Women’s Leadership Forum: Careers, Risks & Networking with a Purpose

Topics: Corporate Legal, Diversity, Government, Law Firms, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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NEW YORK — One of the most inspiring and enlightening sessions at last week’s Thomson Reuters’ 3rd Annual Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum was the concluding panel, Momentum Regained: Engaging Women in Career Trajectory, which focused on several women’s life lessons and gains made through their careers.

The six women on stage shared the risks, opportunities, failures and drive that led them to the very different career trajectories they each took, while noting how important their own networking and personal branding played in their momentum forward. While each woman listed several fortuitous opportunities that presented themselves, it was clear that taking a new career path is not all due to the luck of opportunities and risks that present themselves.

Taking Smart Risks

Bindu Dhaliwal, Associate General Counsel & Director of Environmental, Social & Governance at BMO Financial Group, noted that before leaving her last position to take time to figure out how to find a job that dovetailed with her growing interests in corporate social responsibility, she took a university program and organized a forum. Before leaving that job, Dhaliwal described to her then-supervisor what she thought she might want to do next. By doing so, her director realized Dhaliwal had taken some “concrete steps forward” and wasn’t just “mulling this over but had demonstrated drive and commitment” towards this new path.

Bindu Dhaliwal, Associate General Counsel & Director of Environmental, Social & Governance at BMO Financial Group

Dhaliwal described how vital it is to regularly vocalize where you want to go next in your career path, noting that her personal habit is to articulate, at least every six months, to upper management where she wants to be in her career in two years.

Panel moderator Jan Anne Dubin of Jan Anne Dubin Consulting concurred, saying that figuring out how to take risks without being afraid is a struggle. “As women, we often instead focus on ways not to fail,” Dubin said. “But if you haven’t failed lately, you’re not taking enough risks.”

The Value of Networking

Networking is key to taking the next step in your career, explained Suzanne Rich Folsom, General Counsel at U.S. Steel, adding that it is crucial to forward momentum. “If you stay at your desk all the time, you cannot advance to the next level.”

Carolyn Leonard, Founder and CEO of DyMynd, said one of her personal habits is to network no less than twice per week. Indeed, a select network will recommend you for positions and steps-forward that you hadn’t foreseen.

Alexandra Holt, budget director for Chicago’s Office of Budget and Management, mentioned that she was initially in private practice, but ended up in her current position because so many members of her network, including both mentors and sponsors, recommended her to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his transition team.

Dubin agreed, noting how important it is for women to have a personal “board of directors” — that cadre of people you can reach out to not only recommend you for positions but also just to help you focus on different aspects of your career.

Suzanne Rich Folsom, General Counsel at U.S. Steel

Folsom, who shared her views on risk-taking before the conference, detailed how she networks through an index card system, carefully cultivating and keeping track of each person she meets and each time they interacted.

Throughout her career, various people in that card file have recommended her for different positions.

In fact, Folsom relayed the tale of how she recently ended up on the short list for a corporate governance board position because within a small circle of men discussing potential candidates, three of them were from her network. Each suggested her as an ideal candidate who matched the qualities the position demanded.

Indeed, even the hiring executive had met Folsom more than 28 years ago and had seen her at least four times since, but looking at her for this position hadn’t occurred to him.

At least until her network of mentors and sponsors at the table thought to raise their hands and suggest her for the position.