On Wednesday, OutFox had the honor of hosting a panel discussion featuring 4 inspirational women at TechStars Chicago. They shared their insights on building careers with meaning, careers that make them feel fulfilled and motivated everyday. Unlike in casual conversation, where we often try and deflect questions as to how things are going with a confident "things are going great!" each of these women candidly described all the ups and downs of their career journey - something we don't see enough of in everyday life.
For those who were unable to attend our event, but still looking to learn from inspirational women, we wanted to share our favorite stories and pieces of advice from each of the four women.
Haley O'Brien | Power Construction "98% of the construction industry is male, and I didn't realize at the time how rare it was to have been paired with a female manager on my first project ... in the beginning, networking in a room with all men, it was so hard to overcome the awkwardness and the boys-club culture!"
Haley is a talent in the construction industry, despite being one in the only 2% of women who work in the field. She described to the group how her female mentor helped her to harness the unique strengths of being a woman in her field. As a project manager, Haley interfaces with many clients and has learned that her empathy, attention to detail, and ability to distill the client's vision are what set her apart. Incidentally, translating a client's vision into design is the reason why Haley got into the construction business, it is what fuses her love of engineering and architecture. A focus on these areas not only leverages her core strengths, but is the reason why she loves her job.
Nilam Desai | Mercato "I had my lightbulb moment as a teacher - I was weaving healthy eating into all of my teachings - when a student told me that she had saved up to buy hummus so that she could have a healthy snack. That was when I knew..."
Nilam made a pivot from the teaching world into the food-tech space. Her lightbulb moment, described above, or the moment when she knew she was ready for a career change energized her as she embarked on a complete 180 career change. Despite a drastic industry change, Nilam saw how her skills in teaching were leverageable strengths in her next career, and how while she wasn't working directly with food, she had a relevant foundation upon which she could build. It was this crystallizing moment that gave Nilam the confidence to make the leap, and reach out cold to the CEO of a startup where she'd eventually end up starting her career in the food-space.
Margaret Neiman | Groupon "Someone told me that I'd have many careers in my life, and that is what made me comfortable in making a change."
Margaret, a self-described recovering attorney, also made a sharp pivot in her career when she moved to the corporate side into HR & Benefits management. Feeling deeply unhappy in her hours and work environment, it wasn't until a friend told her 'you know you don't haveto do this job' that she realized it was time to make a change. Like many of us, Margaret felt the pressure to have a strong, linear career trajectory, especially after having gone to law school right out of college. But ultimately, it was the subject-matter expertise she gained in her law degree that gave her the confidence to make the pivot and move corporate side, and realize that while she was making a trajectory change, her background was a key component in her success. She ultimately made her way out by working her network to secure an interview at Groupon, where she'd eventually go on to lead her own division in the HR department.
Victoria Stroz | Adler University "Everywhere I've gone in my career has been due, in some part, to networking ... I make a concerted effort to keep my network updated and keep the connections warm."
Victoria has recently discovered her passion for helping others as a therapist. After moving from finance to recruiting to HR, she uncovered the best parts of each job she had, while they were different, was her ability to coach and help others, leading her back to graduate school to become a therapist. Along the way, she relied heavily on her network - past bosses, former coworkers - who helped her navigate each turn, and sometimes opening up the doors for her before she even asked. At times, her network helped give her the confidence she needed to take the next step, such as when she was thinking about applying for schools, because as we all know, sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else. Victoria's advice is to always keep your network sharp, utilizing it as a key tool in your career tool-kit.