This week I got to spend some time with a fabulous woman who is killing it at her job in the very male-dominated oil and gas industry. She started with her company in a very junior role, but with her intellect, gumption, grit and confidence, she’s now VP of Accounting at that company. The kicker? She’s 31 years old.
At first blush I was just thinking “wow – that’s amazing! YOU’RE amazing!” (and she is!). I asked her a ton of questions about how she got to where she did so quickly. One big tip she shared? “I never say no. Ever.” When they asked her if she wanted to do accounting, she said yes. When they asked if she wanted to help in the warehouse, she said yes. When they asked her if she wanted to manage the trucking team, she said yes. By being willing and open to every opportunity, she simultaneously earned a stellar reputation as a team player, got to know tons of people, and more importantly, learned nearly every aspect of the business. Eventually, saying yes to everything got her to where she is today.
By being willing and open to every opportunity, she simultaneously earned a stellar reputation as a team player, got to know tons of people, and more importantly, learned nearly every aspect of the business.
Sounds great, right? It does, no doubt. And I know she’s proud of what she’s achieved (and rightly so). However, as we talked, there were some not so exciting things that she’s faced with at the same time. Here are just a few things she shared with me:
- I had to say yes to everything because I was already fighting an uphill battle around perception as a woman. Saying “no” wasn’t an option, because it would have been an easy excuse for people to cast me aside for bigger opportunities.
- When people look at my resume, they see my age and that I’ve only been at one company for 8 years. They don’t see the work I’ve put in and the skills I have, and that I’ve earned my place at the executive table. How do I navigate that in the future when I’m ready to move on and am trying to find a senior role that people will seriously consider me for?
- I’m young, and I’m female. My experience and skill level doesn’t match my age for most people, and it doesn’t match expectations people have when they see me. I’m constantly having to explain that.
- When my husband and I go to big events put on in my industry, without fail when meeting other senior people they immediately turn to shake my husband’s hand and introduce themselves to him, ignoring me. It’s always assumed that he’s the executive. And when we are invited to weekend events with other leaders and their spouses, I’m usually the only female exec. Which means when I am spending time with my team, my husband is surrounded by the wives and not sure what to do with himself.
- Close friends who know me well often comment that there are two versions of me. There’s the version I need to be at work, where I am a young female who often has managed men who are many years my senior. I can’t be small or quiet or anything but strong, confident, tough and resilient. But when I’m home, with my husband and two small children, I don’t want him to feel bad about me being the primary breadwinner so I take a back seat. So yes, there are two versions of me, but there has to be.
These are interesting challenges. On the one hand, here is a success story that I’d like to see more women have. But on the other hand, is it possible to achieve this kind of success this quickly, in this kind of environment, and still be true to our authentic selves? Is adoption of traditionally “male” traits the only way to get this level of success in some industries? And is that the right approach to take? For these more traditional industries, do we need to give them a pass on being “woke” and we’ll just trust that the women who chose to work there will be able to hack it?
I really don’t know the answer to these questions. But I’d love to hear your thoughts!