Using Authenticity as Your Strategic Advantage: A Story

 Women in Innovation LuncheonPrior to this year’s Emerson Global User’s Exchange, I was part of an awesome team of women that produces our popular Women in Innovation Luncheon. This year, our keynote speaker was the passionate, driven and undeniably accomplished, Dr. Jen Welter. Jen Welter has built her career on being authentic and being first. She was the first female running back to play for a men’s professional league, the Texas Revolution; the first female to coach in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals; the first female coach to be featured in the Madden 20 video game series; and she is also now the first woman to leverage her professional sports network to help produce and coach Grrridiron Girls, a football camp for girls age 6-18. During this time of ground and glass-breaking endeavors, she also earned her Ph.D. is psychology. Today, she uses her on and off-field-experiences to motivate girls, boys, women and men (including our Exchange crowd of 400+ automation engineering professionals) to embrace who they are and use it as their strategic advantage.

If you’ve arrived at Emerson’s Women in STEM blog for this first time – welcome! I started this blog in 2016 to provide a voice for women (and men) in the STEM industries and create a community of inspirational stories and educational resources for those who are both struggling and thriving to be their authentic selves in an industry where they are quite often, the first. Since that time, we’ve published 97 blogs that garner 4,500 unique views-per-month and we have a small but mighty team of volunteers who help ensure our community of shared experience continues to have a place among the ginormous world of the internets.

One my initial takeaways from Dr. Jen’s presentation was this: “Each angle or cut of a diamond provides an entirely different sparkle.” So, wthout individual or unique cuts (aka: facets) a diamond would have zero brilliance! Since the signage board in my cube reads, “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond.” I suppose this is a sign that I should also weave in a bit of my own story.Text: Shine on You Crazy Diamond

I’ve been a member of the “professional” workforce for about (gasp) 20 years. Much of that time was spent in various marketing and advertising roles both on the creative and business sides of the discipline. Fun fact: In that time, I took a 3ish year sabbatical where I launched and managed my own successful Doggie Daycare Business that was eventually ranked among the top women-owned service businesses in San Francisco. Back to present day (or nearly) where I found myself in my 6th year of employment with Emerson in beautiful Austin, Texas. A few years ago, I began to feel as if I had conquered the marketing field – I had successfully learned and performed nearly every traditional and digital task and had advanced through a variety of career roles. I enjoyed my colleagues, our customers and working with people of various functional areas throughout the company. However, I was no longer getting satisfaction from my work. I was not growing, and I certainly was not stretching myself. In essence, I was way too comfortable.

After performing a lengthy inventory of my skills and motivations (which included a career coach, leadership training and more professional development and “pivoting” sessions than I care to mention), I decided it was time for something (almost) entirely new. I met with various department leads, managers and colleagues to understand what their roles entailed. Everyone was positive about my enthusiasm and very helpful, but I couldn’t help but feel that many did not understand how I could successfully make such a transition. Let me explain. Our organization is heavily stacked with engineers – engineers develop project estimates, engineers work in sales, they work in finance and yes, a healthy portion work in marketing. It’s part of our culture that engineers can do most any task they set their mind to – and to be fair, many can! However, those cross-functional career opportunities don’t always exist in reverse. It took a lot to sell others (and sometimes myself) on my ability to perform a role that only an engineer “could” do. I knew there would be an abnormally-high learning curve, but I was convinced that my relationship-building and communication skills in combination with a few topically-relevant growth presentations I had given in leadership training would make me a good candidate for a career pivot. Not everyone shared my optimism.

Jen Welters speaking at her KeynoteFor me, one of Dr. Welter’s most impactful pieces of advice is to use what’s unique about you (and what some may have pointed out as a weakness) as your strategic advantage. If I had to define that for myself, I’d say what makes me most unique is my ardor. In Dr. Welter’s book, Play Big  she states that she “had to seek out people and reasons that motivated me to play bigger than I could on my own.” And so, that’s exactly what I did. I sought out people in our organization who had previously believed in my abilities, had encouraged me and who were previous or current mentors to me (whether they knew that or not). Because I’m nothing if not transparent, there was at least one non-believer that very much motivated me as well.

Today, I am the Gulf Coast Business Development Manager for our Dynamic Simulation solutions also known as Emerson’s Digital Twin. I want to thank those who supported me and those who believed in my ability to perform this role – especially as the very first non-engineer to do so! I’m confident that the defining factor in my hiring decision was very much my authenticity and my ardor (also, the hiring manager pretty much echoed this fact.)

For other leaders and managers seeking ways to promote a culture of authenticity, Dr. Welter suggests these tips:

  • Treat your employees like (unique) people, not just as performers.
  • The answer to each and every, “I have an idea” statement should be, “Tell me more…”
  • Bet on your people, especially those who do not always bet on themselves (i.e.: women)

If you haven’t gleaned this yet, I’m a person who enjoys continual learning and growth. It helps someone like me be a bit more adaptive and agile than I’m prone to be. I’d also like to think I always couple that with authenticity. “Ultimately, what people will respect most about you is the consistency with which you are authentically you,” was another profound takeaway for me from Jen Welter’s keynote at Emerson Exchange and it’s (almost) the perfect way to close this story.

Alas, I’d like to add one additional bit of advice that really resonates with me (and will 100% be the next version of my cube signage.) I recently attended the Texas Conference for Women and attended a panel hosted by Mary Laura Philpott. A self-described perfectionist, she recounted a phrase that she frequently hears from her director when trying (unsuccessfully) to host a segment of the popular show, A Word on Words. That phrase is, “Do it again. More like you.”

So, is there something you’ve attempted before that didn’t quite pan out? Try combining the advice of the successful women in this blog: 1. ‘Embrace your authenticity and use it as your strategic advantage.’ and 2. ‘Do it again. More like You!’

PS: I mentioned that I was the originator of this blog, however, I no longer sit in the driver’s seat. I would be remiss if I did not give a huge shout out to  who now helps carry the torch AND mention that we are always seeking guest bloggers, so if you are interested in sharing your story, send Chelsea an email!