MAXX Coverage: 2 Women Advise Other Women (And Men) On Overcoming Obstacles

TACOMA, Wash.–Two women who have overcome some big obstacles in credit unions and one of America’s largest corporations shared advice here with other women—and a few men—on how they can do the same, the lessons they have learned, and the philosophies that guide them.

Susan Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Stankovic & Associates, and founding chair of Global Women’s Leadership Network, and Jill Tracie Nichols, CEO of the Tracie Group, an author and the former chief of staff for Microsoft’s CEO, participated in a Q&A during the Northwest Credit Union Association’s MAXX Conference here, fielding questions on career development, overcoming obstacles, and more.

Here’s a look at how each responded to the questions posed:

Q: What do you see from your perspective as biggest challenge facing women in the workplace today?

Tracie Nichols: I think we are reaching this inflection moment in our culture. As I think about my experiences in the workplace, and what I’m observing with women, I feel like now is this giant opportunity for us. Until now a lot of diversity efforts were seen as a big HR thing. Now, we’re seeing business leaders saying we need women at the table because we are going to make better decisions, we will collaborate better.

Q: Can you share examples of how sister societies are activated and the things they work on?

Mitchell: With the sister societies, you get a bunch of people together and you ask, ‘What are our issues?’ And then people hear it and it’s no longer about talking about it, it’s about what are we going to do about it.  Now it’s how to build an agenda that’s relevant and gets people to spend their time on it.  These issues aren’t easy and it’s time consuming. You have to carve out time and respect each other’s time. In Canada, Servus Credit Union has a sister’s society within the organization.

Q: You’re very focused and vision oriented, but what do you do when you feel you’ve lost your direction, even temporarily?

Tracie Nichols: That happens to me very frequently; day to day life gets in the way. For me, I always try to have one to three things tops that I am focused on, and I come back to that list. You have to feel it’s OK to let things go. It’s also super important to be clear on whose opinion matters. When I’m trying to please a lot of people, I become unfocused.

Mitchell: The reality is that all of us have a lot of buckets–a home bucket, a work bucket–and we’re always trying to balance them. For me, I come back to two things. One is gratitude. When I’m overwhelmed, I come back to what am I grateful for, and that allows me to get out of the funk. And the second thing is to go back to the big picture and ask what is it I’m trying to accomplish?

Q: Can you share a piece of practical piece of advice for a career path?

Tracie Nichols: I had been working in HR for eight years and had a desire to get back to communications, for which I had gotten a degree, and I wanted to work in executive communications. So, I tossed my name in the hat to become the speechwriter for the CEO of Microsoft (then Steve Ballmer). I was shocked when I actually got the job. I did that thing women do that they always tell us not to where we say I’m not qualified. But he said you have the right temperament for the job. It changed the trajectory of my career. I was all in to give this a shot. The advice I share with people is so many times we as women look at the career or job we want and we hold back; we say we don’t have the skills or the education needed. It’s not just about believing in myself but having people around me who can speak truth and give me a chance. When you make that leap it can pay off in spades. Just trying it and giving it a go will open so many doors. You can do twice as much as you think; live in that world and it will happen.

Mitchell: All of us go through periods in our lives where we don’t feel the support. I was the female at IBM among 19 men. We all have barriers we are going through. People are available to you; talk to them. All of us have life situations that are unique to us, so when you hit barriers and when you feel it’s not happening for you, reach out. I encourage everyone to expand what it is you want to do. Surround yourself with people who will support you.

Q: Have you come up with people toxic toward females and how did you deal with it?

Mitchell: I approach it from the standpoint that that’s the person I’m going to be the nicest to and for whom I’m going to be the best performer, because I’m going to need to push right through that at some point. We can’t just let them shut us down.

Tracie Nichols: I wish I was a kill-them-with-kindness kind of person, but I am not. I have a principle I share with teams, which is, ‘Say the last 10%.’ The 10% that is the little thing in our mind that we are scared to say for some reason. I try to meet with that person and say, ‘Let’s try to be human beings together.’ Is there something I am doing, is there something I can do to support you better? Once we become human beings, it takes that edge off. The other thing is that old saying that people will rise to the level you set.

Posted in NWCUA in the News.