‘Stop Limiting Yourself’: TD's Head of U.S. Corporate Citizenship's Advice for Career Advancement

Sponsored by TD Bank

Shelley Sylva

Photo courtesy of TD Bank.

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Fairygodboss
May 18, 2024 at 3:19AM UTC

“Say 'yes' to opportunities, and don't limit what you can do in an organization by what you believe your resume says about you,” advises Shelley Sylva, Head of U.S. Corporate Citizenship at TD Bank, where she has grown her career by taking on new roles and new responsibilities over her eight years with the bank. “If I had limited myself to that mindset, I never would have gotten to where I am today.”

Before joining TD Bank, Sylva had never worked at a bank and never worked in the private sector. For most of her career, she worked in government.

“If I had said 'I'm not putting my resume in, I don't meet all of the requirements,’ it never would have happened,” she tells Fairygodboss. “So, stop limiting yourself. Just because someone says 'no' this time, doesn't mean it's going to be 'no' next time.”

We caught up with Sylva to learn more about her advice for women in the workplace as a leader who has shifted departments and careers herself. Here, she shares her best career tips, her most valuable career mistakes and the lessons she’s learned along the way.

What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of? 

I think it’s coming to TD Bank. I was second in command of the fourth largest Housing Authority in the U.S. before I came to TD Bank. I had taken a step back financially, became an individual contributor and really started my career anew. I hadn't done legal operations but, rather, ran operations with hundreds of thousands of residents and had huge, multimillion-dollar budgets. 

Coming here, I had to trust that it was the right move. I think having conversations with other women leaders at TD Bank who said that “this is a great place” or “you'll grow here” showed me that this would be the best move I ever made. 

When shifting from one department to another, what did you learn that surprised you the most? 

I'm a trained lawyer, so when I went from Legal to Corporate Citizenship within TD Bank, I realized that there was a different skill set — not better or worse, just different — on how the teams functioned. I really had to adjust and adapt to my creative side, my more community-focused side and my more [external] client-focused side. It wasn't difficult for me because I like to live in that space, but it was challenging because my communication style and how I was receiving information was different, but you work through those things. 

The amount of work and the amount of stakeholder engagement that we experience in Corporate Citizenship was also surprising. In my experience, people come to the Legal Department because they have a problem, they want something solved, they need guidance, advice, direction, support etc. But in Corporate Citizenship, there's so much more that goes into this work and how we support our stakeholders. People rely on you for many different things, not just problem solving.

A lot of people believe that developing your career means changing companies. What has enabled you to develop/advance your career?

When I think about how I've developed and advanced my career within TD Bank, there are a couple of things that come to mind: 

  • Networking.

  • Not being "defined" by my resume.

  • Having confidence that my skills are  transferable, which makes it possible “yes” to more opportunities. 

Also, at TD Bank, we value people that believe in our culture. I always tell people early in their careers that it's table stakes that you're doing your job well. Instead, what are you bringing beyond your job to the organization? Are you involved in an Employee Resource Group (ERG), are you doing a mentoring exercise, are you a part of our Women in Leadership (WIL) Lean-In Circles, are you volunteering with our TD Tree Days? 

I think upward mobility in an organization is more than just doing your job well. Do you live and breathe your organization's culture? And the question then becomes if you don't, is that the culture you should be in? When it comes down to it, I believe my key to success at TD Bank is that I believe in the culture here.

What opportunities did TD Bank provide that ultimately helped you land your role?

I'm not shy, and the first day I got here I said, “who's my mentor?” I've had great mentors and sponsors all throughout my career, and TD Bank encourages that. I emailed the senior-most leader in my market on, maybe, my third month here, and we had a coffee chat. I asked him questions, we chatted, we talked about my next steps and more. He was very gracious, and he didn't even know me. I think that’s what's unique about TD Bank; if you email someone here, they will answer you. You may not be able to get on their calendar that day, but it will happen, and they'll share their career journey with you unselfishly. There are too many people to name who have impacted my career personally, but TD Bank is known as an organization that encourages and embraces mentorship. 

Could you tell us more about your experience with mentorship and sponsorship?

If I could spend all my time mentoring and sponsoring, I would. I get more excited seeing others reach a new career status or role than myself sometimes. My assistant jokes and says, “How many coffee chats are you going to do this week?” But, whenever I hear, “Shelley, I got the job!” or, “Shelley, I got the assignment!” or I get a text that says, “Hey, I got the promotion,” there's nothing better. And, for me, I've had great sponsors here at the Bank because they've been really honest with me. 

How would you describe your leadership style?  

I'm a collaborative leader. I'm also a listener. As a leader, people often think that you have to talk, you have to direct, etc. But I'm at my happiest when I see my team delivering on what they believe are the priorities of the team and seeing them feel really good about the work that they're doing.

I try to create an environment where people are empowered to speak up, lead, tell you about issues and more. If you don't create a collaborative environment, then I don't think you really have an understanding of what's really going on within your team. 

What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing an individual or team that you think has been particularly effective? 

Managing people is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Good managers know their teams: the things that make their team members click and what things might be triggering or difficult for them. Learning your team takes time; it doesn't happen overnight. And the pandemic actually accelerated that for me with my team because I saw into their homes, I learned so much more about their home lives, them personally, and, therefore, I was also able to accommodate them better in what worked best for them personally. I started understanding more of what some people wanted and how they liked to be recognized, for example.

What is your favorite perk about working at TD Bank and ultimately what has led you to stay here?

The culture and the people. We work with some of the nicest, smartest and most empathetic people I've ever met. We can solve problems. We know how to get together and work things through. There's never been a time where I've reached out to someone and they said, “I can't help you” or “that's not my job” — that's just not who we are. 

As for the culture, I always tell people not to take what you have for granted — it's not like this in other organizations. I also love the excitement around the work that I get to do. New challenges occur every day, with expanded mandates and outreach really keeping me here and keeping me excited.

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