It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a senior manager in a corporate bank– it just isn’t in my DNA. My Sicilian parents arrived in Australia in the 1960’s.Two short years later my father was a successful manufacturing jeweler, my mother producing evening and wedding gowns. They figured things out as they went along. Overcoming obstacles was part of daily life for us.
True to form, at eighteen years old I applied at my first banking job. I was ready to learn, ready to climb the corporate ladder! The man interviewing me asked if I knew how to make a good cup of coffee. Well, of course! I’m Italian. I eyed a jar of instant coffee in the corner of his office. Smiling, I got up and poured a little hot water into a mug. I spooned a pile of instant coffee on top of that, and without even stirring, placed the mug in front of him. It was an insult to Italians everywhere, but a strong message to my new employer: no, I don’t make coffee. I was not there for very long, but I was never asked to make coffee again.
Fast forward to age twenty-two. I was a newly married woman and applying for another banking position. Although my potential employer seemed pleased with my qualifications, he remarked that it was unlikely that I would go very far as I would probably start having children. Did I plan on becoming pregnant soon? Baffled, I said that I hadn’t even spoken to my husband about that yet. Why would I discuss it with him?
I’d like to say that my experiences in the working world are not the experiences of other women. But I know that isn’t true. I recently spoke with a woman who applied for a position at a real estate firm. Without even mentioning her many accomplishments they indicated that maternity leave was a financial killer and she was probably going to have children soon…right?
How is this still going on? With years of Human Resources seminars and legal battles and media headlines encouraging us to be mindful of such behavior…haven’t we learned anything? Not to mention that I did end up having those babies that my employers feared would wreck their bottom line. And I raised them as a single parent. They were the driving force behind my work ethic. Nothing was more important than providing for my boys.
With this in mind, I would like to share a couple of strategies that I’ve employed throughout my career to stay healthy, focused and positive in my work life.
- Focus on being the best version of yourself. Where you are able to, invest in additional education and learning experiences. It will keep you up to date, energized and engaged. When you have new opportunities, it will give you confidence to know you’re doing your best!
- Find 5 people who support you in being your best self. Spending time in the company of individuals who want you to succeed is essential and can give you a boost when you really need it!
- Make sure your values align with the values of your superiors. If you find yourself in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances, learn what you can but actively look for ways to move on to bigger and better.
- Have that coffee– with someone you admire professionally. Most people are flattered if you ask them for a coffee to talk about their career. Be bold. Tell them you intend to work with them some day!
- Keep courage front of mind. The antidote to fear is bucket loads of courage!
- And finally, find a great coach who can help you raise the bar higher.
As I look back on a lifetime of work in mostly male dominated industries (corporate banking, IT, infrastructure) I realize that it is by “going where the energy is” that I’ve been successful. In other words, I’ve avoided making instant coffee from the beginning and it’s created a ripple effect in my work life that continues to lead me till this day.
Early in my parenting l also set myself the goal to raise resilient, resourceful and compassionate young men.
I followed the adage that, “Your children will become what you are…so be what you want them to be!”
It’s exactly that idea that lead me to create Women of Worth, empowering women to realize their inherent value, to pursue their dreams and to be resilient in the face of adversity. Visit www.womenofworth.com.au to learn more about our vision for women everywhere as well our personal and professional coaching programs!