Leader SpeakLeaderspeak with Janet Lewis Team Meytier 

This is the first piece in our Leaderspeak series. We'll speak to leaders across the globe that inspire us about empowering women, hiring teams, their career journeys, and much more. Stay tuned for more.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of how I balanced my personal and professional life. Balancing between the two was an endless internal negotiation. I had to come to terms with the fact that it would never be perfectly balanced and to accept the tradeoffs. You are never going to be able to give both parts of your life equal share at any given time. So balance is not about giving 50/50 to your personal and professional life, balance is the constant seesawing between the two, which fluctuates minute by minute. By accepting that balance meant give and take, I was liberated from the guilt I felt when I couldn’t give my all to everyone (that’s not to say I didn’t grapple with some serious mommy guilt from time to time). I was able to manage that back and forth well which is in part due to having a great support system at home (a partner/family/friends who support my professional dreams and at home childcare) and at work (supportive colleagues, mentors, great managers).

What are the few things you think firms could do better to support women reaching leadership levels?

During a job interview early in my career, a senior male executive asked me “do you intend on having children?” The honest answer was, “OF COURSE I PLAN ON HAVING CHILDREN!” I was recently married and couldn’t wait to have kids. Maybe not right away, but it was definitely something I wanted. But I knew the answer he wanted to hear. So I didn’t exactly share my personal feelings about motherhood and said I wasn’t planning on it at the moment. When I look back, it’s clear that being a working mother was an issue for him. If I was going to have children, how could I possibly deliver the revenue targets? I wound up having three children over the course of my career and moved up the ranks while I met and exceeded expectations. Nowadays you couldn’t even ask that question which shows progress but there is still so much work to be done. Companies are now realizing the importance of supporting working parents through programs that provide the time needed for families, BOTH mother and father.

As for supporting women reaching leadership levels, there needs to be continuous mentor programs that aid in the identification of skills overall and as part of those programs the ability to work alongside other senior level professionals to learn through real life experience. As we continue to develop the next generation of working women, we must acknowledge the need for more awareness and that starts at the top of an organization. Addressing skills gaps and committing to inclusion are some ways organizations can assist in the change.

We also find that women just have less infrastructure for support when it comes to navigating the workforce. Who mentors who, if all of the executives are men, who are they going to seek out to invest their time in?

My experience, as a woman and a mom of three daughters with a 30 year career in Financial Services sales and strategy, has taught me that when companies address culture, inclusion and diversity as a priority, progress is accelerated. Women need to also lean in, raise their hands and use their voice. Men can be wonderful mentors as well. This should not be exclusionary by any means.

What qualities do you value most when hiring for your team? What's the most telling question you always ask in an interview- and why?

Communication, collaboration, customer orientation and integrity are starters. I always ask, “Describe a time when your team failed to complete a project on time? What would you do differently? Describe a successful team project you worked on? What was your contribution?” It's important to ask situational questions to candidates to see if they have the right behaviors for the job and exhibit core company values.

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?

Take risks. It's ok to fail. Raise your hand higher.

How do you individually support women navigating the corporate ladder?

I mentor a number of women who are at different stages in their career. In those discussions, I ask them what they aspire to and why. It’s important to be able to describe your goals with clarity and focus. Additionally, we discuss the skills required and what positions and experiences will lead to growth to get to the next level. Speaking with honesty, integrity, and vulnerability is key.

Who helped you believe in yourself and gave you the confidence to rise into this role? And how do you pay it forward?

It’s a combination of things but first and foremost, I believed in myself and was my own advocate. Identifying my goals and aspirations helped me maintain focus along the way. My confidence grew out of a key experience- my first backpacking trip to The Cirque of the Towers in Wind River Range, Wyoming, which is in the Bridger Wilderness in Bridger-Teton National Forest. I set out knowing that my goal was to hike through the wilderness and ascend 12,000 ft. to the summit. Even though I was prepared and trained, there were many unknowns (switchback challenges, altitude, avalanches, bears, fatigue) that I couldn’t plan for. I learned a lot about myself through this experience. Plan for the unexpected! Plans evolve and need to be reworked constantly. Despite the challenges I faced, I didn’t turn back as I always had my sights set on climbing to the summit. The summit guides me daily.

In your professional life- have you ever been the only woman (or one of the only women) at the table? How has that experience shaped you and how you work now?

Yes of course. I learned how to develop myself and grow in a field that I was passionate about and wanted to be successful at. I learned to use my voice, raise my hand higher and garner supporters along the way.

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