JJ: You're overseeing digital experiences, design, and innovation for one of the largest banks in the U.S. It’s a combination of being in two different boys clubs — one in emerging tech and digital and the other in finance. You’re at the top of your game in both those worlds at the same time. What are some of the challenges you had to overcome to get where you are today? Have they become more surmountable over time or are we just getting more visibility to the successes?
MS: I am very fortunate to have had some amazing sponsors and mentors over the years. I worked really hard to have them, so I believe that luck plays into things only so much that, if you're in the right time at the right place, you can have the right things happen for you.
It’s not that I’m lucky I got to where I got to — I worked my butt off to get there. Hard work does pay off, but at the same time, depending on the industry and the diversity of where you are, you have to have great sponsors and mentors. I look at mentors as the people who take you on, who coach you, and help you develop. Sponsors are people who are in places of influence, inside or outside of your company, who are going to open those doors for you, who know who you are, what you’re working on, and what else you could do. They're the ones that bring your name up when the next big project comes, when the next big initiative comes, and when the next big job opens. The sponsors might not be personally coaching or developing you, but they’re the ones who are singing your praises and betting on you when the time comes to put a name forward.
I've had a lot of great ones — male and female — and frankly, in the earlier stage in my career, many more male than female just because of the ratios that existed. Sponsorship has been a huge piece of it. Now to be clear, I didn't have people just decide they wanted to sponsor me or mentor me because I was just sitting on the bench one day. I had them because I raised my hand and said yes every single time that any opportunity came up. That's my point about hard work: you have to be willing to put in for it. I think once you pass that, when you go to the question of working through the old boys club, I would say it's a couple of things.
First of all, I have believed in myself. I have worked really hard and sometimes struggled with my confidence, which frankly is something more common for women than it is for men. It's not that there are men without confidence issues, but study after study over the years will tell you if two people of the exact same experience and caliber saw the same job description, a man would apply for it and a woman wouldn't because she'd say I don't tick 100 percent of the boxes. Women traditionally believe that they just aren't naturally as good at things as men. It's not that it's factually accurate — it's that their confidence erodes. I have worked really hard to, even if I didn't feel confident all the time, project confidence, to advocate for myself, and to say, “I can do it”. Not in an egotistical, self-centered manner, but in a way that says, “I know I can do this. I know I can figure this out. I know I can find people to help me.” I think that has helped me significantly.
The second thing I've done is, I have sat at the table every time there was a seat at the table. When I was junior in my career, less because I was female and more because I was junior, I would sit on the side of the room when I knew there wouldn't be enough seats at the main table. If you get to the room and there's a seat at the table, you sit at the table. If you're in the meeting, you speak because you weren't invited to sit and be quiet and you weren't invited to sit and take notes. Those things as you work your way through, boys club or no boys club, become important attributes.
The third thing I've become really big about in the last five to 10 years of my career is I don't want people to be upset about the old boys club. I want people, and especially women or various diverse groups, to learn from what's been great about that and create the new girls club or the new diverse group club, where we’re actually supporting each other. It took so long for women to get to the same level where there were [traditionally] only one or two. So what would happen is that women would support each other to a certain level and then as soon as two got to the same place, they would turn on each other and take one stiletto heel and put it on top of the other person's head and push them back down because now you went from allies who are working your way up to a threat.
There are a lot of positives about understanding the importance of a network and working together to improve the overall goal of the company as well as the individuals. I'm not claiming that I love all things about the old boys club, but I think my success is due to having great sponsors and to recognizing that we should not complain about it, but we should take the positives and actually figure out how to bring those into the girls club.
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