Ruth talks to GGF about strategies for workplace success, revealing how to adapt those strategies to the size of your company. She shares the wisdom she’s gained as a woman on a all male management team.
You manage 40 colleagues, all of them men. What is it like to work with and manage so many guys?
I’m so used to it, I don’t even notice it any more. But I have had to employ different tactics to compete in a man’s world. Men will continually push for the next thing – a promotion, a raise – even if they’re not ready for it.
The women I’ve managed, on the other hand, are more honest about what they’ve achieved and what they haven’t. They will voluntarily apologize for the one thing they haven’t, which can undercut everything they have done.
Have you noticed any other difference between men’s and women’s approaches to work?
I’ve seen women lose it and cry in the workplace over, say, a promotion they didn’t get. I feel like that hurts women’s ability to climb effectively. Sometimes men will give women something because they’re crying, but this sort of consolation cheapens the deal.
Have you ever cried at work?
I never have.
Has anything made you come close?
About a year ago, I received a new responsibility in addition to my full time job. I knew it would be too much, but it was a great opportunity. I managed the new business for six months and then, out of the blue, management pulled me aside in a room and said, “We’re taking that business away from you,” with some explanation that it was too much on top of what I was already doing. By then, I had really wanted to keep it. The experience made me doubt myself.
I didn’t cry at work but I went home and complained to my husband.
What perspective did he have to offer you over the experience?
He reminded me that if you like managing, growing a business, and problem solving, opportunities abound. He encouraged me to continue to excel at my original role–to appreciate having the time to do something well, to be able to really commit to what I was doing on a daily basis.
Needless to say, I didn’t lose any steam in my career over the situation. Rather, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed working with my original team; we grew the business significantly in the year that followed.
What’s your advice to women trying to advance their careers?
You must publicize your successes outside of your direct management, particularly in large companies. I started out working at a 1,200-person company called DoubleClick in 2003, which ended up getting acquired by Google in 2007–which has a staff of 33,000. At a company this size, it is hard to stand out.
You can do this, for example, by sending out your sales results in an email as a sort of update, without having it cross over into gloating. Your higher-ups may use the information in their presentations, so it could actually be helpful.
Also, find yourself a mentor, someone plugged into the company who knows how to get things done quickly.
And at smaller companies?
At a smaller company, results often speak better for themselves, especially in sales. I sold one of the largest online advertisers into DoubleClick and everybody noticed. It ultimately led to a quick promotion.
If you had known at the beginning of your career what you know now, what would you have done differently?
I wouldn’t have sat in an accounting role at a large consumer products company for as long as did when I graduated college. Really, no one is further from an accountant than me. I’m a total extrovert. I learned a lot of skills, but I was unhappy. After four or five years, I finally went back to get my MBA at Wharton.
I wanted to be a brand manager in consumer products, but eventually realized consumer products business was much slower moving than tech. What I do today is really on the front lines of tech; it’s fast-moving, that’s why I love it. It’s hard to get bored.
What have you learned about personal finance along the way?
I knew from early age I didn’t want to be dependent on a significant other for financial security. I figured out the basics pretty quickly: diversify and save. It’s so easy to put yourself in position where you are so leveraged that you have to take a job you don’t really like.
So is saving a big focus of yours at this point in your career?
Yes. But, particularly for salespeople, you should set goals, and, after a great quarter, reward yourself. I just went skiing in untracked power in British Columbia, probably the best skiing of my life. It was worth the price tag–every powder turn was priceless. If you are a skier, you know what I mean.
Any other advice for women in the workplace?
Be focused but flexible. Your job doesn’t have to be limited to the mission they put in front of you, especially in a big company. Keep your ears open to opportunity and keep your networks fresh and varied. We all get so invested into our work, it’s important to hear viewpoints outside of our routines.
Be focused but flexible. Your job doesn’t have to be limited to the mission they put in front of you, especially in a big company.
Have a sense of humor. I don’t appreciate spending time with people who can’t laugh at life’s idiosyncrasies. Taking yourself too seriously is never a recipe for success.