Three drivers consistently guide my actions and decisions in my life. The lifestyle I choose to live, the impact I want to make and the opportunities available to me. I think of my time and resources as cherished commodities, so I’m hyper focused on how I spend them. I thrive when I get up each day knowing I have the chance to do very meaningful work with people I care deeply about. Being my best self means I’m learning, contributing and having a blast doing it.
One of my first senior roles was leading a Fraud Prevention and Investigations area. I was very young at the time and the only female in my peer group of all retired law enforcement officers. At my very first in-person leadership meeting, the senior leader of our group handed me the rental car keys and told me I was free to spend the day shopping as I would not be needed in the business meeting. He said, “We’re in Dallas so maybe go get some cowboy boots or a hat.”
After being momentarily stunned, I explained that my boss had given me this job for a reason and I intended to do it. It was a tense couple of days but it solidified my passion to make Discover a place that all of us feel like we belong. I’ve been fiercely determined from that moment to ensure nobody else is ever made to feel marginalized because they don’t look or sound like everyone else.
I can remember the exact moment I found my voice. It was nearly a decade ago during a Diversity and Inclusion launch meeting. As I heard what we wanted to accomplish, I knew we had a big challenge facing us. Discover scored below average on an LGBTQ+ index to measure workplace equality. I took a deep breath, steeled my nerves and leaned over to share this with my manager at the time. He was unfamiliar with the index and asked to know more. I explained what I knew and he really listened. Then he said, “We have to do better.”
He followed up on it with our HR partners and started a movement to make progress. We scored 100/100 the following year and have every year since. Having a voice can be a source of pure empowerment. Having a leader willing to listen is how your voice creates lasting change.
A moment that changed everything
One evening at a large business dinner in the back room of an Italian restaurant, I had a three minute conversation that changed how I decided to show up as a leader every single day since. I was seated at a large round table with my team, enjoying delicious Italian food when a senior leader approached me. He knelt down next to my chair so we were eye-to-eye. He asked how my job was going and if I was enjoying it. I gave a simple answer that it was going great and I was loving it. Then he paused and looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You have no idea how much power you have. If you ever learn how to harness it, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.” He then stood up and meandered away.
My eyes still well up even today recalling that moment. It didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong, it was the permission he was giving me to embrace the power that comes with my role and influence in our organization. I think of that comment every single day and use it as motivation to really push myself to lean into the opportunities I have to move our business forward.
I started my leadership journey very young and early in Discover’s history. I’ve frequently been the only woman in the room or on a leadership team. I always saw that as a unique opportunity to prove to others that women belong at all those tables. I set a goal to always overachieve and be the example of what women can do so my male counterparts would be more accepting of the women following behind me. What I didn’t understand was the limitation that came from being the only woman. To truly harness the value diversity can bring, there must be more than just one. When you have at least 2 or 3 women at the table, you reach a tipping point from the contributions of that unique group. That’s true for all under-represented groups. One is simply not enough. We must find a path for others to join us so the synergy of diversity can be achieved.
I’ve made two major mistakes in my career. The first is how much invisible work I’ve done over the years. I’ve spent countless hours personally completing projects, doing research and polishing up presentations that didn’t create tangible value. I somehow thought my peers and leaders would mysteriously know that I was spending long nights and weekends completing all the extra work I thought was needed to meet our goals. As I now have a senior leadership role, I realize that invisible work is just that…invisible. We must learn to cherish our time and be laser focused on where we invest our limited energy. It’s a form of self-respect as well as a smart use of precious resources!
The second mistake I made was expecting my leaders to know what was best for my career. I thought they understood the needs of the business and my skill set better than I did, so I entrusted them to move me into roles and projects that would best match my skills and the business’ needs.
Fortunately, I’ve had extraordinarily talented leaders that did give me the opportunity to take on lots of new roles and valuable projects. But looking back, I wish I would have trusted my instincts on what work needed to be done and believed in my skill set enough to ask for what I wanted. It’s simply amazing how often that works…all it takes is asking!
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