A year after the film Hidden Figures brought attention to the role of female “computers” during the Space Race, Lego launched its latest crowd-sourced set, the Women of NASA. Four extraordinary space heroes—Nancy Grace Roman, Margaret Hamilton, Sally Ride, and Mae Jemison—will be memorialized in one of our culture’s highest honors, a Lego mini-figurine.
Why is this newsworthy? Why does this matter?
Whether we realize it or not, we constantly consume the images and sentiments around us. If, as a child, you see that every famous astronaut, scientist, and engineer looks a certain way, you start to create a persona in your mind of who the next famous astronaut, scientist, or engineer will be. It’s easier to see a person you identify with and think, “One day, that will be me.” Representation matters.
See to be
The importance of this concept doesn’t go away as we grow up. As young women working in management consulting, we have found it atypical to see someone who looks like us in the senior roles we aspire to achieve. There are countless leaders we admire here at West Monroe Partners, but there is always an opportunity to add to the diversity of leaders we can learn from. This is why in October, the West Monroe’s Women’s Community, a committee championing the development and growth of the women in the Seattle office, invited six local female leaders to meet with both the men and women in our office and share their point of view on achieving success in their personal and professional lives.
Their outside perspective was a breath of fresh air, and a few of our favorite takeaways from the evening are below.
- Sponsorship vs. Mentorship: The question, “What can I do, as a male leader, to help move the needle on inclusion for women in the workplace?” comes up often. One guest answered this question with a story of a leader who took on the role of her sponsor, instead of her mentor, and how the difference helped her propel her career. Early on, this leader pulled our guest into meetings and presentations she felt she shouldn’t have been in, based on her experience and role. Most importantly, he sponsored not only one promising young woman, but a group of five women in similar positions. Creating this peer group kept any one person from feeling like they were alone, and it created another layer of motivation and support.
- Trade-offs: Trade-offs, spanning our personal and professional lives, are a challenging reality we all face daily. As our guests taught us, the ownership is on you to architect your life in a way that allows you to align the way you spend your time with your priorities. Whether we like it or not, this means that you just can’t have everything all at once.
Our guests shared their personal stories of managing the reality of trade-offs. One guest talked about her desire to work for a non-profit, but she ultimately pursued a corporate path because it would make a bigger impact in the areas she found important. Another guest shared conversations she had early on with her husband to redefine their parental roles in a way that would better support her career aspirations. In both situations, our guests first dialed in on their priorities, then made decisions that supported them. Just as important as knowing their priorities, they were open and willing to adjust when these priorities shifted.
- Confidence: “Fake it ‘till you make it” is a phrase we hear often but can have a hard time putting in to practice. As consultants, we are expected to have outsized confidence to tackle challenging client problems, regardless of whether we’ve encountered them before. While we know that we need to be confident, we don’t always know how.
It was refreshing to hear from our guests, all successful leaders, that confidence doesn’t always come naturally. One of our guests shared a foolproof method for building confidence – by documenting metrics that support your success. Tracking the number of meetings that you’ve led, saving complimentary emails from clients, and measuring the revenue lift / cost savings of your work are all ways that you can back your performance with concrete data. By doing this, you don’t have it “fake it” – you have numbers that articulate your success on your behalf.
As we look toward 2018, our Women’s Community is excited to continue to further West Monroe’s mission of building the next generation of leaders, by helping our office see that leaders can come from a variety of lifestyles and experiences. Whether we crowd-source a Lego set of female consultants is still up in the air, but we are looking forward to findings ways to bring these learnings into our culture at West Monroe.
Pictured above are our guests for the Women’s Networking event, from left to right: Dawn Loeliger, Seattle Market Lead, PeopleFirm; Rachelle Mileur, IT Director, F5 Networks; Sarah Cole, CFO, Vera Whole Health; Leah Farmer, formerly Senior Director, Providence; Deanna Oppenheimer, Founder, CameoWorks; Michele Keefe, CEO & Founder, BuzzBee