When it comes to how women can succeed in corporate America, Carla Dodds from Mastercard seems to have written the book. She talked to us about what it takes to succeed in Corporate America and we took notes!
If your goal is to succeed in corporate America it’s probably a good idea to learn how others have done it. And if you are the first one in your family to step into a corporate role this exploration is even more important than any other section on your resume as it is unlikely that your family or your college have prepared you for what you will find. To succeed in corporate America without a strong support system to offer insights into the unwritten rules of the game is a non-starter. So reading the stories of successful women such as Carla Dodds, currently Vice President, Senior Business Leader at Mastercard, can pave the way to your own success. Not to imitate their style but to develop a deep sense of awareness of the kind of tools and strategies you’ll need in your toolkit.
Carla has held marketing positions in companies as diverse as TXU Energy (Texas Electricity) and First Choice Power to Walmart and now Mastercard. For a while she even had her own company NovoMercatus which specialized in Business Development. (The company that brought Bia Figueiredo, Indy race driver, to America.) But she has also moved quite a bit: From her native Argentina, to Texas, Arkansas, Brazil, and Miami always jumping at the right opportunity. (A path that may not be for everyone but that is a sure way to succeed in corporate America.)
For women to succeed in corporate America, a strong motivation is needed
What attracted you to a career in corporate America?
Originally, it was the lure of having the power to do things faster and more efficiently (in my perception) compared to the public sector. I wanted to be a diplomat and after doing an Internship with the Organization of American States (OAS) and working at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in the early stages of my career, I found that timing of execution had a huge weight on being successful. Upon gaining retail experience in the market entry of Walmart into Argentina, it became obvious that if I wanted to see my efforts benefit others in real-time, corporate American was a better bet than the public sector. While bureaucracy exits everywhere, there seemed to be less in corporate America. And then you will probably ask: “Well, what about your desire to be a diplomat?” Well, that is easy. Diplomacy is everywhere and it is a highly valuable skill if you want to succeed in corporate America.
How to succeed in corporate America when you’re the first in your family to work there?
Could you share your experience being the first one in your family to work and succeed in corporate America?
My family is pretty large since in addition to my two brothers I consider my cousins to be like siblings. Since most of my family is outside the US, they are not really familiar with what it entails to succeed in corporate America. To them, it really doesn’t make a difference. I imagine it has much to do with my behavior of keeping work separate from home. My family is certainly happy for my successes and they may proudly share them with others but outside that we don’t really make a distinction between my work and theirs. The only experience I can call out is that because they don’t really know what it is like to work or much less succeed in corporate America, they don’t fully understand what I go through. This makes it difficult to relate to them the level I seek or to get inside guidance from my family. For this, I usually have to bounce off of my husband and then my network of friends in corporate America.
Traits that can help you succeed in corporate America
What personal traits helped you move forward in your career?
I am very persistent, optimistic, solution driven, dedicated, passionate… And I also have traits like tenacity, conviction, and flexibility. I’m always seeking to learn more about people, situations, and things in general. One trait that would have helped me more is patience –which I have in limited quantities.
What do you think are some of the aspects that define a successful person?
I believe that it really depends on how you measure success. For me, it is being aware that I did the best I can, with the resources I have at any given time, with the intent of doing “good,” helping or improving the world we live in. Based on my definition, having strong core values, understanding that not everyone shares the same goals or definitions and the flexibility to step out of your beliefs to learn someone else’s is what makes me successful. It’s all about being able to create a bridge between my definition of success and that of other people with whom I’m working at any given time.
Along your career, in what ways have men helped you succeed?
From colleagues and ex-bosses: Some by recognizing my strengths in the workplace, others by encouraging my drive and growth, and providing me with the tools and path to achieve my goals.
My first boss, Mark H., helped me by encouraging me to get my MBA. When the time came, he went to bat on my behalf for the company to pay for it. He also helped expand my role of being his right hand with administrative responsibilities to a learning role, where I learned how to do due diligence for financial deals. So he really pushed me to spread my wings into a new area. Another example is Matt C., who taught me to pick my battles.
Two of my bosses at TXU were also great! Jon B. pushed me to always ask more questions and dig deeper into situations I was faced with, rather than jumping fast into a conclusion based only in my gut feeling. This developed my ability to weigh gut feelings against facts, to achieve balance, a clearer vision and consequently make better decisions. John G. helped me with his patience and pushed me to be more sensitive with my surroundings, as well as teaching me the importance of not burning bridges. Apparently I was overly focused on delivering results and not sensitive enough to the perceptions I was creating in the process. I was very direct and in my urgency to deliver I was unaware of asking for things without thanking individuals for their contribution. He showed me that being “overly focused” created the perception that I didn’t care about others when that was far from the truth.
I also observed certain behaviors in men, such as their ability to remove themselves from details and yet sound confident, that helped me recognize some of my own skills. Becoming more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as well as focusing on complimenting others, allowed me to formulate better team dynamic to achieve company goals.
What about women?
In general women bosses have not been as supportive of my growth or advancement. Many of them didn’t take the time to teach as much as my men bosses did. However, three women bosses did… My first boss in the US at the International Development Bank, Beatriz Harretche, supported me and took me under her wing to teach me the business. This was a true honor given her long experience at the IDB. She was perceived as very demanding, knowledgeable and at times unapproachable. The truth is that she was one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. A woman who was a true fighter in the work place, in a male dominant environment, but at no time forgot her responsibility as a mother and grandmother. She helped me understand that you could be successful both in the workplace and at home.
Finally, Daphne E. was the first woman who told me that no one would look out for my career. I needed to plan and make things happen instead of looking for others to support me. Yet, despite having taught me this, she actually helped me review an offer (and later, make the transition) for a position in another organization.
Outside women bosses, women within my network have truly helped me by being sounding boards, providing unbiased advice, and offering contacts to help me grow.
How can women succeed in corporate America-male dominant industries?
Is there something women who work in male-dominant industries can do to grow and prosper?
1. Know your opponents
2. Understand they are not your opponents
This idea is key to better understand those around you. Understand their drivers, their personal lives as much as possible because this will help you understand how they respond better. This knowledge will help you navigate the workplace more effectively in order to achieve positive outcomes and ultimately succeed in corporate America (or anywhere else you work.) Understand men’s weaknesses and strengths so you can seek to “compliment” not “face-off” with them. A gender face off is very unlady like and should only be used as a last resort because the perception will be created instantly that you are “too aggressive and difficult to work with.” Unfortunately, you will brand yourself with all the negative stereotypes as a result of one reaction.
Instead, think strategically. Keep cool and calm. Breathe and take yourself to a happy place while the other person vents. Apply your abilities of “seeking to understand” instead of “seeking to judge.”
Men and women will never think the same way because we are not the same and fundamentally we live totally different experiences, challenges, and opportunities. And even if there are similarities, our nature will always be different. So, accept others for whom and what they are and seek to co-exist in a productive way rather than going toe to toe.
Finally, picking your battles is key. Learn to appreciate men for what they offer and use that as your fortitude. Join forces and build teams. Remember there is no “I” in team, so why would you treat them as an opponent when they actually can help you grow your team?
You can connect with Carla Dodds on Linkedin.