The Power of Community
This issue of TCB focuses on a topic near and dear to my heart: women in leadership. I know some amazing women. They run businesses, own companies, love on their families. As I’ve woven my way through the mighty quilt of career and family, tackling issues like discrimination, anxiety, and, most recently, Covid, I have relied on this community of women more than ever. And, as usual, they did not disappoint. Through their support, candor, and love, I discovered dreams (like writing!) that I didn’t even know I had.
“Explore whatever interests you. Maybe you’ll like it as much as what you started out doing; maybe you won’t. Either way, you won’t know until you try.”
That’s what a great community will do. They help you get real about what matters and then kick you in the butt so you will make it happen. Do not misunderstand—I have been wonderfully supported by men as well. But as we focus on women in leadership, I want to share three transition points where women encouraged me to take the leap.
Transition 1: Consulting to manufacturing
I graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in 1994, at a time when many engineers went into consulting gigs. I thought my life would consist of jetting around the world in a great-looking suit, helping organizations design amazing, user-friendly products. That all changed when I met a Black female engineer from Procter & Gamble. She spoke at a Society of Women Engineers event, and I found myself drawn to manufacturing. I was intrigued by the idea of being close to the actual making of a product—being “in the room where it happens.” Timidly, I approached her and asked about her experiences as an engineer. I could feel a kind of glow welling up inside me as I listened to her describe her work. When I mentioned I was planning to consult, she asked me why. She challenged me to think about what I wanted to do, even if it was different from my peers or what others would expect of a young Black woman who loved big cities and shopping. The following week, I accepted my first full-time job as a manufacturing management assistant at General Mills.
Takeaway: Seeing people who look like you along your career journey is essential. They make the impossible—or improbable—possible.
Transition 2: Different field, same company
Once at General Mills, I saw myself becoming a plant manager, but I quickly discovered other interests and skills beyond my role. I was drawn to recruiting and interacting with students about the power of engineering and leading teams, but recruiting was a function of human resources, and engineers do not become HR people, I would tell myself. Others reinforced this. “Stay where you are,” they said. “You have to accomplish one goal before moving on to another.” Fortunately, my mom—a constant source of love and inspiration—gave me some sage advice: “Try new things if you are able. There is only one you, and she knows what is best.” So I accepted every opportunity to be part of the intern program or anything that got me closer to recruiting; then one day, I was asked to do an 18-month cross-functional assignment in HR. I said yes almost immediately. The rest, as they say, is history. I moved to HR and eventually became director of talent management.
Takeaway: Explore whatever interests you. Maybe you’ll like it as much as what you started out doing; maybe you won’t. Either way, you won’t know until you try.
Transition 3: Corporate exec to entrepreneur
I loved working for General Mills—after all, I stayed for 24 years. It was all I knew, and I was totally fine with that. But I started thinking about what it meant for me to work at one place my whole career. I was finding a ton of satisfaction in volunteering and community work, and, let’s face it, it’s tough to have a big job and do all the other things you want to do. I felt stuck, without a way to answer that nagging question, “Is this it?” I set aside time to design my next chapter. I wrote down what I liked doing, what drained my energy, my financial goals/needs, etc. And then I gathered a small group of friends to share my thoughts and get their perspectives. That four-hour meeting changed everything. It set the framework for my business today and created a mindset of adaptability and comfort with trying new things as a norm.
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Takeaway: Find or create a community of supporters who give counsel and support but know your journey is yours and that only you can decide what is best for you.
Stephanie Pierce is a connector, coach, and founder of two Minneapolis-based businesses, KJP Consulting, a leadership development firm, and stephpierce.com, a community of diverse women inspiring each other to do the work they love. Find more of her tips and counsel there. She also co-hosts the podcast Her Next Chapter.