Truths from My Daughter
As Mother’s Day approaches, Joan Solotar, Blackstone SMD & Head of Private Wealth Solutions & External Relations, revisits her 2013 Harvard Business Review piece Truths for Our Daughters — with a new twist. In Truths from My Daughter, she asks her 22-year-old daughter Lindsay Solotar, who recently began her career as a management consultant, to share the truths she’s learned thus far starting out as a woman in the business world.
Unlike when I was pregnant and it felt like the entire female adult population descended upon me with earned wisdom, when I embarked on my career in financial services, the advice was scarce, the silence screaming “you’ve got this one on your own”. Four years ago this prompted me to write Truths for Our Daughters, in which I conveyed some of my hard-earned lessons to share with my daughter and others.
Since then, my daughter has grown from a college freshman to a 22-year old management consultant. I remain steadfast in believing that accelerated progress can come from replicating what’s working, and importantly, communicating those success stories. Letting young women know their hesitations are not uncommon and sharing strategies to power through the invariable challenges can help pave a straighter upward climb.
We all have our unique balance of confidence and insecurities, successes and setbacks. I recognize that I can be most helpful by letting my daughter draw upon my experiences and the collective wisdom I have already gathered from others and navigating through her own. I was fortunate enough to travel with my daughter recently and we spoke quite a lot about what she’s learned.
Lindsay: One thing my mom didn’t write in her first article but often says is, “nobody is standing behind you, so you need to promote yourself.” I heard this prior to my first interview for a freshman leadership conference, and she repeated it throughout the recruiting process during my senior year of college. Speaking about my best qualities and accomplishments as I searched for internships and full-time jobs is something that I particularly struggled with — it felt like I was bragging — but I had her voice in my head, and knew that there wasn’t anyone in the room to tell my story but me.
I previously hadn’t given much thought to the differences in how men and women approach their careers, but I do now. I majored in math in college, and maybe not surprisingly there were fewer women in the more advanced math classes. Today I am surrounded by many other female professionals, but I expect that if I find myself in the minority professionally, I will be well-prepared.
I asked Lindsay about her own “truths” and here is what she said:
· Be open to opportunities and not so rigid about a plan. I am by nature a planner but hearing that I didn’t need to figure out where I wanted to be in 20 years was helpful and left me more open in launching my career. I still don’t know where I want to be eventually, but I can already tell that I am acquiring a broad skill set and learning how to be a professional, which will help me regardless of whether I stay in consulting or move to a different profession.
· The little wins count more than you think and they build confidence. A small daily accomplishment in the office leads to another, and another, and so on, until our accomplishments and confidence both increase in size. It can be as simple as making a good slide, or speaking up in a meeting — once you are recognized for that, though, it encourages you to try it again.
· Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Of my mom’s “truths”, I push myself to live this one. Although I present as outgoing, I often identify as an introvert. Recognizing that I have something to offer in terms of valid insights and views has been crucial in stepping out of my comfort zone. The most significant piece of feedback I received after my initial project was to share thoughts and insights with the team more frequently. And doing it over and over again has made it easier. Even as a junior professional, I am an important member of the team and want to be as valuable as possible.
· Reach out to those who have gone before. My friends and I often leverage my mom as our go-to professional woman/woman in finance when we need advice. Whether it’s how best to ask for new responsibilities, prepare for job interviews, or something as simple as how she eats dinner alone when traveling, my mom provides us with valuable insights and guidance based on her own experiences. I think finding that person is key to navigating a new workplace.
· I see the line in the sand but am not quite ready to draw it. I have great role models at work of both men and women who are able to create satisfying work-life balances, where they are professionally successful while meeting personal goals (training for a marathon, studying for the GMAT, getting home to take care of their children). I see colleagues drawing lines in the sand, but at this early stage in my career, going “all in” at work is more feasible. However, watching others do so makes me understand that at the right point, I can do it as well.
· Get involved beyond the task at hand. If I were to generalize about my generation, I would say we want more out of work than just “work”. I think contributing to making the positive culture even better is win-win. I am active in recruiting, planning office events, and co-authoring a bi-monthly piece on social impact. Projects always come first, but in this way I am connecting with more colleagues, many whom are now friends, and weaving together my work and interests.
· Be true to who you are, even in your career decision-making. It is easy to feel pressured to pursue a certain career path based on what peers are pursuing, the “in” jobs, and the paths other family members took. But being true to your strengths and your interests is important regardless of gender, and I hope my brother, currently a freshman in college, gets this message.
Lindsay: When my mom first shared with me (and the world) her truths, I immediately sent the article to my friends. Her ideas resonated with me. I don’t think someone else can give you confidence, but I was reassured and benefitted from hearing that she felt exactly as I did at my stage. I found myself re-reading her article from time to time, especially before interviews and when I started my job. I hope I can embody her truths, add my own, and pay it forward to other women making their own paths.
Just as there is no perfect formula for raising children, there isn’t one for getting more women to the top. But arming young women with success stories can have real and positive impact. All of us can use a little nudge forward at times. On this Mother’s Day, share your story with someone who needs to hear it.