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3 career insights from the MIT Sloan Global Women’s Conference

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The 2019 MIT Sloan Global Women’s Conference brought more than 200 alumnae, faculty, and business leaders to New York City to talk work-life challenges, unconscious bias, organizational change, and more.

Here are three insights from the wide-ranging talks.

Include everyone in the conversation

Rebecca Kirk Fair was scheduled to meet with a client to discuss a project. Before the meeting, a male colleague of Fair’s explained the client was notorious for preferring to work with men. So Fair asked her colleague to come along to the meeting.

During the meeting, the male client kept redirecting the conversation and questions to Fair’s colleague, while Fair’s colleague kept including her and turning to her for answers.

“[In] each instance that the male client raised a question with my male partner, the male partner would turn to me and say ‘Rebecca how do you think we should respond,’ or ‘Rebecca can answer that question,’” said Fair, MBA ’02, and managing principal for Analysis Group. “And he shared that opportunity, and together we fought that bias that was happening with our client contact.” 

It’s important to empower the people around you, Fair said, and include everyone in the discussion. Look to your male mentors to share the authority that they have — with you, she advised.

“Making it discussable in your own organization will help you deal with the broader context in the environment that we’re all interacting with,” Fair said. “It’s on us to share it with the women behind us, but, importantly, also to share with the men around us at all levels.”

A board position is an opportunity to learn 

Change on corporate boards is underway, as companies face pressure from investors and state governments to diversify their board rooms. Today, 20% of board seats for companies on the Russell 3000 index are held by women

Having a seat on a company board can offer a variety of learning and teaching opportunities for a female leader. A board seat can expose her to the issues the CEO is thinking about; it offers a behind-the-scenes look at the culture and challenges of the organization. 

At the same time, a board position can provide a way for this woman to help the company using the skills and knowledge she’s developed in her own career. But a board seat doesn’t equal carte blanche control, something people who hold or have held executive positions may be used to.

“You are not running the company,” said Adriane Brown, SF ’91, and board member for Raytheon, eBay, and Allergan. “You are not management, so you've got to elevate yourself. Get 30,000 feet up, really use your experience and your intuition and your knowledge to ask those questions instead of predicting and carrying it all the way down.”

Keep your questions simple and high level, Brown said. Once you get an answer, you can dig deeper.

Have the courage to know when to say yes or no

Mariafrancesca Carli, managing director at BDT & Company, knew she wanted to be in finance from a young age.

Despite her 30 years in a career she’s always wanted, there have been ups and downs, she said. The key during those down times, she added, is to have the courage to say no.

“If you are asked to change jobs, and you know that that is not what you need, follow your instincts,” said Carli, SM ’92. 

For women, “we know what is right. Sometimes we get convinced to do a different thing and we shouldn't. So being able to say 'no' and say to people ‘no, I'm going to do what I want,’ that avoids mistakes.” 

If and when you do decide to make a change, be proactive and look around you for help, Carli said. Build a system of mentors and sponsors both in and outside your current workplace.

“Take the courage to change at the right time,” Carli said.

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