Pivoting, Managing & Growing your Career: A Candid Conversation with Emerson Women in Leadership

Our first Emerson's Women in STEM PanelIt can be difficult for women to find female mentors and even more difficult to create an environment where women (and men) can ask candid questions, both professional and personal, to women in leadership roles. Recently, Emerson’s Women in STEM group held our first  Ask-Me-Anything panel and it was a resounding success. The lively discussion featured thoughtful insights and advice from key women at Emerson. In this blog, we’ll summarize a few of the questions, answers and key takeaways—we think you’ll find the advice is applicable for women in any career or company.

Q: Have you moved from a technical role to the business side of Emerson? If so, how did you accomplish the switch?

Vicky Harrison: [On moving into sales] I thought that I was going to lose my technical edge. I thought that I would just be going into this marketing and sales-type role. But, [the experience] ended up expanding my technical edge! Before, I worked only in refining and petrochemical industries and now I’m involved in every aspect that Rosemount touches. I also became a lawyer to better understand our business. It was not what I thought I would be doing in engineering, but I enjoy that my clients trust me enough to be in the foxhole with them.

: My first two roles out of school were working in a plant in product development and in a testing lab. To pivot from technical to commercial, a few things come to mind…1. Put yourself in a position where you can make that pivot, and 2. Let people know that you are interested in making a change and that you’re looking for opportunities that can help you. I worked on few special projects and was able to pivot my career more toward the commercial side of things. I also received my MBA a couple of years after coming into the workforce and I think that really helped me steer my career toward a more commercial or ‘business’ path.

Q: From your perspective, is having an MBA necessary?

: There are plenty of examples of successful leaders at Emerson who don’t have an MBA. I feel it’s important to understand what type of role you want, where you see yourself going, and if the [MBA] path could be valuable. Ask yourself “What is my goal? What’s my intention in wanting to pursue an MBA? Do I really want to make a career switch? Do I really want those business leader roles?” I’ve found that being honest with yourself is the key, and to a large degree, realizing that most business leaders do have some form of business background or an MBA. They have a clear financial perspective which is critical to understanding P&L.

 Q: Many of us have or will be asked “are you willing to relocate” in order to progress. Is relocating necessary?

:Your career is about gaining different areas of perspective and perspective can come in a variety of forms: It can be different functions. It can be different parts of the Emerson organization or different ‘business units.’ It can be different world areas. I think it really depends on what kind of perspective you’re trying to gain and what job you’re trying to do. There are sacrifices to be made, but ask yourself, “What am I trying to gain, what [new] perspective might I get, and is this what I see as the most important piece right now in my development as a person?”

Nina: I think having open communication with your manager about what your career aspirations are and what your limitations are is important. [Not relocating] doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have opportunities to continue to grow and expand.

Q: How do you manage a dual career household?AMA Panel

Vicky: I’ve told many young female engineers, “The male employee is having to leave their family; If you want to move up in career, you may have to leave your family also.” It’s not fair to ask only one gender to leave their family. If you expect to rise in your career, you will be expected to do the same things that [men] are doing. Back in the 70’s people were laughing at us and saying, “You’re an engineer?” Now, women have more opportunities to lead. And we’ve shown that we can do it.

Mary Ellen: It can be challenging. Often, somebody’s on and somebody’s not necessarily off, but, you’re supporting each other’s workloads and aspirations and you’re trying to flow together. At home, it’s important to figure out what you good at, where you can compromise, and what you can outsource. For example, he does the laundry [which is fantastic} and I do the dishes. We also now have cleaners [so worth it].

Q: Men often tend to gravitate toward each other socially, and that can bleed into work. How do you address the ‘accidental’ boys club?

Melissa: It really is a time investment. You need to make the time. It’s something I’ve observed because I travel a lot for my job. After dinner, do you hang out with everyone and talk and get to know them? Or do you immediately go back and work on emails? There’s part of me that wants to go back to my room “get stuff done” but, I also realize this may be a good time for me to get to know my team socially, so I need to make sure I’m there.

Nina: [On not being invited to golf outings] No one really knew that I was interested! People need to know that you want to be invited. Create that awareness that you’re interested. I will say I do get invited now. I am sometimes the only woman there, but I get the invitation now and that’s because people know that I’m interested, and I will go.

 (audience member and golfer): And don’t say “no” when you do get invited, you can’t complain about it and then not go.

Q: Women are sometimes expected to express themselves in a certain way. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had to restrain your opinion because it was not well received?

Mary Ellen: I’m more than willing to speak my opinion and my mind, and I feel like I should. There’s a reason why I have a perspective and want to share it. I am more thoughtful, though, in certain types of meetings. [For example] I try to always have data and make [my perspective} more factual when working with engineers, because male or female, they tend to react well to data. When having career conversations, I do the same thing. Here’s what you tasked me with. Here’s the expectation. Here’s what the number was, and here’s how much I outpaced it. Any time you can quantify and show results in a conversation, I think reactions tend to be better than what you expect.

Q: What is the key ingredient for success for a woman [at Emerson]?

Melissa: Ask for some feedback on yourself and really learn what your strengths and weaknesses are as they’re perceived by others. Figure out what your strengths are and use that feedback appropriately.

Vicky: Be adaptable. Life is crazy and it’s not always going to be exactly what you think it is. So be ready for the roller coaster and be ready for the ups and downs. It’s brought me to a great place in my career where I never thought I would be and its exciting and fun!

Mary Ellen: I would say courage. I think it takes courage to speak up and ask the tough questions and use your voice. It takes courage to walk up to the boys who are standing in a group and say, “Hey, what are you talking about?” It takes courage to relocate. It takes courage to say, “I’m interested in that role and I’d like to be considered,” or “I’m interested in this area and I want to be developed here. What do I need to do?”

Nina: Something that really resonated with me as a piece of advice is that it takes more than just hard work. Don’t expect people to just notice the good work that you do. I think you do have to work hard to be successful, but you have to go back to that communication piece and make sure that people know what you’re working on, what you’ve accomplishes and what you want to do in your career.

Have you received great career or work-life advice from a woman in your life? Share it with others by replying to this blog post.