#WomenExcel: Don’t be afraid to sit at the head of the table
Celebrated globally on March 8, International Women’s Day recognizes the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. AECOM has devoted the Impact blog to featuring women leaders across the globe throughout the month of March. Join us here as we recognize the accomplishments of our staff around the world, embrace diversity and promote gender parity.
One of the first women enrolled at UC-Berkeley, my grandmother, Margaret, was an entrepreneur who believed in me from the start. She looked after me often as a child, and I remember her marching in the door of my home and saying to my siblings and me with great authority, “When grandma’s here, the rules change.” Then off we’d go to a restaurant, each with a “budget” to spend on our dinner selection. This was not just a meal, this was a financial transaction.
When I was 10, she bought 100 shares of Wendy’s stock for me to “manage,” and when we (occasionally!) ordered fast food, we only ate at Wendy’s.
“This is your investment,” she’d say. “You’re a shareholder and we’re investing in your business.” Then she’d take me in to Wendy’s to purchase 20 hamburgers, and we’d give them to the homeless.
She gave me a lot of advice in her long, incredible life, and I credit her with teaching me that I’m a businessperson first — who happens to be a woman — and that understanding is what’s led me to pursue leadership roles throughout my career.
I’ve been blessed with so many incredible mentors on my career journey, and the lessons continue today. The best advice I’ve received so far is to always come to the table with a point of view and a willingness to say, “yes, I’ll do it,” and figure it out. This is the mindset that separates leaders. That’s why I encourage my team members to jump in and tackle challenges that aren’t their core strengths. I’ve seen so many people skyrocket into new opportunities by taking a leap that pushed them outside of their comfort zone.
There was an interesting study done on workplace gender differences. It showed that when a woman considers a new opportunity — say, a new job — with 10 qualifications, she would need to fit all 10 criteria before she’d apply, while a man might say, “I’ve done six of these things really well — I’m in, I’ll figure the rest out.” Many women feel this need to be perfectly prepared, and are so often fearful of failing. Perhaps that’s because as girls, we were taught to follow the rules and were rewarded for doing so. But in the business world, those who challenge conventional wisdom and take risks rise to the top.
I recently attended a networking event where one of the few open seats was at the head of the table. I watched as many women entered the room and grabbed a chair off to the side — as I’ve done countless times myself. Moments later, a man walked in and planted himself in that seat without hesitation. We have an incredible opportunity to change the life trajectory for our daughters by showing them that they can take risks, and they can sit at the head of the table (even when they’re terrified inside). We can teach them to “fail forward” and to not be afraid to color outside the lines — and the best way to do that is to show her firsthand how it’s done.
Heather Rim is AECOM’s senior vice president and chief communications officer, overseeing all aspects of AECOM’s enterprise communications including brand management, public relations, employee communications, social media and digital communications. She serves on the boards of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Downtown Women’s Center.
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