What happens when women support women in the workplace? Incredible things happen in their lives — and in their careers. Empowering women to bring their entire selves to work and advance in the workplace was the topic of “Lift As We Rise: When Women Support Women.”
The Facebook live event, hosted by Fairygodboss and Cognizant, interacted with women’s questions in real time, producing a wealth of actionable advice. To provide well-rounded answers, Romy Newman, Founder and President at Fairygodboss, was joined by Maureen Greene James, Leader of Diversity & Leadership Development at Cognizant, and her colleague, Carol Houle, Vice President Consulting Services.
The conversation began with a discussion about the importance of female representation, and companies who foster female leadership. Both Greene James and Houle’s reporting structures report to senior executives who are women, and they see that as an important aspect of their own advancement at Cognizant.
Houle went on to discuss an action that Cognizant takes to advance more women into senior consulting positions. She said they recognized that advancement could only occur for people with certain opportunities.
“We started asking ‘Who is in client facing roles and who can sell?’ Without that opportunity to sell you aren’t going to move up in the organization,” Houle explained.
She says Cognizant took measures to ensure women and men were represented equally in these roles, so that more women could progress to senior positions.
Houle and Greene James also heralded the importance of work-life integration to women’s advancement in the workplace. Both women are mothers, and they believe they are able to bring their entire selves to work because their employer allows them to dedicate meaningful time to their home lives — and to blend their two lives when necessary to get it all done.
“The great thing about Cognizant is you have the ability… to have work-life integration. You have the ability to blend your life at work and your life at home. My kids are older but they still take control of my life,” Green James laughed.
However, the women still bonded over how they still need help with some tasks (in this case, chores) and that women should encourage help. You don’t need to do it all, much less all alone.
“We outsource everything that’s not critical,” Houle shared. “... [and] from the time that the kids were 7, they were responsible for doing their own laundry.”
Beyond the ability to be an active mother due to work-life integration, the women also argue that being set up for task execution and ownership is important to getting more females promoted.
“One of the things that I truly love [about Cognizant] is that you really... have the ability to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. You’re able to execute on it,” Greene James shared.
Newman shared that entrepreneurship and ownership is important to women’s advancement because they are able to provide discrete examples of their accomplishments and the times they went above and beyond on the job. This helps in promotion negotiations, raise negotiations and proving naysayers who think working mothers aren’t as effective at their jobs wrong.
One of the most effective ways for individual women to hit these targets and advance in their careers is through mentorship and sponsorship. The panel tackled how to score both relationships.
“I always seek out individuals who can bring something to the table that you know you can’t yet, but that you will be able to in the future,” Greene James shared.
She also advised women seeking career help from other women to realize the difference between mentors and sponsors (mentors provide career advice and guidance, while sponsors advocate for your advancement within a company). She believes sponsorship is bred from an organic relationship that moves from one level to another. And it may take some time. Houle agrees that “you build the relationship with them over time and it just becomes natural.”
Greene James and Newman advised that when you recruit someone to be your mentor, you need to bring specifics.
“[As a mentor], you need to know what that individual is looking for. What’s worked well, what hasn’t worked well, what do they need to work on, where do they want to go,” Greene James emphasized.
“I love keeping it specific,” Newman echoed.
Houle had the perfect advice for bringing a specific lesson that you want to learn to your mentor.
“I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what are my God given talents and what are the things that are naturally easy for me… I have sought out sponsors and mentors who will help me in those three areas,” she shared.
She also suggests building a strong relationship with your mentor by inviting them to “see you in action.”
“I invite the person who mentors me onto sales calls with me,” Houle said.
Effective sponsorship and mentorship can only truly occur in positive work environments. The panel gave their best advice for finding an employer that excites (and advances) you.
“Think about the relationships you’re going to be able to develop,” Greene James said. She says the level of collaboration — and the network you can build through this collaboration — is key to advancing in an organization.
Similarly, Houle drove home the importance of understanding a company’s dedication to inclusive employer practices. You can’t advance if there are systems holding you back. She says Cognizant’s dedication to inclusion shined through when “everyone in consulting had to take an unconscious bias class.”
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