Skills and Talents of Pianist Make for Great Perfumer

So many of us grew up thinking that you need to have specific skills and talents to enter a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.) That unless you are a nerd with a highly analytical and logical mind, you couldn’t enter the field. Today we interview a mother and daughter who prove our assumption wrong.

For the past 24 years, Judith (Jude) Hollingshead has developed perfumes for Olay, Pantene, Herbal Essence, Fabreze, Pampers and other P&G brands. Mind you, there are only around a thousand perfumers in the world.

Judith Hollingshead had the skills and talents of a pianist. She ended up studying Chemistry and entering a career as a perfumer.

Judith Hollingshead had the skills and talents of a pianist. She ended up studying Chemistry and entering a career as a perfumer.

When I first met her I was curious about what skills and talents are required to be a perfumer and how does someone even decide to become one. The answer surprised me and I wanted to share it with you. See, Jude is not the stereotypical nerd most of us imagine would choose chemistry as a career plan. She was a piano player who studied Chemistry and became a perfumer. And most of it happened because someone saw skills and talents in her that she didn’t yet see.

Because she was always curious and willing to try new things she explored the possibilities presented by others and has had an incredibly successful career as a result. Along the way she has raised, as a single mother, two children. Her daughter Shealyn, a very artistic child, is now finishing her sophomore year as a student of Chemical Engineering at Ohio University – Russ School of Engineering. We talk to both of them about their unusual experience.

Skills and talents required for the job

MD- You are currently a perfumer at P&G. What skills and talents does your job require?

Judith Hollingshead in the P&G lab

Judith Hollingshead in the P&G lab

JH- Perfumery is a blend of Art and Science. A perfume is made up of a blend of

100’s of individual ingredients. A perfumer needs to understand how the ingredients’ smell and how they blend together to form specific odor. For example, an orange is made of materials XYZ, and an Apple is made up of materials ABYZ. A perfumist needs to understand how all the 1000’s of materials smell and how to combine them to achieve a specific and pleasant odor.

So the skill necessary to become a perfumist is, first and foremost, an excellent sense of smell. Another skill that is a close second in importance is the joy of smelling, and desire to constantly want to push out on the boundaries of what is possible. Most perfumers are never satisfied with the perfumes they make, they are constantly working on making them better.

MD- Did you grow up wanting to be a perfumer?

JH- I grew up in the Midwest in the USA. I had a very traditional family. My mother was a stay at home mom who managed the family and my father was a banker

Some of the most important skills and talents Judith Hollingshead transferred from being a talented pianist into chemistry were her perseverance and drive to achieve perfection in her work.

Some of the most important skills and talents Judith Hollingshead transferred from being a talented pianist into chemistry were her perseverance and drive to achieve perfection in her work.

with a 9-5 job. I was not even aware that the career of perfumer was a possibility. In fact, I grew up not even thinking about having a “career” because I did not have very many role model females in my life for this. Throughout my childhood I studied piano, and as I got into my teen years I began to think about what I would do for the rest of my life. Since piano was such an integral part of my life it made sense that continuing to study music, specifically as a performance major in college, would be my course of action. And I pursued that thru about my senior year in High school. It was that year, that my High School Chemistry/ Physics teacher approached me to discuss my high aptitude for Chemistry, Math and Physic. And encouraged me to investigate this as career and major in College.

I am always up to trying new ideas so I began to investigate this direction as an alternative. I found the world of science that year and while I still play piano today and love classical music, I have never regretted becoming a scientist/Perfumer!

We can help you explore your interests and passions at any level of your career! Sign up for our Step Up Program!

MD- Which of the skills and talents needed to be a concert pianist could you transfer to a career in Chemistry?

JH- The most important skill that transfers from music performance to chemistry/perfumery is hard work, tenacity and the pursuit of perfection

As a performer you must work hard and practice constantly to get a piece to perfection. This is the same for perfume experiments. We are constantly reworking the blend of ingredients to make the perfume the most perfect execution of the idea that we have in our head.

Both represent a sensorial experience. A piano performance is an auditory sensory experience and a perfume is an olfactive sensory experience. And both should give the receiver of the experience a sense of pleasure and enjoyment.

Sometimes people see in you things you still don't. The interviewer at P&G saw in Judith's extra curricular activities something they were looking for. A creative person with a hard science background.

Sometimes people see in you things you still don’t. The interviewer at P&G saw in Judith’s extra curricular activities something they were looking for. A creative person with a hard science background.

MD- What exactly did you think you’d do in this field?

JH- My high school teacher was a huge influence to help me understand I had an aptitude for the hard sciences and the job opportunities that were available.

I realized that while I could always have music with me, that science was a new pursuit I would have to learn.

In college, I fully immersed myself into my science studies, I was not sure what I wanted to do, but as I went to Graduate school to pursue my doctorate, I started working in the area of superconductors and semi –conductors. This was an emerging area, and I loved the research.

It was only after I finished graduate school and started to investigate potential companies that the idea of becoming a perfumer became an option.

Definition of perfumer

Definition of perfumer

As part of the job placement services at Iowa State University, our resumes are posted for recruiting companies to review and request interviews.   Procter and Gamble chose me to interview. I had no intention of seriously considering working for P&G because they did not do work research in the area I had focused on in my studies. I was frankly surprised that they even wanted to interview me.

The interview took a strange turn as the interviewer did not ask me about my research or my work in chemistry, as was the case with all my other interviews. He continually probed me on the hobbies I listed on my resume: playing piano and needlework.

I finally asked him about this and he told me that P&G was interested in someone with a strong scientific background and with a strong interest, skills and talent in artistic, creative endeavors. He explained the job of perfumers, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of being able to use both my creative, artistic side and my technical work. I loved the idea so much I took the chance and shifted my career to perfumery.

Here's a post about an orthopedic surgeon "I find my passion in the most unexpected places."

Like mother like daughter

MD- Shealyn, you are finishing your sophomore year in college. You’re studying Chemical Engineering but you also have the skills and talent to follow an artistic career. What made you decide to give engineering a shot?

Shealyn Holligshead

Shealyn Holligshead

SH- My mom was very persistent in showing me that I would exceed in my academic endeavors as a woman in STEM even though she knew I would be successful in the art field. What really persuaded me to turn my attention to STEM was that she showed me a Ted Talk by Debbie Sterling about a woman in the engineering field. This Ted Talk was about how Debbie created a children’s toy for young girls that will inspire them to build and create like most boy toys that are currently sold today. Her point was that most girl toys, like Barbie’s, teach girls at a young age to focus on building relationships not physical things.

Deb’s talk discussed her struggle to get through school as a woman in STEM, and then on getting her toy design to the market. This Ted Talk really caught my attention, and I decided that I should give STEM a shot because I have the creative ability to innovate. I just needed to apply this ability to a more advanced curriculum to create/innovate more practical inventions that I believe can have a larger impact on the world.

MD- Jude, what are some of the aspects of your career that you love the most?

JH- In my job I get to develop a perfume that is used by millions of consumers. I consider myself very lucky to be able to touch peoples live and make them more enjoyable. I love the ability to work on perfume design for our products. A tremendous amount of effort goes into making sure the right perfume gets combined with the right product at P&G. In addition to that, in other parts of my job, I get to also work on technical upstream research this allows me to use my technical scientific talents. I have the best of both worlds.

Skills and talents needed to enter a career in STEM

MD- From your own individual experiences, what recommendations do you have for young women and their mothers regarding careers in STEM? Do people need to have a specific set of skills and talents or should a wider range of women give careers in STEM a try?

JH- Having a career in the STEM field can be exceptionally rewarding and I believe we need more women to bring their viewpoints to the problems of today. So many women are brought up to believe that they are nurturing, caring or creative and that this is the direct opposite of STEM. It is a misconception that STEM careers require highly logical and analytical mindsets. In reality, we need MORE highly Creative people to be trained in STEM to develop new Inventions and solve today’s problems in NEW and CREATIVE ways.

If you have creative skills and talents you (or your child) may find great satisfaction in a STEM career. Make sure to explore the possibilities!

If you have creative skills and talents you (or your child) may find great satisfaction in a STEM career. Make sure to explore the possibilities!

Another post on finding your passion with your nose you'll love.

SH- When I talk to young women who are considering going into the STEM field, the first thing they ask is, “how hard is the schooling and the work?” It took me aback the first few times I heard this because I never considered this when I chose Chemical Engineering. Maybe this was because my mom is a woman in STEM and my whole life I saw how possible it was to succeed in this field. I never considered the difficulty. But being asked this many times has given me the chance to really consider how to answer this question. It has led me to my most common recommendation for young women:

Whatever you choose to do for your education and/or work life is going to be difficult whether it is STEM or not. It is going to take a lot of work and effort to be successful in any field you choose. So, if you are interested in STEM fields, go for it!

My experience has been that every class I have taken has been nothing but foreign and intimidating to me. The only way to get through it is to just apply yourself and do the work. Eventually, it won’t be so foreign and intimidating. After working thru a class for 15 weeks, by the end, you will be close to mastering the material if you put in the work. I strongly believe that a wider range of women should give STEM a try, especially if you have any interest in science, math or technology.

I would never recommend it, however, to someone who has no interest in these topics.

 

You can connect with Jude Hollingshead via email at Hollingshead.JA@pg.com or on Linkedin: Judith Hollingshead.

She shares her artistic endeavors (weaving, sewing quilts, knitting and other lace making techniques) on her Instagram: Judeh22

You can reach Shealyn Hollingshead at: ShealynHollingshead@gmail.com or on Linkedin under Shealyn Hollingshead.

 

Women Dress Code Decoded, Business Casual Dos and Don’ts

When the invite for that office activity requires “Business Casual” dress code, it doesn’t mean “dress as comfy as you want.” And as much as you would love to wear your beloved 2003 oversized jeans, when it comes to business, it is important to keep things professional. Starting with your outfit.

Do not mistake, however, business casual for boring casual. This is a dress code that intends to relax the formality of a business suit and allows you to dress more comfortable, but still professional. So yes, you can wear some color, take some fashion risks, and add your own personality to your business casual outfit.

Business Casual dress code, clothes and accesories in red and white

When it comes to dress code “business casual” consider a look with vintage flare – Photo: Polyvore @veromezzini

Dos and don’ts of an often-ambiguous dress code

Do know the basics. These pieces are the bread and butter for a business casual attire, and you should always have them handy in your closet:

  • A pair of dress pants with a matching jacket. Not necessarily the same color and fabric
  • A skirt with a twin set sweater
  • A classic dress to pair with a knitted jacket
  • Chino pants with a blouse and scarf

Do add some flavor.  Mix and match with your classic, solid color staples with some floral prints pieces, stripes or polka dot blouses, scarfs and shirts.

Read about beyond the traditional executive presence definition here.

Don’t show too much skin. If you think of your company’s Sunday brunch as an opportunity to boost your self-steam by feeling a little bit sexy, well… that is neither the time nor the place. We are not talking about looking boyish, but feminine, classy and appropriate all the time.

Avoid a neckline that falls 3–3 ½ inches below your clavicle line. For skirts, they shouldn’t be shorter than 3–4 inches above your knee.

Avoid wearing tight clothes, and save those romantic transparencies for that blind date your best friend is arranging for you. Always wear medium to long shirt sleeves and leave your favorite tank top at home unless a jacket conveniently covers it.

Business Casual attire with blue pant and white jacket

Cover your tank top with a blazer or jacket. Photo: Polyvore @veromezzini

Do use denim very carefully. Before jumping into a fabulous pair of jeans, consider the people you are meeting and where the event is taking place. My advice, don’t take the risk when the dress code is business casual. Just save them for casual Fridays.

Here's a great video with more dos and don'ts for business casual dress code.

Business Casual Accessories, the “Danger Zone”

Business casual is the perfect dress code to add some color and “fab factor” to your outfit.  Accessories are the right tools to do it. When it comes to work attire, however, the line between looking cool and modern, and dressing inappropriately, is too thin. So let’s be careful.

Shoes and bags. You are not going to a barbecue, a movie, or a restaurant with friends. Then, resist the temptation to wear those trendy, enormous platform shoes you are dying for, and choose a pair of shoes, sandals or boots that are nice, fashionable but suitable for business.

Women legs wearing white skirt and red shoes- business casual dress code

Add some color to your Business Casual outfit – A great dress code to show your personality. Photo: iStock

Say yes to high heels, but wear those with a medium height, 4 inches or less. You can always marry bright color shoes with a neutral outfit and matching jewelry.

When its come to bags, prefer medium size handbags or purses. However, an oversized tote as a focal point could be great if you keep the rest of the outfit as simple as possible.

Lola Ramona Purse vintage in black and white works well with a business casual dress code

Lola Ramona Purse, perfect for a business casual dress code

Jewelry. Avoid chunky necklaces, big earrings, and high fashion accessories in general, unless they are used as a subtle accent. For example, a touch of rose gold, a nice vintage piece of jewelry or a designer watch. Quality materials and impeccable design are the number one rule when it comes to business casual attires.

And last but not least, do pay attention to hair, makeup, mani-pedi and perfume. When in doubt, rely on the “less is more” mantra. I promise you will ace your business casual attire.

Expand Your Network Effortlessly with 5 Winning Strategies

If you ask me, “expand your network” is the one answer that applies to most questions regarding career success. Why? Because as social beings we base our decisions on emotions. So, people tend to offer opportunities to those in their networks that they know and trust. Consequently, the faster you expand yours the faster you you’ll fulfill your objectives.

This is true whether you want a promotion, find a new job, get paid more for your current position, change careers, launch an innovative product, and for tons of other situations related to your career growth. So let’s get started.

Networking is how you live and work. It's not something you do "after hours."

Networking is how you live and work. It’s not something you do “after hours.”

Expand your network effortlessly

It’s a fact that many women have little or no time for networking for business. They are overstretched with a full workload, family life and personal interests. I’m not here to propose that you somehow carve some additional time to expand your network. No. What I’m going to suggest is that you network strategically and learn to make the most of every opportunity you have to create and solidify your relationships. Think about it like reading a book while on the treadmill. Are you taking extra time to sit and read? No, but you are enjoying your book while getting your workout done

1Follow your love

Last year, I walked into Tatyana, a clothing store in Lower Manhattan with designs inspired in the Pin-up girls of 1940s and 50s. I fell in love with a shoe line they carried and immediately looked it up when I got home. The shoe company was Lola Ramona, a Danish brand with a girly personality and sense of humor. I read all about the company and the brand. It aligned so well with the philosophy of the Red Shoe Movement…. I ordered a pair of shoes and then connected with the company’s CEO on Linkedin. I sent her a note where I shared my love for her shoe line and suggested that perhaps we could do something together.

To expand your network do Gitte Sandquist of Lola Ramona and Mariela Dabbah of the Red Shoe Movement did. Follow your love.

Magic happens when you follow your love and contact people you feel an alignment with. It makes it easier to expand your network organically.

A few days later Gitte Sandquist and I had a Skype call. What happened was like magic. We clicked right away and decided to partner together. And we’ve been doing some amazing things since that call almost a year ago. We finally met in person a few weeks ago and had our first joint event in Copenhagen. This is what I mean when I say “follow your love” to expand your network. Lola Ramona’s shoes spoke to me. Their mix of femininity, boldness and whimsy reflected my inner red shoe. I don’t think about this as networking for business or spending time outside my normal activities.

This is not the first time that I follow my gut and pursue an idea that may sound crazy to others. That I contact someone out of the blue to suggest that we explore doing something together.  And seven or eight times out of ten I get great results. So why not take the chance?

A few situations where you should approach people to expand your network using this rule include:

  • You hear someone present at a conference whose message resonates with you.
  • You identify a leader in your organization that you admire.
  • You read about someone doing something you’d like to do but don’t know how.
  • You are inspired by a Ted talk and realize you can help expand the idea presented by the speaker.
  • You are intrigued by some new research or article you read.

2Wherever two people eat, three people eat

Granted, this sentence may make no sense to you. It’s an almost literal translation of a popular Spanish saying used in my home when I was growing up. (Donde comen dos, comen tres.) The message was that whenever someone unexpected dropped for a meal, there was always enough food to share with that person. I offer this saying to you as an invitation to expand your network through a generosity of spirit.

Share coffee with more than one person at a time to expand your network effortlessly.

Share coffee with more than one person at a time to expand your network effortlessly.

If you plan on having lunch with one person from the office, deliberately think who else you could invite to join you. Who would you like to get to know a little bit better? Who is doing something interesting, different? Who could you help feel more welcomed in your organization? Make it a rule that you eat with at least three people twice a week and you’ll see how your network expands effortlessly.

3Time well your comings and goings

Most people have a routine. They come around the same time, take breaks and lunch about the same time and if they use the gym facilities at the office, they also tend to do it on a certain schedule. So why not time your routine to coincide with people you’d like to get to know better? Nobody said that networking implies spending one hour with someone over drinks. That’s nice, and you can develop good, lasting relationships when people put their guards down.

There are many opportunities throughout the day when you can connect with others as you all move around and take breaks. Small talk is the glue that helps build relationships and expand your network organically.

There are many opportunities throughout the day when you can connect with others as you all move around and take breaks. Small talk is the glue that helps build relationships and expand your network organically.

But brief, inane chitchat is the very basis of human connection. Things like cheer each other during a challenging exercise routine or laughing under a shared umbrella can be as bonding. So, don’t go on the elevator alone and most definitely, don’t sit at lunch by yourself if there are tables occupied by other people. Always choose the most crowded table at your company’s cafeteria to set down your lunch.

4Visit others

I know you think you have so much to do and so little time. But guess what? Working hard is only the first step to get to the next level. So first, breathe. Remember that networking is an integral part of any job description. (Even when it’s the unwritten part.) The better you know your colleagues, the better you work with them. Now, leave that pile of work on your desk and take your coffee cup to the next- door cubicle. Ask your neighbor about their day, their family, their new yoga practice. Show genuine interest on the people you work with, and with those you would like to work with. Because to obtain greater opportunities you must expand your network way beyond your current colleagues and bosses.

5Resurrect the old art of a face to face conversation

Forget emailing and texting to resolve some important issues. Arrange to meet people face to face for a few minutes. It will make wonders to help you expand your network and resolve any conflicts quickly.

Forget emailing and texting to resolve some important issues. Arrange to meet people face to face for a few minutes. It will make wonders to help you expand your network and resolve any conflicts quickly.

Call me old-fashion but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for cementing relationships. Forget email, texting or Whatsapping. Emoticons aside, nothing comes even close. Not even the avatar that looks like you. (And I have one of those!)

If you want to seriously increase your contact base, find occasions to meet in person to discuss projects you’re working on together. Even when these issues could be resolved via email, make a decision to see the person for ten minutes. You’ll be surprised how productive a ten minute in-person meeting can be and how many more ideas you both come up with.

I mentioned earlier that magic happened when Gitte of Lola Ramona and I met on Skype that first time. But you know what? A lot more magic happened when we met in person and spent a few hours over several days understanding each other’s motivations, individual purposes and business goals. I’m going to make a wild guess and predict the same will happen to you if you take the time to turn an email exchange into a face-to-face encounter.

 

 

After connecting via Linkedin with Lola Ramona's CEO, not only did we start working together but we had our first event in Copenhagen together!

After connecting via Linkedin with Lola Ramona’s CEO, not only did we start working together but we had our first event in Copenhagen together!

All the secrets in the world to expand your network won’t make a difference to you if you keep thinking networking is something you do above and beyond living and working. Networking is how you live and work. Do you do it alone? Or do you build relationships along the way?

And if you’re really ready to expand your network, consider signing up for the Step Up Program where a community of women  help each other succeed professionally!

What is resilience? Its role in your career

How many times did you run into people who have experienced the worst circumstances and yet, they seem to move on with ease? Today we answer the question, what is resilience? And explore the key role it plays in your life and your career success.

The best way to answer what is resilience is with an example. Over a period of two years, a friend of mine suffered four major surgeries, had a severe accident that required two additional operations plus two months of recovery, the loss of her job, personal bankruptcy and the attempted suicide of her daughter. To tell you the truth there were times when I feared for her life. I though she wouldn’t have the strength to survive the magnitude of the difficulties facing her. But not only did she survive but in addition, she came out of that period stronger than before.

What is resilience? — Definition

There are many definitions of resilience, a word that refers to the quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or the quality of people to stay intact in the face of adversity.

What is resilience? The ability to overcome adversities. Prepare for eventualities and learn to improvise.

What is resilience? The ability to overcome adversities. Prepare for eventualities and learn to improvise.

Psychological resilience is the ability to bounce back from a negative experience with a “competent functioning”. Neuroscience considers that the most resilient people have stronger emotional balance when faced by stressful situations. This better prepares them to put up with higher levels of pressure. It gives them a sense of control over their circumstances and an expanded ability to face challenges.

How resilience impacts your career growth

It’s not enough to answer the question what is resilience, but it’s critical to understand how it affects your career. Consider that the more resilient you are the easier it will be to:

  • Overcome adversity
  • Adapt to change (whether it’s change you seek or that happens unexpectedly)
  • Manage highly stressful situations
  • Face crises
  • Go through hard personal and professional times

Traits of resilient people

Many studies on resilience have been done over the past few years. They are helping identify people and organizations that conquer extreme adversity. (For example, people who are able to overcome a severe recession, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack and those who can’t.)

One of the best ways to answer what is resiliency is to explore what resilient people have in common.

According to Diane Coutu, author of a great article on what is resiliency and how it works, many of the

What is resiliency? You can tell right away by watching people who overcome major natural disasters.

What is resiliency? You can tell right away by watching people who overcome major natural disasters.

latest theories agree that resilient people share three characteristics:

1A staunch acceptance of reality– This is what enables them to consider the real possibility of extreme and adverse situations that might happen in the future. It’s what enables them to prepare for this eventuality.

2A deep belief that life is meaningful– This is what enables them to strengthen their relationships with others, seek solace in their values, interpret what happens as a challenge, and find hope to keep going. Rather than getting stuck asking, “Why is this happening to me?” they adopt a proactive attitude towards their new circumstances.

3 Unusual ability to improvise. This is what enables them to adapt to any new situation, regardless of how challenging it may be, and find a solution.

If you think about it, many of these are typical traits of people who grew up in Latin America and other countries in the developing world where the unexpected is the norm. People in those areas are used to having a plan B and plan C at the ready. They are creative, problem solvers. And history has shown that they are able to overcome any challenge put in front of them. If you grew up in that region your make sure to use those innate strengths to your full advantage.

Now, if you have a tendency to come undone when faced by an obstacle or if it takes you way too long to recover from an unexpected situation, it’s time to strengthen your resilience. It will not only help you in your career but also in your personal life.

Test your resilience with this quiz
Like the bamboo that bends with a strong wind but doesn't break, so can you if you develop resilience.

Like the bamboo that bends with a strong wind but doesn’t break, so can you if you develop resilience.

Here are a few ideas on how to do it:

  • Face the reality that unplanned, stressful things often happen and prepare for them the best you can.
  • Understand that there are circumstances out of your control and focus on those you can control. For instance, your interpretation of what is happening. If you find a meaning to the situation it will be easier to go through it.
  • Strengthen your personal relationships. They are key to support you during high- pressure times.
  • Practice using improvisation and creativity to resolve problems on the spot.
  • Build self-confidence so overcoming adversity becomes second nature.

Nowadays, resilience is one of the most valued characteristics for employers. They guarantee your adaptability to new situations and your quick response time. It’s a quality you can continue to develop throughout your life. So go for it!

 

 

Climbing the ladder: What women don’t know

Why aren’t more women climbing the ladder at corporations and organizations of all kinds? It’s the million-dollar question. If you really want to change the status quo, read on!

We’ve been debating this question for a long time. Mostly because it’s unfathomable that so little change has happened in decades. Are women not climbing the ladder because of a personal decision or because of organizational biases?

Climbing the ladder: Three responsible categories, not two!

Let’s look first at two, broad categories that most commonly take the blame for making it hard for women climbing the ladder.

Organizational responsibility 

There is an array of factors that deliberately or inadvertently impact the number of women at the top in a negative way. These include barriers such as unwritten rules, policies, expectations, and perceptions of what constitutes leadership potential, executive presence, etc.

For instance:

  • Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Expectations that in order to reach the C-suite you must be available 24/7. Or work late every night to entertain clients.

  • Expectations that women are still mostly responsible for family matters.
  • Perceptions of men being more competent or having more executive presence.
  • Regular skepticism, push back and challenges of women’s ideas and competences.
  • Fill-in positions through recommendations of current executives in office. (These tend to be white men and have a network with a similar make-up.)
  • Value face-time in the office for promotions(penalizing people who are mobile.)

Personal responsibility

This group of factors includes your own behaviors and decisions that impact your career trajectory.

For example:

  • How assertive you are in your communication and leadership style.
  • How strong your network of sponsors is.
  • How hard and often you negotiate for yourself along your career.
  • How visible you and your accomplishments are to key people.
  • How comfortable you are taking risks.
  • How important other pursuits outside of your career are for you.

Now, in trying to figure out which of these two categories is more responsible for women not climbing the ladder, we keep pointing fingers with little visible results.

The truth is that here’s a third category that connects Organizational and Personal. One that we haven’t paid as much attention as it deserves. One that can really make the difference.

Joined Responsibility

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

This category is the space where both individual women and organizations share responsibility for more women not climbing the ladder. Due to the way in which organizations have traditionally perceived and promoted men and women, and social norms affecting both genders, some advice and training fell through the cracks. Companies didn’t offer it. Women didn’t ask for it.

This advice refers to the expectation that a person must have certain abilities in order to reach C-level. Advice that hasn’t been verbalized as often to women as to men. And women haven’t asked about it either. Here are the areas that may be holding you back at any level:

  • How focused you are in business outcomes. (Both the outcomes of your own role and on how they impact the overall outcomes of the business.)
  • How closely you align your role in the organization with the business strategy. (Can you answer why the company is paying your salary? Hint: Think of the “why” you do what you do.  Not the “what” it is you do.)
  • How much financial acumen you have. (Do you know how to affect the company’s bottom line within your own role? At any level, it’s important to understand how what you do affects the financials of the overall company.)
Check out Susan Colantuono’s brilliant book on this topic!

Mastering these three aspects will make it easier for women climbing the ladder to get to the very top. If you are a manager, supervisor or an executive, you may need to start sharing this type of advice with your subordinates. Offer them coaching and training programs to fill-in any gaps in knowledge. If you are an individual contributor, this is your call to action. Don’t let one more day go by without seeking help in this area. Here is a great, very inexpensive Business Foundations online course, taught by Wharton Business School.

It's important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

It’s important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

As women, we already have many of the advantageous characteristics that make for a successful 21st Century executive. Make sure you don’t overlook the business, financial, and strategic abilities that are taken for granted at higher levels. You may not have thought about them much along the way and they may be the one thing that’s holding you back.