Women in the workplace: advice to this generation.
Nancy: Today we’re talking to Angela Watson who is the Vice President of international sales for the Americas region at UPS, welcome to our interview. Angela, so tell me a little bit about how you got involved with UPS and why you stayed there.
Angela: That’s an interesting question. When I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas, I had a friend who said “Hey you should come and work for UPS, it’s a great company!” So I said “Ok, sure!” and I went as a part time employee. I was finishing up school and they came to me and they said “Hey have you ever thought about a career in sales at UPS?” And I said, “What do you sell?” Now keep in mind that this was is 1990. So, long story short, here I am 28 years later still in sales at UPS.
Nancy: Ok great, I like to hear about longevity in business and corporations. So we’ll get right into the questions [sure]. The first question, from your perspective, why is there still inequality in the workplace?
Angela: You know it’s interesting, I think there’s been a lot of significant progress in this area, I really do and I think it’s because a lot of companies especially fortune 500 companies are really working to focus more effort in trying to improve those equalities. They put together a lot of programs, some that are working very well. I think a big effect on the success of the programs has to do with, for example, flexibility in the workplace, that whole family-work life balance, that’s something that I think is critical and a lot companies are focusing on that.
There are many companies who are continuing to focus on strong mentorship programs, so I think that’s been successful for taking away the inequality from all these if you will. I think also I’m seeing more and more companies getting women more involved in the succession planning, and I think that’s important as you’ve got to have the women voice at the table, to have a voice in decision making. But really more than anything, it’s got to be a strong organizational focus on an effort to drive change. And you can’t just say that you have a program on place and expect that it will work, unless you are really focused on measurable activities to drive change, you’re never going to drive that change. So I think those are things that are being done to really improve the situation
Nancy: Beautiful, so it sounds like it starts from the top down and there’s a matrix in place to make [absolutely] sure that they get done [absolutely, that’s right]. Ok so the second question, how are companies like UPS embracing women employees, suppliers and vendors, C-suite decision makers?
Angela: So, I mentioned mentorship, earlier, mentorship is alive and well at UPS, and I think that’s been one of the areas where we have the most impact, but we’re also looking into trying to do what I would think are unique out of the box thinking. For example, just recently, we brought together a group of young women, or I should say young in their career who we’re looking to develop in certain areas and we said what we can do to really drive change massively.
Towards that end, we’ve done a couple of workshop, and so we started out and we said ok how can we focus our effort on certain target areas like building your brand? That’s an area where these women told us that that’s something they wanted some help with, so we created these workshops and quite frankly the change that we have seen in such a short period of time is that it’s paying dividends, it is and I’m really excited about that.
But not only has it done that, what that has allowed us to do as we bring these women together, is not just to develop them, but also it’s given us, some of us that are in senior leadership positions an opportunity to see these women in a different environment that’s very different than the normal day to day activity and has helped us to see a whole lot more in them than we ever would have had in normal situations, so I think that is something that’s been really important for us. I think that those types of programs will continue to help us be successful.
Nancy: Again, sounds like a win-win [right] so as a female in a leadership role, what is your approach to mentorship?
Angela: I would say informal mentorship I’ve found to work better for not only the mentee, but also the mentor. I think as a mentor, what I’ve always tried to do is help these people whether they’re men or women, see that you know what mistakes are ok, we’ve all made mistakes but if I can share with you some of the pitfalls and some of the opportunities that I have earned and I have gained by making those mistakes, maybe I can help you avoid those in the future.
I think it’s really important for us to share those learnings with young people, like I said, whether they’re male or female. I’ve also spent a lot of time as a mom, who not only works but has a family; I’ve tried to make people understand that you can have both. You can have that balance in life. It is important to have balance between your work and your personal life.
I also share with a lot of people and say when I was early on in my career, someone very high up the organization, from our management committee she gave some advice one day and she said, “Angela there’re going to be days when UPS has to be the priority, it just is, but there’s also going to be days when your family has to take priority. And it’s really important that you figure out what that balance is.” I think that’s a piece of advice that has always stuck with me, and is something that I feel compelled that I have to share with others because it is so important to have that balance in life.
Nancy: Beautiful. You realize that that person was very wise and are carrying it forward [absolutely] great, so let’s shift gears a little now and talk about generation X and Y. more and more generation X and Y are replacing baby boomers in leadership roles, and millennial are an important percentage of the workforce. What are the opportunities and the challenges that women face in the shifting cultural leadership and more importantly how women can benefit from a more diverse generational mix?
Angela: that’s a very interesting question, in that that’s one that I’m experiencing right now as we speak and I’m visualizing. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and you know what’s interesting is that I find that the younger generation today have a lot of confidence and I think that’s fantastic. I know I can see now because I have kids, I can see where this is coming from. They have great presentation skills, many times much better that their counterparts, who’ve had a lot more experience especially at this stage in their career.
I find that kids are being asked at a young age to develop business cases, to present them in front of a class, I find that they’re asked to work in group settings to help teach them how to work through those challenges when you’re in it in a group environment. You have to hold your teammates accountable, you have to make sure everybody does their fair share of the work and as we teach our kids to this at a younger age it really helps prepare them for things that I was never prepared for, maybe you were.
I find that those attributes really provide some great qualities in this younger generation. Now, at the same time there are some challenges, and they’re all challenges that we can work through with them but some of these folks and the younger generation have had a lot of success early in their career and they thrive on that, but I also find that sometimes they struggle a little bit when it comes to defeat or when it comes to things that don’t happen in their timeline like promotions for example. So these are all nuances of that generation that we can work through because I’d much rather have all the great things that they bring forward but they do have some challenges that again are posed when we look at this generation.
Nancy: I really I’m impressed by your answer because very often the conflict that occurs is intergenerational conflict right? [Absolutely] but the way you answered says let’s look at the benefits [that’s right] of both and work on those disadvantages because I guess you’re like me and you think that advantages far outweigh the disadvantages
Angela: That’s right, I know a lot of people who really struggle with that, a lot of people will really struggle with the differences but the reality is we’re in an environment today where we have to embrace those differences and we have to look at our leaders of the future and how we help develop them.
Nancy: So, from a leadership perspective what did you do differently from other female colleagues when you started your career that allowed you to get to your current position and maybe other females didn’t grow as much as you did?
Angela: I’m sure there’s probably a lot of things but what I’d say is I think it’s really important that you always consider those opportunities that you have, always take on the challenges that are put forward. Don’t shy away from the unknown, well; it might be a little scary, never ever shy away from it.
There’s always going to be obstacles that you’re going to have to overcome. There’s always going to be situations that you wonder how you’re going to get through but don’t ever give up. Always find ways to learn from the challenging situations and I think that’s some of the advice that I’d probably give to the younger generation
Nancy: Beautiful. Studies have shown that women in general need to feel much more confident than men, in general when it comes to taking a step forward
Angela: Agreed, and that’s part of the reason why we talked earlier about the branding workshop that’s part of the reason why building that branding workshop is to help give that level of confidence
Nancy: One more question [sure] if you were mentoring your early days self, what areas would you focus on? And what pearl of wisdom would you give a younger Angela Watson who is just starting her career at UPS?
Angela: That’s really an interesting question. There’s probably a lot of pearls of wisdom that I would give but I would say a couple of things, first, don’t ever say I don’t know or I don’t have any answer, because more than likely you know whatever question that’s coming your way has been a problem, has been a challenge . always share that this is an area where we’re exploring, there’s more work that needs to be done, we need to solve for this and we’re on our way there, you may not have the complete answer yet but you will have the answer and I think that you have to show the confidence in that level of understanding that there’s still work to be done. We don’t all have the answers, there’s work to be done, and it’s all in how you communicate it.
And I think another one that’s really important that I’ve found has helped me along the way is always try to find ways for collaboration, find ways to build consensus. Find ways to be a team player and draw out the best in everyone because everyone has a lot to offer and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what that is, but if you can find a way to collaborate and bring out the best in everyone who’s in your team, I think you’re going to be successful, your team is going to be successful and the entire org is going to be successful. That’s my thoughts
Nancy: Great, great advice you’d give your younger self. I think where you are today, you probably had some future wisdom back then to get you where you are today [thank you] so I want to, on behalf of our viewers and listeners say thank you so much and thank you to UPS for sponsoring this series. UPS is a great partner of women on this series and this is just yet another example of what you do for us, so thank you very much
Angela: Well you are quite welcome and I really enjoyed it Nancy and I really appreciate you coming in today as well