By Natasha Jung, SOUL mentor and marketing communications professional Two things people know about me: I love Jay-Z and I love people.
Being a people person, naturally, I get to meet a lot of people. A few times a year, I get invited to meet university students at conferences, speaker series or networking events.
Typical types of questions I get from students:
• What do you do for work? • How did you get to where you are today? • What are some tips you have for finding a dream job after graduating from university?
...you get the idea.
I recently attended a networking roundtable event that brought in professionals across different industries with students from different areas of study. One of the students came up to me and asked me something I had never heard from a student before:
"What are the challenges you face being a young woman trying to work your way up the corporate ladder? What are the limitations or obstacles I should be aware of and prepare myself for?"
While I am certainly aware of challenges women may face in getting to top leadership positions, I didn’t feel qualified to answer her questions, even though she was asking about my own experiences.
Why? There's so much more to the conversation of career advancement for women than what I have personally experienced. Having started off my professional career a few years ago, I had not yet faced any limitations or obstacles because of my gender (at least not that I'm aware of)...and I certainly hope I never do.
We had to switch tables before I could answer, so we couldn't finish the conversation and then the event was over. (Don't worry, I'm going to see if she wants to go for coffee to discuss further).
Where did these questions come from? Had she been doing some reading that had led her to believe these were things she should worry about before even graduating from university? Has she seen or experienced this first-hand? Did someone tell her that she should start thinking about these things as so to 'choose an appropriate career path' or 'set goals accordingly'?
The very next morning, I had a meeting with my Chief Marketing Officer who was visiting from Toronto. She's only 4'11", but by the way she carries herself, she has people convinced that she’s 5'8". This wasn't a meeting about campaign plans or the direction of the marketing group within our firm – it was a discussion of the book "Lean In," written by Sheryl Sandberg,
Facebook's Chief Operating Officer. In this book, Sheryl describes how women unintentionally hold themselves back based on limitations they've created internally, which affect their outward progression in their careers and lives overall. I brought up the questions the student asked the night before and we discussed the issue.
Inspired by the discussion around the table, I ask this of my fellow emerging professionals (females and males alike): If you're ever asked similar questions, I hope you can answer in this manner:
• Many of the limitations we see can often be self-inflicted and a reflection of how we compare ourselves in relation to our male counterparts around us • There will always be obstacles and challenges in our professional lives, but we should embrace and overcome them • We are only limited by what our minds think we can or cannot do • You go, girl! (just kidding...unless it works in that situation)
How's that for a pep talk? As much as I believe in all those messages and strive to live by them everyday, I can't ignore the facts.
Deloitte and Carleton University's Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership conducted a study, Progress in inches, miles to go. The study provides figures, facts and tremendous insight into female leadership across all industries and shows how women are under-represented in those top spots.
I don't have a magic formula to prescribe what emerging professionals (male and female) can do today and tomorrow to help change that. What I can advise to students who are carving their paths though, is this:
• Choose an organization where you have potential to grow • Have thoughtful conversations with people in your network about this topic if you have questions • You can't control external barriers, but you can certainly manage your own internal ones - don't ever limit yourself • Embrace any challenges that may come your way as an opportunity to grow • Ask yourself this question: What would you do if you weren't afraid?
Oh, and where does Jay-Z factor into this? Not only is he married to Beyonce (aka Queen B, who has the entire music industry wrapped around her finger), but he too doesn't believe in limitations. So in the words of Jay-Z, I tell myself this all the time and I hope you do too: "world can't hold me, too much ambition."