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FEATURED SPEAKER - Fi Europe 2017 Women's Networking Breakfast
Rosalie Harrison is an inspirational woman who holds more than 25 years of working experience in the fields of labour and employment law, pharmacy and healthcare. Ahead of Rosalie’s presentation at the Women’s Networking Breakfast which will be held during the Fi Europe 2017 we asked her a few questions regarding challenges women face in pursuit of their careers and her interpretation tackling them.
Can you give a brief introduction about yourself? What is your role as an International Consultant at Borderless Executive Search? Why do you find yourself in this position today?
‘I’ve had a varied and rewarding career path, which has evolved in phases (like many women) in a non-traditional way. I started as a Registered Pharmacist, working in large clinical teaching hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry, where I was exposed to both R&D and sales roles. I returned to law school and spent the next 14 years as a partner in an international law firm focused on employment law. I worked heavily with clients from Asia and Europe, who were trying to bridge the cultural gaps of managing people and organizations in the US. My family then moved to Europe (Germany and Belgium) and I discovered Borderless, after immersing myself for a few years in family and expatriate life. At Borderless, I am combining my Life Sciences background with my deep love for the employment relationship and that “Borderless” expatriate overlay. I am now a Partner at Borderless, where I help clients and candidates find new ways of working in diverse and inclusive ways, whether through the placement of capable leaders or through programs designed to promote and support such environments.’
Recently you published an article depicting a situation where you were asked to consult an international client about some additional programming for their high performing women. You described their approach as completely outdated. What do you feel is the right approach to encourage women to pursue leading careers?
‘I literally want to scream every time I see programs that are aimed at “training” high performing women. It is clearly unnecessary (i.e., they are already high performing!) and it sends such a demoralizing message to the women and undermines their credibility with the rest of the organization. I also find it quite discouraging to see us discussing the same topics that have been circulating for professional women since I entered the job market 35 years ago. Women choose their education and professions for a variety of reasons, and these reasons are not unique to women. Women who strive for leadership, like men, want to be engaged in their fields of expertise; they want to contribute to their businesses in meaningful ways; and they want advancement opportunities so they can continue to grow and develop. If you want to encourage women to seek leadership, I suggest a two-step approach. Provide them with energizing ways to contribute to the business and remove the obstacles within the organization that prevent them doing so. My advice to women? Go for those leadership opportunities, but proactively seek a way of working that works for you. You likely won’t (and shouldn’t) lead like your predecessor. Do not be afraid to ask for what you need to successful.’
From a highly experienced professional’s point of view, what are some of the main struggles women face throughout their career? What are some effective ways to deal with them?
‘Well, it is important to note that women are diverse, as are their struggles. Nonetheless, some generalizations can be made that will probably resonate with a majority of women. In my experience, most of the struggles women face professionally continue to revolve our undeniable need for flexibility in a corporate environment that is still clinging to its traditional ideas of success and power. Women have a wide range of (work and non-work) ambitions and responsibilities and they need to work differently in order to meet these needs. In addition, there are still too many work environments where women are tasked with overcoming institutional obstacles (overt or subtle) at the higher levels of advancement, which is simply exhausting. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the prevalence of sexism that still exists as a struggle for many women in many industries and areas of society. You need not look any further than today’s newspapers or the recent “me too” campaign to acknowledge that this is still a major struggle (and maybe even one that is making a comeback of acceptability). I advise women to embrace the flexibility they need. Unburden yourself from traditional notions of success, leave environments that are not flexible, maintain your own vitality, and manage your own career in a flexible manner. This may open a world of opportunities. ‘
What are some tips that you can provide for women who would like to progress in their careers? What is the best way to make yourself be heard?
‘At any stage of career change, it is first important to know what you want. I always advise people to look at their professional lives from three perspectives: (1) What am I passionate about? (2) What am I good at, i.e., what value do I bring to an organization?; and (3) What type of environment am I willing/wanting to work in? If you can reflect on these three aspects of your career, you will be able to more clearly identify your focus for that next step. You will also be better prepared to position yourself for it. It is further really important to make sure that you have the proper support structure you need for that next step, whether on-the-job or at home. This may mean proactively proposing a different way of doing a job than it is presented in the job description or it may entail making different arrangements for family obligations and caretaking. Finally, if you want to be heard, you must actually apply for job opportunities and let the relevant people in your work environment know that you are seeking that next level of challenge. Putting your head down and just working really hard is often not sufficient. You must instead actively seek that next promotional opportunity.’
You will be presenting at the Women’s Networking Breakfast during the Fi Europe Conference. Why do you find it important to participate in these kind of events?
‘I am quite passionate about supporting women in their careers and ambitions. I also want to challenge women to create a dialogue about the evolution of the workplace that is relevant and visionary for the future, not just for women, but for everyone. It is time to replace traditional concepts with smarter work environments. We are also at an exciting time of change, where our positioning as women in the talent pipeline is giving us more power than ever to demand the changes we need. In addition, the work environments that women have always needed are supported by technological advances and are also now being sought by the next generation of workers (men and women). It is absolutely the time to be having the right discussions and taking action.’