Saturday, January 22, 2011

Interview with Susan Bulkeley Butler

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Bulkeley Butler. Susan is the author of two books Become the CEO of You Inc and Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World which I reviewed here.  In her interview she provides insight and lessons learned from her career as the first female partner of Accenture, a major consulting firm..  While reading her answers, I felt as if I was working with my own personal career coach. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

What piece of advice or knowledge do you wish you had known at age 18?

Be responsible for who you are and who you want to become. You should be the "CEO of You, Inc." Like managing a company that means managing your life to make sure "You Inc." is successful not just today, but also in the future. You need to invest time in "You Inc." to ensure you are all you can be at every stage in your life and career.

As the CEO of "You Inc.," you need to:

*Develop your aspiration for who you want to be

*Develop your "Board of Directors" - a team to advise you

*Develop your plan to achieve your aspirations and then work your plan.

None of this is necessarily easy, but it puts you in charge of where you are going, with the help of others to provide advice and counsel and a plan to make your future happen rather than let it happen to you.

Additionally, it is important to realize the difference between a job and a career. I had a job for the first four years of my career. I didn't know the difference and I didn't realize the impact until I didn't get my first real promotion. Know the difference. What you do every day helps you build who you are and where you want to be in the future.

What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today?

Most women have the desire to have children. Therefore, when and how they integrate children with what they hope to achieve for themselves becomes an obstacle. My philosophy is to begin your career with the idea you will be at your employer for the long term (men think we are short timers) and focus on achieving all you can achieve.

When it is time for you to think about starting a family, find role models. Determine how integrated having children with having a career. Two-career families the norm today; the mom who stays at home for her entire life is no longer the norm. And doing everything we do at 110 percent is not possible when you have work, family and a home to manage. Look to others for "best practices," particularly for your career and the roles and responsibilities at home.

Has that obstacle changed over time or does it basically remain the same?

Progress is being made, but women still talk about work/life balance before they are even married, or thinking about starting a family. My philosophy is, make decisions based on the deck of cards you have in your hand today.

When you begin your work life, be committed to your work, determine your aspirations and do the best work you can for your employer. When your deck of cards changes to include a family, rethink your aspirations. Think about how you might continue working less hours and/or from home, with your aspirations dialed back and your shared responsibility for your family. My friends who wrote What Happy Working Mothers Know say that children want their moms to be happy, and that doesn't mean they need to be around 24-7.

In your book Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World, you didn’t discuss physical appearance. One of my biggest regrets is wasting so much time obsessing about my appearance when I was younger. I wish I would have spent this time learning something new and discovering who I was. Do you have any thoughts on the media’s portrayal of women and women’s obsession with appearance?

I am amazed at the percentage of young girls who are obsessed about their appearance at such young ages. According to one study, 42 percent of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner. I was heavy as a young girl, but never was obsessed about my weight.

I talk about the importance of "packaging." Think of a product in a store. Sometimes it's the packaging, not just what's inside it, that convinces us it's the right product for us. On the other hand, we might miss getting the product we really need if it's not packaged properly.

Within 5-10 seconds, people have a perception of you based on how well you are put together - your confidence, your body language, the way you dress, make eye contact and shake hands and how you walk, sit and listen.

Packaging, not thinness or beauty, reflects who we are, and who wants to be with us.

What factors do you think contributed to your success at Accenture? Would those same factors be applicable today?

Being a team player, being strategic, working hard, being creative, learning from my mistakes, focusing on the future rather than the past, asking questions, having a point of view, developing members of my team, taking risks, being financially responsible and not being afraid to ask for help.

I had a plan, and others confirmed it. Two partners said, "Susan, you can be a partner and we will help you get there." They mentored me to help develop my skills, package my product, and look and act like a partner, the position I aspired to be in.

Women sometimes believe they need to do everything themselves or it shows weakness. And they believe they will be "tapped" on the shoulder, once people see their good work.

I would rather make things happen for me, rather than let things happen to me.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Create your future and make it happen. This is about putting yourself in the driver's seat of your life; you are in control of the direction you're going instead of just going along for the ride. You are going in the direction you want to go, not the direction somebody else thinks you should go.

What has been the biggest mistake you ever made?

There were times I found myself in situations where I didn't really know what to do next. I had been given an assignment to do, and when I went to my office to do it, I really didn't know where to start. I received an evaluation of my performance which was less than satisfactory and I had no idea why I received it and what I needed to do to change it.

My advice:
Make sure you understand what is being said to you, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand. Ask for examples of what you need to do. And in the case of changing my evaluation, I should have asked what I needed to do to be better and also if the person would be willing to be on my team to help me make the necessary changes.
Did you ever let them see you cry?

Yes, when I didn't get the promotion that I expected. And I have provided Kleenex to people to use, usually when they got bad news. This was before I and a lot of women in the work force received the message that it "isn't cool to cry." Women are emotional and do need to find a way to let their emotions go. Keeping them inside is not the way. You need mentors and other special friends to talk with when something unexpected happens.

Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you or your book?

The 100th anniversary of the Women's Right to Vote will be August 26, 2020. To each of your readers, I would ask: How are you going to help bring about equality for all women? Women deserve to be equal partners with men as we continue to make this world better for everyone. We are on this earth for a reason. Everywhere we invest our time, we need to make a difference for our having been there.

Otherwise, why are we here?

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