To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked H+K women around the globe to share their career advice and inspiration. To read more from the women of H+K, visit HER Voices.
Iliana Perez, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, Latin America
My Inspiration: Intuitively I would say my mother, who not only has inspired me as a human being, but who despite all obstacles, has been smart enough to transform herself into a successful entrepreneur with brain and heart in great balance! Now I get inspiration from different sources, many of my colleagues and global leaders included, and I enjoy following Meg Whitman for instance. . . and if Coco Chanel was alive, I sure would be following her.
Career Advice: Do not think of yourself as a woman in the workplace but as a professional with all the opportunities and capabilities you are able to create. If you have ideas on what you want to do in three-five years, plan accordingly. Do not be a spectator. If you do not have them, then find out and plan accordingly. It is always good to surround yourself with people (women and men) you admire and ask for honest advice and feedback. Having a mentor is an amazing way to have guided growth and skills development. Speaking of those, it is also good if you can develop an unusual skill, which will help you drive through a less crowded way towards your goals, no matter if you are a woman or a man.
Lucy Harvey, MD for MENA and Regional Director, Middle East (UAE)
My Inspiration: I am constantly inspired by some of my closest friends – those who are expressing real creativity through the arts or exciting new businesses outside of a normal office environment, sometimes whilst learning how to be a mum along the way – artist Hester Finch, writer Catriona Ward, and illustrator Jenna Herman. The conventional desk-based “9-till-5’” is on borrowed time. . . and we must all keep an open mind to new opportunities and new ways of working in every business.
– We are all paid to do AND to think. Hit those tough deadlines but engage your brain and keep learning.
– Voice your opinions early and get over “Imposter Syndrome” as quickly as you can. Feeling guilty or unsure about our role holds back men and women alike – but too often women are not reminded to be brave.
– Asking tough questions makes us all think more. So do everyone a favour and speak up, and you might learn something.
Meredith Marks, Global General Counsel, U.S.
My Inspiration: My mother. She worked harder during her career than any person I have ever known. She showed me that anything was possible, that hard work pays off, and to never stop believing in yourself.
Career Advice: Always do your homework. Look the part. And when at work, we don’t have the luxury of not getting along with one another, so build solid working relationships with everyone you can!
Sara Gourlay, Global Tech Practice Director, Singapore
My Inspiration: I was more inspired by my father than by any woman – he never once told me or allowed me to think I couldn’t do whatever I wanted because of my gender. Today I am inspired by people like Hope Frank who is pushing the tech industry forward and creating marketing campaigns that resonate in a very male-oriented market.
Career Advice: Men never worry whether they are the best male leader they can be – they just get on with being great at their jobs and taking their opportunities when they come along. Women need to do the same, to stop feeling that being female means that they are somehow less deserving of recognition and just get on with being the best leaders they can be.
Melanie Kent, CEO, Belgium
My Inspiration: She may be dead now, but her name was May. She was about 55 when I was 22 in my first job. . . and she was utterly polished, organised, coordinated, vocal. She charmed and confused everyone around her to such an extent that it took them months to discover that, actually, she knew nothing. I vowed never to be like that and never to have anyone around me who relied so completely on style over substance; there was something in her misrepresentation that I found very distasteful and wrong, on behalf of us all. Her altar ego was the British Barrister Helena Kennedy. I had jobs in successive summers as an assistant-assistant Barristers’ Clerk in the London Inns of Court in the 1980s. I used to have to deliver faxes, letters, bundles of pink-ribbon bound legal papers and books to her rooms. She was utterly electric and energised; she probably only ever said “thank you, my dear” to me, but she was a complete and total hero – and the polar opposite of the fragrant and bejewelled May. So when I think about who I’d like to be (when I grow up), I keep my compass firmly steered away from May, and towards Helena.
Career Advice: There is a quote I like – “(S)he that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.” So I would advise younger women to embrace opportunities and ideas that come their way and give them a try. You never know where it will lead and who you’ll find along the way. . .
Jessica Walsh, Managing Director of Healthcare + Wellbeing, UK
My Inspiration: The most influential woman in my life is my mother, Hanne, an exceptionally strong woman who taught, and continues to teach, me a good deal of what’s worth knowing in my personal and professional life. At her retirement dinner nearly nine years ago, I had a conversation with the person who hired her in 1966 for her first teaching job. Listening to her former boss, who knew her as a professional when she was younger than I was then, reinforced that she sets the standard for what I admire most in a woman: strength, confidence, disarming levels of expertise, and wit. Creative and brimming with original ideas, she was also hugely important in my decision to attend Wellesley College over twenty (!) years ago, connecting me to a community of so many other incredible women.
In terms of women with a slightly more public profile, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks beautifully about gender and how to create a fair environment for each other to thrive at work and in life. Her essay We Should All Be Feminists should be required reading. Check it out.
Career Advice: The advice I give to young women is the advice I’d give to young people of any gender, and it’s this: Show enthusiasm for what you do, push yourself both creatively and intellectually, and try to be as useful as possible. This combination creates an energy that people want to be around, and it’s essential fuel for a team. Learn from the best people you can, read a lot, and make time outside the office for the interests and people you love. Lastly, be yourself. The best role models and mentors use their experience to help you develop your own style and a voice that sounds like you, not to turn you into a version of themselves.
Erin Gentry, Global Co-Lead of Client Service, U.S.
My Inspiration: I was worked to near death by Jill Bratina and learned everything I needed to survive.
Career Advice: Find a mentor (man or woman) in your organization who inspires you to work harder and surprise yourself, and who teaches you — even unintentionally — every day.
Sam Lythgoe, Global Head of Business Development, UK
My Inspiration: Lots of women have inspired me over the years (Madonna, the Queen, Coco Channel, as well as my Mum), but having thought about this a little, what they all have in common was a belief and a resilience to keep going and to believe in what they are doing and to not accept ANY of the barriers that get put in the way. I also LOVE Katherine Hepburn’s quote – it pretty much sums me up: “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”
Career Advice: Believe in your abilities and judgment and focus on being the best that you can be rather than worrying about gender. Being great will win out!
Corinne Got, General Manager, France
My Inspiration: Simone Veil
Career Advice: Make your dreams happen and never give up.
Rebecca Ballard, Senior Vice President and Head of Communication and Culture, U.S.
Your Inspiration: I’m a bit of a professional hero-worshipper — inspired constantly by people I encounter — so the list of women I admire and who influence me is endless. Two of the people on my list who are accessible to everyone are both New York Times bestselling authors: Glennon Doyle Melton and Brené Brown. I drop things they’ve said into conversation as if we were old friends, because I’m quite convinced that we would be, if we ever met. Their work helps shine a light on the immense power in simply being brave and kind as you show up at work, at home, and in the world.
Career Advice: Be helpful. It’s a sure path to new opportunity, if you can back it up with quality and hard work. Find someone you admire, or who is doing work that inspires you, and volunteer to take the first crack at an assignment on their plate, or siphon items off of their to-do list and complete them yourself. This gives you a chance to stretch and grow by working on assignments you wouldn’t otherwise access, and it makes you become the person she or he wants to bring into every professional foxhole, giving you even more opportunities. If you want a strong teacher, mentor, and advocate, first be a helper.