Chief Digital Technology Officer & SVP
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The Importance of Facts, Figures and Faking It
A Conversation with the Bright, Ambitious Women of Aderant
Amid one of my busiest months of the year, I enjoyed the most fulfilling breath of fresh air as I sat in discussion with the Women of Aderant last week. I was invited to share my career path and lessons learned at a meeting of the Women of Aderant, a professional network formed to give women working throughout the global software firm a forum for mentoring, learning and career advisory. Sounds easy, but here's the truth: the topic made me nervous.
I love to talk. I'll talk about technology, outsourcing, offshoring, help desks, software development, testing, call centers, business travel and just about any professional subject for days. But, I don't like to talk about myself. I am incredibly proud of my career, but I like to be measured by my accomplishments. I went into the talk concerned that my story simply wasn't enough. And then I met the Women of Aderant.
From the outset, this audience was impressive. They offered sharp questions, reflective contributions and a brave willingness to share career challenges they have faced as women in the workforce. In addition to wanting to poach the room of all its talent, I quickly realized I was getting far more insight than I was giving. That's always a lightening-flash reminder for me of why it's so important to encourage and support women and minority career development networks like the Women of Aderant. You can wait the long wait for lessons to be handed down person to person, mentor to mentor or manager to employee and hope they spread. Or, you can amplify learning across a wide swath of talent, bringing people who are hungry for growth together to share knowledge, ideas and opportunities.
Giving full credit to the professionals who opened up the floor to me at Aderant, I would like to outline just a few of the career growth lessons we discussed last week. In sharing these, I want to keep Aderant's cycle of learning in motion by inviting other career networks to bring these ideas to your next meeting. Whether you agree or not with the positions below, these are interesting workplace issues worth discussing.
Emotion Goes Better with Facts & Figures
During the discussion with the Women of Aderant, we talked about how showing emotion feels very risky as professional women. The widespread perception that "women are emotional" or even "too emotional" weighs heavy on the minds of many women in the workplace who feel like a man who shows emotion is judged as "passionate," "bold" or "aggressive." A woman who shows the same level of emotion is more likely to be judged as "weak," "out of control" or "hormonal."
The fact that this was not a controversial statement was telling. Many of us are walking a careful line to keep emotions in check at work, which can be a problem. I believe emotion is a good thing. Is there innovation without passion? Is there risk-taking without fear and a lot of guts? My advice is not to suppress emotion but to have the data--facts and figures--that give strong emotion a logic-bound foundation. If you can express both emotion and reason, you will strike gold. Think of all of the great leaders of business and history. They were not robots. Emotion with purpose is useful, and I say put it to work.
Should You Fake It 'Til You Make It?
One of my favorite parts of the meeting was when a question came up on whether the advice to "fake it 'til you make it" was still good advice. My eyes lit up and my head began to nod before the question was over as I have long been a firm believer in the idea that sometimes you will have to take on a job, task or project before you are fully ready. For me, the reason is that a significant part of the learning comes from doing.
I love that this question comes up because I think it reflects so highly on the rising generation of workers today who place a high premium on being knowledgeable and well prepared for their work. It shows high expectations and integrity and that is essential to maintain. Perhaps it also speaks to the fact that risk taking is something women in the workplace need to embrace more. I have spoken on several panels and read several articles addressing the fact that women will wait to apply for promotions or new opportunities until their skills and experience fully (or almost fully) meet the criteria. Men on the other hand, don't wait. Even if their skills and experience are only a partial match, they take the risk and apply.
Part of me thinks that the "fake it 'til you make it" trope comes from this attitude. You can never be fully prepared for anything, but you can be willing to learn on the go, embrace a bigger challenge and risk being an imperfect but aspiring candidate.
Know Your Audience
One topic we circled back to throughout the discussion was "knowing your audience." An audience member shared how she experimented with how she dressed and spoke and realized she was seen as more authoritative if her clothes were more muted and her voice was lower. As someone who has long worked in sales, I understood both the frustration of having to mute your personality and taste for the job and the necessity. I myself have advised team members to tone down their wardrobes in order to give the right impression to a prospective client. In fact, I do it. If I am selling to a very casual company, my dress code will relax to show that I (and thus my team) can blend into their culture. If it's a very formal corporate environment, I will dress it up. In the world of solutions and service providing, it's part of the job to demonstrate an understanding of client culture.
However, another professional in the Women of Aderant meeting shared how in meetings with clients her proposals would be met with skepticism while her male colleague, who has the same role and title, could make the very same proposal five minutes later (in the same room and to the same clients) and it would be fully embraced. In this case, muting your voice or role is not the answer. As I told the Aderant audience, never sell yourself short. If the audience seems to be overlooking your voice or role, get your team, your colleague and your manager involved. Perhaps working through the presentation or studying how client interactions are structured might reveal where one person is positioned as junior or less influential. This is a case where "knowing your audience" can help reveal where something unintended is happening. If a business is investing in you to be an expert, they want you to be able to perform. Don't be afraid of asking for support in making adjustments so that you can fulfill your role for your clients, your employer and your career.
I would like to conclude with another round of thanks to the Aderant audience. I may have been at the front of the room, but I feel like I was your student. Here's hoping these ideas and insights help more professionals as they work to shape and advance their careers.