to the people. I’m happiest when helping the next generation leaders make the impossible possible, helping them to see and to believe in themselves for a bigger path. I decided it was time to start a new venture to do just that.
Find your path
Experiencing a healthy mix of fear and exhilaration, I quickly got to work. It was at first overwhelming to determine my target audiences and the best way to make an impact. I found myself wondering how I could pay it forward and how best to lead by example.
In early September, I visited a group of executive MBA students at my Alma Mater, Cornell’s Johnson school. I discussed leadership and shared the story of my career journey and I was asked about how mentors, coaches, and sponsors played a role in career. I am immensely grateful for all the support I have gotten throughout my career. There is one person who has been constant in my career journey, my executive coach. She was by my side through transitions and challenges, reminding me of my abilities and encouraging me to find my voice-and use it. As I was speaking to the students I realized how few leaders I know have partnered with a coach through their career journey. That was my “a-ah” moment. I want to help more leaders to get the mentoring and coaching support they need to accelerate their leadership development and career growth.
Advance gender diversity
I decided to focus on female leaders and leadership teams because we still have a long way to go in reaching gender equality. In Corporate America, women are still underrepresented as they ascend to the C-suite and face more challenges. According to the 2017 LeanIn.org & McKinsey Women in the Workplace study, while women represent 48% of entry-level positions, they only represent 21% of the C-Suite, or 3% for women of color, in the U.S.
The study also reported these troubling (but not terribly surprising) facts:
· Women are less likely to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on career advancement, yet employees who do are more likely to be promoted
· Women are less likely to interact regularly with senior leaders, yet employees who do are more likely to aspire to be top executives
· On average, women are promoted at a lower rate than men. This year, like last year, the biggest gender gap is at the first step up to manager: entry-level women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This gender disparity has a dramatic effect on the pipeline as a whole: if entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the SVP and C-suite levels would more than double
The data is clear and my passion is strong. I’m hoping to use my own experience plus the support of incredible executive coaches in my network to help women accelerate their career development and to support leadership teams in creating a diverse and inclusive environment. I’m shifting from being a corporate exec to a boot-strapping entrepreneur.
Right now, my new venture is still a vision, but it is becoming clearer with each passing day. I’m researching, brainstorming and meeting with thought leaders, executive coaches and advocates I’ve come to know and respect. Sure, the risk of failure is there, but I always love big challenges, and this one is not only for myself, but for the next generation leaders who are pulling all-nighters and promising that someday their hard work will pay off, that someday she too will reach her career north star.
I will chronicle my journey to making my vision a reality. I hope you’ll join me along the way. Better yet, if you want to help or have ideas to share, I’d love to hear from you.