Some of the most important decisions about your career are made when you aren’t even in the room, so branding and positioning are key. One approach I have taken throughout my career has been to volunteer for projects and teams that offer me the opportunity to work with people other than my usual coworkers. This was true early in my corporate career, when I focused on cross-functional projects, and it’s still true today as I focus on broad community and industry work. Being able to work alongside individuals who you would not typically encounter allows you to build relationships and create awareness—of you, your capabilities, and your interests. In addition to the exposure you gain, you also surround yourself with people who think differently than you do, and you learn and grow in the process.
I believe that every experience I’ve had in my career has prepared me to be exactly where I am today. Yet there are those who believe I made a drastic change! I had a fabulous career, first at Amoco, then at BP, working my way through roles in product development, marketing, strategic planning, and M&A.
When my business unit relocated 12 years ago, I was offered, and accepted, a severance package, so that I could follow my passion of developing people. I bought a consulting business focused on leveraging the power of mentoring to help organizations develop top female talent, and found my calling. However, I contend that what I learned about corporate dynamics and leadership created the fundamental building blocks for my work today, and I know that my training as an engineer uniquely positions me for building the structures and processes that make our mentoring programs so very effective.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
In a formal mentoring program, I was matched with an amazing leader named Chuck Papageorgiou who unquestionably changed the course of my career. He had the ability to both push me and encourage me by asking hard questions, focusing me on action, and helping me to take charge of my career path. His intellectual challenge and ever-present question, “So, what are you going to do about that?” have helped me take charge of my career and given me the confidence to continually take on new roles.
Helene’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
When you are young, it is critical to insert yourself into situations that allow you to learn. This is the time to volunteer for special projects, ask to support the work of more senior peers, learn about different functions, and be a constant student of the business. There simply is no substitute for hard work, curiosity, or conscientiousness. Young women who perform at a high level and continue to ask for opportunities position themselves to move forward in their organizations.