A wrap-up on my WE@Brown talk at Brown University
I recently spoke to students at Brown University about the future of work and how to achieve success with a strategic, thoughtful approach that will help make their paths to success as linear as humanly possible.
I asked students to ignore all the traditional advice and roads that Ivy-leaguers are nudged down because, quite frankly, not all Ivy-leaguers have the same life goals. That’s right, they aren’t just one big clump of smart humans destined to be investment bankers or launch billion dollar tech companies.
Young women in particular should think strategically about their end goals, how to reach them and make choices that will achieve those goals faster. Here’s what I told them:
(1) Define what your end-goal is. Do you see yourself as a trailblazer entrepreneur, disrupting industries and raising millions of VC dollars? What about a corporate powerhouse running a major brand? Or are you a mission-driven changemaker who sees herself fighting for a cause? What about family? Do you see yourself having children one day? How do you see that playing into your career goals?
You absolutely cannot know what paths to take unless you know what your destination looks like. That destination isn’t set in stone. It can absolutely change along the way! But it’s imperative to have a plan in place before even embarking on the journey.
(2) Perform a personal SWOT Analysis. Every business plan has one and your career plan needs one as well. What are your personal strengths (natural networker, intelligent, street smart, creative, passionate), personal weaknesses (inexperienced, bad at math, introverted, unsure about your passion), opportunities (parents’ network, unique contacts, internships, free place to live, college alumni network, high school alumni network, positive political or economic changes) and threats (limited personal finances, limited personal network, parents’ expectations, negative political or economic changes)?
Having a solid and comprehensive understanding of these four categories will help paint a high-level picture of what to take advantage of--and what to overcome--when reaching your end-goal. Write them down!
(3) Avoid careers that limit your ability to reach your goals. It may not be politically correct or popular to steer graduates away from specific career paths since we should be opening their minds to any and all opportunities. But that’s exactly what I suggested. For example, I talked about avoiding the following paths based on their historical limits for women, especially as they relate to flexibility, work/life balance and upward mobility: investment banking, law, trading & sales, government, big consulting, commercial real estate and the Fortune 500 ladder. I went on to explain why each of these career categories landed on our least-desirable-for-women list.
I’m not saying that every woman should always avoid all of these industries. But take the Fortune 500 ladder for example. You may very likely feel required to earn an MBA in order to rise above a certain rank, which costs time and money. What if by the time you’re in need of earning that MBA you’re also trying to start a family? How does that work? Not sure if you want to go back for an MBA? You may want to avoid that path.
Not to mention, according to Fortune Magazine, the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has reached an all-time high of--wait for it--32. Not 32%. Nope. 32 women. Total. That’s 6.4% of all Fortune 500 CEOs, and Fortune was actually excited to report this growth.
This is pretty sad. I'm not saying every woman should be running from this career path. In fact, we obviously need more women leaders at these legacy firms. However, unless you're a fighter and someone who is hell-bent determined to rise to the top at a huge company, you may end up hitting a career brick wall if you venture down this path.
Then take big consulting firms like McKinsey or Bain. These are excellent companies with plenty of well-intentioned programs and initiatives for retaining and promoting women. However, although women represent about 39 percent of McKinsey’s entry-level hires, they represent only 11 percent of the senior-leadership roles within the firm. Not to mention, there are only four women on its 30-member Shareholders Council.
One of the biggest issues with consulting firms is that they require employees to travel constantly. Planning on having a family and actually spending time with them? Then you can’t take a job where you’re required to work long hours and travel more than half the year.
And, albeit with some exceptions, be wary of industries that are bottom-heavy with women—like legacy fashion, beauty, publishing and media brands or fields such as HR—and that notoriously pay little compared to male dominated paths like tech. We see so many women in these industries opting out after having kids because, although they oftentimes love the work, it just doesn't pay to work full-time when you factor in quality of life and childcare costs.
Additionally, young women should be alarmed by industries that have the largest pay gap between men and women such as finance, specifically banking. Besides being archaic and abysmal to begin with, a huge gender pay gap is indicative of much bigger issues in the industry, especially as it pertains to gender equality, diversity, upward mobility and harassment. At The Upside, we see more women coming from these industries than any other, looking for a way out but also a way to keep working. It’s a huge challenge because oftentimes these skills aren't easily transferable to other industries and are difficult to package into an independent consultancy.
(4) Consider careers in sectors with opportunities to thrive.
Women should be taught about growing industries and opportunities where they can truly thrive. I happen to love private equity and venture capital because they (a) teach you everything you need to know about investing and operations (b) teach you skills that are highly transferable to other sectors (c) help you foster relationships with people who can help advance your career and even introduce you to outside capital if you decide to start your own business one day and (d) offer an opportunity for women to add a diverse perspective to investing in and running businesses, something both of these industries are starting to value.
I also taught these students to seek out female-founded companies where the culture and values were designed with them in mind.
In addition, there are so many opportunities and so much need for more women in politics. I encouraged students to get involved at the local level and start making an impact on our laws.
Finally, I spoke about women in tech, a notorious boys club still today. Despite the corporate culture challenges in tech, it’s still a relatively new industry and one that is starving for women. There is even a cottage industry centered around helping tech companies attract and retain female talent.
There is also a huge opportunity for women to put their “feminine perspective” towards developing tech products and services. To this day, the vast majority of technology has been designed by men. Hence, there is this huge gap and untapped opportunity for women to put their stamp on the industry.
(5) Accept that you can have it all, but most likely not all at once. There are three life buckets that define most women: career, relationships and family/kids. It is totally possible to be an amazing CEO and be an amazing mother at the same time. However, you’ll have little time for nurturing relationships, including friendships or a marriage. You can also be an amazing CEO and have time for friends and a marriage. But kids? You better have rock solid child care. You can also be an amazing mother, have fulfilling relationships and a strong marriage. But you may not be able to also juggle that big CEO role successfully.
I get it. This philosophy is so against the Lean In movement. And who am I to bust everyone’s bubbles that they can have it all! But I’m seeing it first-hand. My generation was taught that we could have it all, and weren’t taught to think otherwise. Yet every week The Upside receives dozens of emails from women looking for a way out of the corporate 9-to-5 world, but stay working. Whether it’s juggling home responsibilities or wanting to have a better quality of life, we’ve learned that one way or another, a shift--or sacrifice--needs to be made.
See the pretty photo below? Talk about "fake news!"
Any woman on this planet with a child knows that this scenario of having every hair in place, sitting at a beautiful desk, working oh so diligently with a compliant child on your lap, would last all of 15 seconds before said child poops, spits up, drools on your dress, starts grabbing at your pen (or boob), or unintentionally presses "send" on your laptop. Therefore, I have to assume a man took this photo.
These types of photos should be banned. They are just as bad as a fully airbrushed celebrity face on the cover of a magazine, promoting an unrealistic standard. Let me make something clear: no woman works with a child on her lap, let alone in the room. I asked students to keep this in mind as they embark on their career journeys and aim to achieve some level of work/life balance. The above photo is anything BUT a clear representation of what Ivanka's day really looks like. Trust me.
As I wrapped up my speech, I encouraged students to think about what they can do today to help influence their future working selves. I left behind the following advice, hoping that each student would take away a tiny piece of wisdom that will positively influence their future:
Build your network. Every person you meet along the way is a potential contact or bridge to help you reach your goals. Never rule anyone out. Today’s intern could be tomorrow’s CEO.
Leverage your contacts. You’ve carefully crafted your network, now use it. Ask for introductions, ask for meetings, ask for jobs and ask for advice.
Protect your reputation. A good reputation + contacts are the foundation of a successful career. Watch what you post. Carefully craft your words. Date strategically, and not at work. Don’t burn bridges. Keep every door open.
Take pride in every task, even if it seems below you, not fun or irrelevant. There is an undeniable mismatch in work ethic between generations. Be the exception, and you will rise exponentially faster than your young colleagues. Be the best coffee fetcher your boss has ever seen…and do it with a great attitude.
Help others along the way. Karma can be a bitch or your best friend. Help others selflessly and that goodness will come back to you in ways you never even imagined.
Manifest your goals. In a notebook or on a sheet of paper, make a list of 100 words or phrases that describe what you want your life and career to look like in ten years. Then tuck it away. This may sound woo-woo, but it works. Trust me.
To any student reading this, good luck and don’t be afraid to reach out as you embark on your career. I can’t wait to see what your generation accomplishes!