Welcome to 2018!
As we all pull ourselves out of our food, festivities, and family comas from the holidays, it is time to look to the new year with awe and opportunity. While the typical new year’s resolution includes getting healthier, losing weight, etc., I wonder how many make a resolution focused on their professional and career growth? I can think of no better time to think through what you would like to accomplish, set your mind to it, and start now!
I like to use this time of year to look back on my professional accomplishments and jump into the new year in a similar fashion. Let’s face it – being a woman in a predominately male technology industry isn’t the easiest. But it is very doable – just like losing those 10 pounds for the new year – if you put your mind to it! I am living proof, going from intern to group vice president and loving every step of the journey, gratefully with my husband and my three children right by my side.
Celebrating my 20 year anniversary at JDA Software in 2017 offered me a great opportunity to reflect. I can still recall joining Manugistics as an intern in 1996, taking a semester break from my Business Logistics studies at Penn State University. Wow did I learn a lot in those seven months! Besides flying on an airplane for the first time in my life (yes, my very first flight was on Continental Airlines going from DCA to EWR at age 21), I started my professional career and goal-setting in earnest. Following are three things that I have learned and focused on along the way:
1. Find Your Passion. You have to love what you do. Do you know what you are passionate about? One of my first jobs during college was a security guard at a light bulb factory. Working third shift, walking through a factory multiple times throughout a long night…let’s just say it wasn’t my passion (although my ultra-cool uniform and fake-cop security badge certainly made more than a few people jealous!) I found my passion in supply chain management, thanks to my introductory course BLOG301 taught by Dr. John J. Coyle at Penn State. (WE ARE!) Amidst all of my general education and other business courses, this one clicked for me. I “got” SCM and I loved it. I knew that I would continue with a career helping to make the world’s supply chains more efficient and more profitable. So, I had that figured out, what was next?
Passion doesn’t reside in just one “thing.” My other passion is my family. I knew that I wanted a family but also wanted to move my career forward. I didn’t want to choose between the two. I wanted it all, and I believe I’ve done pretty well along the way. My children Kyle, Nate, and Sarah are indeed my first passion. Balancing work and family are a challenge and yes, it comes with tough decisions. I’ve missed out on some things due to my travel – basketball games, parent-teacher conferences, winter concerts (I admit that I was ok with missing the winter concerts…ugh!). Flying 100,000 miles a year does make it difficult, but I also have such a strong support system in my family. My husband Bryan is truly “super dad,” holding down his full-time job and organizing and shuttling kids to/from activities. Work/family balance is never easy, but I’d like to think that I have two teenage boys who will grow into men who respect women in the workplace and a pre-teen daughter who will grow up knowing that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to.
2. Show Your Confidence. Take the inherent passion that you have and extend it to work. As you share that passion, it exudes confidence. Being able to demonstrate your knowledge and passion can instill a similar mindset in those around you. Confidence comes not only from your words, but also from your body language and tone. When I first started at Manugistics as an implementation consultant, we went through extensive training which culminated in an activity affectionately known as “Practice Teach.” We were given a section of the software training manual to train a class – which of course was filled with the most experienced consultants in the company! I was given one of the toughest concepts around production planning. After my 15 minutes was up, everyone in the audience had the opportunity to critique me. One very experienced consultant asked how I thought I did, and I answered that I thought I had done pretty well. He then referred to a question that he asked, indicating that my answer was completely wrong. But then he paused and said, “But I started to believe you!” I learned a lot about confidence that day and 20 years later, it is still a foundational element of my mindset.
So how does a woman gain confidence in an industry predominantly made up of men? I still encounter many situations where I am the only woman in a meeting of 15-20 people. Finding your voice, and displaying your confidence, can be challenging but you can’t get intimidated. Sometimes the challenges are subliminal. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I have received that start with “Hi Paul” or address me as Mr. Natoli! I also receive emails sent to a group of people, myself included, that open with the greeting “Gentlemen.” This is not only frustrating, but can knock down your confidence if you let it, but I view these situations as a challenge that I am not willing to give up on. I am a woman in a highly male dominated industry – and I belong there! I have all of the experience, passion, and confidence that my counterparts do, and I’ll continue to have my voice heard. And about those emails – do you think I have a built-in excuse to not respond since they’re not really addressed to me? 😉
3. Make Connections and Make Work Fun. Work doesn’t have to equate to just a “job.” Formulating and nurturing connections across your organization, your customers, your partners, and your industry enable you to build your own professional supply chain. Getting to know people beyond the details of a project allows you to establish a personal connection. By understanding your colleagues’ backgrounds, hobbies, family life, etc., you establish a human connection that will serve you well – both in your professional career as well as life in general.
Today’s business environment offers opportunities for social connections everywhere you look. I encourage you to strike up a conversation, join the work dinner, attend the happy hour, volunteer in your community, or for the next cross-functional project. Open up and share some of yourself with others and learn about them – you’ll be amazed at how rewarding it is!
The past 20 years at JDA have been both challenging and rewarding. There is always something to learn, someone to meet, a problem to solve, and a success to celebrate. I’m indeed looking forward to what the next 20 years of my career holds! Here’s to 2018 – let’s make it a great year!