Below is a compilation of notes I took during a recent visit to Booze Allen. It wasn’t your typical consulting session, but rather an informal meeting with a key female leader in the business. This woman has an extraordinary resume, but surpassing her impressive work experience, is her life experience. She took a couple of hours out of her busy schedule to share a few words of wisdom with the ten of us, a small group of eager public health students, each with big dreams for changing the world.
One of the most emphasized themes of her talk was addressing life’s choices: life is a series of choices and the way in which we evaluate each one often depends on the stage of life we are in. There are times when we will choose career over life, and other times where we will choose life over our career. The key to making these choices comes down to balance. Throughout life we will have driving forces pushing and pulling us in many directions, but it is imperative that we listen to our true self in order to make a choice that is right for ourselves.
Along these lines, we should never hesitate to make change, especially when change is needed. Keep in mind that things are never what they seem, meaning they are never as good or as bad as they may seem to be in your head. Be open to new possibilities.
The speaker then went on to address some of the challenges she’s faced over the past thirty years as an emerging female leader in the consulting and government sectors. She painted the picture very clear: although we have made progress, the gender roles in the working world are still unequal. As an aspiring woman leader, there are a few key things to remember when chasing dreams:
1. Get a thick skin: chances are, as a female leader, the mold is going to have to be broken. Haters will hate, people will try to bring you down. Don’t take it personal, get past it, and stay focused on goals.
2. Most of the time your problem will be other women: let’s face it, women can be pretty brutal towards one an other. Be aware of surroundings.
3. Create a girls club instead of trying to join the boys club: if women are serious about creating an equal working environment, we need to create our own game instead of trying to be players in someone else’s.
4. Be comfortable being a women in the room: this one speaks for itself.
Two otheraspects she covered were the people in your life and leadership. There will be very few people we will meet in our careers who are truly generous, hold onto them for life. Along those same lines, no decision is more important in life than who you chose to spend your life with, so chose carefully. In terms of leadership and management, learn from experiences now and take notes. Keep a notebook of positive and negative management qualities you have experienced. Something to keep in mind when managing: “If I am managing, I’m making a mistake because I am not leading.”
One final thought, she mentioned the learned ability to know when to keep your mouth shut. She spoke about how difficult this was for her to learn and it took her until she was about forty to do this. I struggle with that myself. As I was taking to my boyfriend about this, I laughed and said, “Do you know what that means?” “What?’ he replied. “I still have eleven more years to open my mouth!” In all seriousness though, her lessons and messages were enlightening, empowering, and encouraging. I hope these words of wisdom are as helpful to you as they were to me. As a wrap up my final year of graduate school I am ready to take on the world!