Thursday, July 11, 2013

Find Your Space, Take Your Place

Tanya is a member of the Tuck Class of 2015 and a Forte Fellow. Tuck is a proud sponsor of the Forte Foundation, which works with major corporations and top business schools to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers.  As a Forte Fellow, Tanya is presented many benefits including participation in the Annual MBA Women’s Conference.  Below, she shares her experience.
In June, I had the opportunity to attend the Forte MBA Women’s Leadership conference in New York City. For me, the conference was a great transition from working (I had wrapped up my job the week before) and a fantastic opportunity to spend time was other T’15s and over 300 MBA women from other schools. It was also a chance to network and learn from female leaders from companies including Bain & Company, Fidelity, Pepperidge Farm, Deloitte, IBM and Goldman Sachs.
Here are some of the main points I took away from the conference:
1) Women can “have it all” - it’s about defining what this means to you.
Many of the discussions throughout the weekend came back to the question of work-life balance and how to manage personal priorities while having a successful career. The theme I heard over and over was that you need to determine what is important to you and focus on that, even it means letting some of those lesser priorities take a backseat. As entrepreneur Frida Polli explained during the non-traditional careers panel, it is definitely possible to build a business and raise a family. Your limited time forces you to focus on what’s really important and makes things that used to be important seem trivial. Towards the end of this Saturday morning panel, her young daughter got antsy in the audience and came to join her mother at the front of the room. I was impressed with how Frida naturally and comfortably continued the conversation and was not at all distracted by her daughter’s presence.
And of course, work-life balance isn’t just about having a family. During the time management session, the discussion turned to other priorities. The advice was to identify the “non-negotiables” to you - whether that’s getting exercise regularly or cooking at home, and to slot those into your weekly schedule first to avoid time sinks (like the 4 hour Real Housewives marathon on Tuesday night) which are not fulfilling in the long run.
2) Staying passionate and continuing to learn are keys to a fulfilling career.
It was amazing to meet so many women who were passionate about their work over the course of the weekend. When someone is invested in what they do, it comes across immediately in how they describe their work, and often, this excitement is contagious.
The speakers during Friday’s keynote leadership lunch, Irene Chang Britt, President of Pepperidge Farm, and Kathy Murphy, President of Personal Banking at Fidelity, radiated this passion. Both mentioned the importance of staying fascinated and curious. They came back to the point that if you’re feeling comfortable, it’s probably time to move on. Have faith that you will be able to handle new challenges - however steep the learning curve is.
One of Kathy’s personal anecdotes was that she listens to an hour of customer service call recordings during her daily commute. Through this, she is able to learn from her customers and run the business with their perspective and challenges in mind.
3) Finding your place is about defining your key principles while being flexible enough to seize unexpected opportunities.
This last theme was particularly welcome to me as I sometimes feel like recruiting starts the moment we get to campus (or before) and that if I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do after business school, I’m already behind.
Many of the more senior women cautioned against narrowly defining the path you see for yourself and instead identifying your “core principles” and the things that bring you fulfillment. This way, you can stay true to what matters most and remain open to opportunities outside of your original plan. And these opportunities may turn out to be the most rewarding decisions of your life. The key point: find a balance between staying focused on your goals and exploring new interests and challenges. The job you get right after business school, while important, is not the definition of the rest of your career.
Overall, the Forte conference was a great experience and I left feeling even more excited to start Tuck this fall!

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