Maureen Huggard, a director of Client Management Strategy at Willis Towers Watson, has risen through the ranks in her industry, although she admits that when she was in college, she “had no idea a business like this even existed.” The global advisory, broking and solutions company where she has built her career helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth.
In her current position, Maureen focuses on tools and content that the company needs to be relevant with its clients. Having moved through several positions at Willis Towers Watson, she has developed useful insight for anyone just starting a career or navigating a new position.
She recently shared some career advice with Fairygodboss, offering tips on building relationships, honing skills, and earning a seat at the table.
FGB: Can you tell me a bit about your career? How did you get to where you are now?
MH: I’m probably not in the minority here, but I had no idea a business like this existed when I was in college or that I would spend almost my entire working career (since 1989) at Towers Perrin, Towers Watson and now Willis Towers Watson.
I started in our research and databases areas, learning about our business and how we consult with clients. I spent 10 years in various roles, first as an analyst and then supervising a small team.
I worked on my MPA (Public Administration/Health) during part of this time. In the final year, I reduced my workload to 60% and completed my Capstone. Towers Perrin had (and WTW still has) an excellent tuition reimbursement policy. Without that option, I’m pretty sure I would not have wanted to accumulate more debt and probably wouldn’t have pursued that advanced degree.
After I completed my degree, I looked for opportunities within and outside the organization to use my new skills and knowledge.
Part of my journey aligned me with a woman who was doing some innovative, creative consulting in the area of E-commerce (ha, remember that?) and communication. She sought me out to join her team. I made the move and began as a project manager before entering into my current role as Director of Client Management Strategy, where I work with a group of six focusing on the tools/content our sales team needs to be relevant with our clients.
There are benefits to being in an organization that continues to evolve if you’re in a position to maintain a job and/or perhaps seek a new opportunity. You get to reinvent yourself, as I did when we merged with Watson Wyatt, which led me to my current role.
FGB: Do you find yourself in a position to mentor young women? If so, do you have any specific anecdotes or general advice that you give?
MH: I make suggestions based on my own experience to the women I have the opportunity to talk with, whether they’re reporting to me or asking for advice:
- Stay relevant. Continue to be intellectually curious. Learn the business you are in. Read the analyst reports. Understand what your leadership is concerned about.
- Spend time working on developing skills that you feel less confident about – like business writing, for example. This is a critical skill no matter what role you have in an organization. I couldn’t write to save my life when I started working, and it took me days to write what would eventually be a simple three-sentence email. I had the benefit of working with a woman who was an excellent writer, and I asked her to mentor me on these skills. I was tortured by the redlining, but I learned a lot. I laugh today as I’m often sought out to draft leadership communications, review, edit, etc. I tip my hat to Sharon on that one!
- To the point above, don’t end an email with “let me know if you need anything else.” This suggests you are checking out from the project you are working on. Instead, share your thoughts on what you are seeing (you can caveat all you want). End with a stronger statement, such as “I’ll call you later today and/or set up 15 minutes to discuss findings and next steps.” Your “boss” has many different projects and priorities running through his/her head – get his or her attention!
- Build relationships – get to know people in your organization. Understand what they do and how they contribute to the organization’s goals. If you are asked by a senior person or leader to work on a project that may not exactly align with what you want to do be doing – DO IT (within reason). You will LEARN, regardless of where your career takes you.
- Dress for success. I know we are in a completely different model today, and most of us older folks have embraced it. However, casual or jeans policy doesn’t mean you wear your weekend clothes to work. If you are going to meet with clients, or might need to on short notice, you want to be ready to go.
FGB: Is there anything that you struggled with early in your career that you feel like you've overcome/improved upon? If so, what was that process like?
MH: Feeling smart enough to be at the table. I didn’t do my homework early on. I didn’t understand the importance of understanding your business and driving your own career. I was behaving in a very traditional way – waiting for someone to recognize me for all of my SUPPORTING hard work. I wasn’t leading. It does take time and experience to grow into a leading role, and a lot of the time you can feel like a gopher, but only if you allow yourself to stay in a supporting role.
Also, focusing on the differences between men and women in a way that continued to keep me in a holding pattern. Not being more inclusive in my thinking.
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