4 Female Executives’ Best Career Advice

June 7, 2018

Company leadership around the world remains unbalanced, with women accounting for less than a quarter of management positions globally. The Women Innovators Network (WIN), committed to championing gender parity in the workplace and nurturing female leadership, hosted an event at Salesforce World Tour Sydney, called Leveling Up In Your Career. A guest panel of female executives––Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM, Diana Terry, Vice President, Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce, and Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group––joined Bluewolf Chief Marketing Officer Corinne Sklar, to share their best career advice. Below is an excerpt from their conversation during the event.

There is a massive drop-off from mid to c-suite level roles. As you are all in senior roles, what have you recognized over time and what do you personally think are the reasons there aren’t as many women in these executive roles?

  • Dee McGrath: I work for a large service and technology company, and therefore the technical skills is where we struggle. In this part of the world, we struggle with STEM skills and women progressing a career in these fields. From an executive leadership role, I think women self-select at a certain level – and select out. I think they look at the environment and decide it’s not for them. But I also think we need to create the environment for women where they can step into those leadership roles and drive a different culture, a different perspective, and a different environment in order to flourish.
  • Diana Terry: The thing that I feel makes the biggest difference is having a mentor – I can’t stress the importance of having a mentor enough. That’s the difference – having someone advocating for you and making space for you. I have six mentors and I can’t get enough. I call it time travel – it’s like going back and getting snippets of the best parts of their career in 30 minutes, instead of having to learn those hard lessons on your own, and I think that’s the key to my success. 
  • Cathy Yuncken: I see a number of factors of play including something I have done, which is consciously taking three career breaks over my time. No more than 12 months, but I have taken time out then chosen to go back into my career. My second point would be around confidence. The reality is that I see so many strong and developed women who just don’t think they’re ready to make that next step or they need mentorship and need to be pulled through. At Westpac group we have amazing statistics around women in leadership and I’m proud to work for the company. However, we still sit in leadership meetings and look at the team maps and discuss how we pull more women through the ranks, and where are they. It’s not until now in my career that I understand the importance and power of my network. What I have found later in my career is that everyone helps each other, and that’s what it’s all about. We all need to be helping each other and helping each and every one of us to make that leap, that next step, and take the risk.

The concept of a female network is incredibly valuable. What advice would you give to men and women in this room who are in that position of senior leadership?

  • Dee McGrath: Just recently, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a friend. We would occasionally provide some mentorship for each other; we both come from different organizations, different careers, and have different experiences. We were having lunch one day and she said to me, ‘I just don’t know what I have to do to actually get that next role. I work hard at what I do, I’m the top talent at the organization, but when it comes to the role, every time a male gets it and I don’t. I said to her, ‘have you asked for it?’ and she said no. Guess what? The next day, she went in and said, ‘I really want this’ and within six months she was in that role. My advice is don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. It’s really important whether it’s a role, whether its equity in pay. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.  
  • Cathy Yuncken: When I was mid-career, I had a boss who was pretty tough on me during performance reviews. He gave me good feedback, but I also wanted to hear what the negative stuff was so that I could address it. The feedback that has stuck with me ever since, and something that many women could identify with, is this streak of perfectionism. My boss said to me ‘your 95% is outstanding, so just let go of the perfectionism because you waste so much time and energy on that last 5% and you don’t need to worry about it’. It was such a switch for me. I have been able to let go and not waste so much time on that last 5% and actually get a lot better at not being as intense about my performance expectations. I guess that has helped me relax a lot more as a professional. 

Corinne, Sklar, CMO of Bluewolf, an IBM Company believes that one way to put this into action is to not sit on a panel unless it is inclusive. "One of the things that I’m really happy about is Eric Berridge, Bluewolf CEO, won’t sit on a panel unless there is diversity on the panel. That causes awareness and sometimes it’s about having dialogue in your organization and feeling comfortable to have dialogue and awareness on these topics. “Hey I’m on a panel, let’s have this dialogue and bring awareness around these topics.” 

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