In the event business we see a lot of great presentations in our line of work, but every once in a while there are narratives and impressions that really grab us.
This was definitely the case at the Salesforce Women in Leadership Luncheon, held recently at Aria Restaurant in Toronto, where we had the pleasure of hearing from four senior women at the top of their careers sharing their stories and the wisdom gained as they climbed the corporate ladder. Let me tell you, it was impossible not to walk away feeling inspired by their grit and humility.
The common themes linking all of the women’s words were a focus on resilience and being receptive to feedback.
Shirley Wright, Director Marketing, Salesforce Canada, welcomed the 100+ women gathered for the luncheon. She outlined the event theme, encouraging women to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Shirley set the tone with the warmth that is a staple to the approach Salesforce takes with both customers and employees. She introduced the audience to Salesforce’s focus on “Ohana,” a tradition built on the Hawaiian belief that families “are bound together and that family members are responsible for one another.” This belief has been carried over to form the basis of the Salesforce employee support system.
Throughout the luncheon, leaders stood to share their stories in an informal setting.
Rola Dagher, President, Cisco Systems Canada, kicked things off. Her message to the audience was to encourage the women in the room to “Not be as strong as you can be, but what you need to be.” This was a concept she was forced to learn in a life that has taken her from bomb shelters in Lebanon to being President of Cisco Systems Canada.
She told the audience that throughout her life and her career there was no option but to be uncomfortable.
Rola candidly shared her “holy shit” moments in her career with the final being the call she received on a Saturday morning telling her she got the job at Cisco. The first person she called, she told the audience, was her daughter. “Your passion for life and people will guide you,” she said. “Be passionate about what you do – be yourself and follow your heart.” She’s always trusted her instincts and her reliance on being genuine to guide her.
Jacqui Allard, Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy, Performance & Enablement, RBC, advised the audience that “Often the tough decisions that are super hard to deal with are the ones that create resilience.”
She told the women gathered that at RBC they’re called “enterprise athletes,” an appropriate term for the endurance it takes to build a career. She also noted that she prefers 50% to 60% of a new role to be out of her comfort zone when measuring a new opportunity, asking herself “Can I make a difference in this role? Do I have what the role takes?”
Allard believes that “resilience and confidence are learned and the only way you learn is to put yourself in a position to take risks.”
Rachel Huckle, Senior Vice President, Health and Wellness, Shoppers Drug Mart, shared her career path, one that has taken her from being a pharmacy assistant to operations to Senior Vice President. Along the way, “I was told ‘no’ many times but never gave up.”
She advised the women in the room to be wary of “measuring opportunities through the lens of skills you don’t have versus what you do have.” At every challenge, she said, she had to learn to “Change the narrative in my head – focus on what I’m good at. My ability to learn will help me achieve what I don’t know.”
“Don’t be afraid to take chances,” she encouraged. “It’s okay to be afraid but change the narrative in your head. Ask why you’re feeling that way – what are the driving forces behind it and then shift your focus to what skills you do have to achieve success.”
Leen Li, Chief Financial Officer, Wealthsimple, shared her journey from growing up in rural China to moving to Canada and learning English at the age of 25.
“Surround yourself with people you trust to help you grow,” she advised. She recounted her experience of learning to face the hard truth when she was turned down for a promotion. She was told the difference between being a Director and a VP is how you manage and motivate people.
Determined to find out why she sucked at “this people management thing,” Li took the time to reflect on what she was missing. Her learning included a clear recognition that the “First thing you need to do as a leader is to understand people.” She asked for six months to get it right and got the promotion she was looking for.
“How we grow,” she said, “is to look at ourselves in the mirror and see the worst and the best. Be honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you suck at. Then make a plan for how to get to where you want to go. Surround yourself with people you trust to keep you honest and push you.”
If there’s one thing we learned from this inspiring and insightful presentation is that despite the fact many women make it look easy, everyone fails. It’s how you pick yourself up from those failures that define a career. Make new mistakes, learn, take risks, challenge yourself and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
While the event’s theme and messaging may have focused on grittiness, we couldn’t resist the touch of femininity woven throughout. The afternoon was capped off with a luncheon that included champagne, because after all, every celebration needs some bubbly! There was also a flower market, because who doesn’t love flowers in their lives? And a Kate Spade giveaway because, well, um, it’s Kate Spade!