• Jill Volpe Kirk

A seat at the table



Every person in the expanse of their career has had a challenge achieving a work-goal. Compensation, job responsibilities, recognition of efforts or status has plagued us all at one point in time. Moving up the “corporate ladder”, or the intentional decrease of role in support of life choices will inevitably shake things up- for one’s manager and of course, themselves. Career accomplishments vary per each individual, though one that I have personally struggled with is sitting at the table.


Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, author of Lean In and ultimate champion of women finding their ideal work scenario said it best in her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013)”, “But I also know that in order to continue to grow and challenge myself, I have to believe in my own abilities. I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.” My struggles have not only been male versus female, manager versus employee but myself versus myself. I hope in this post I can identify that feeling clearly in hopes that you struggle less and accomplish more.


Neither of my parents graduated from higher education- in fact I am the first person in my extended family to graduation from a University. Born and raised in an environment where success is the ability to travel once a year and afford the car payment was our life. My parents wished for nothing more than my happiness-whatever that would eventually mean- and worked hard to ensure that would happen. When it came time for college applications my Father told me his wish, “for you to wake up and look in the mirror and love what you do”. As we watched the mass exodus of the auto industry from Michigan destroy my family, their focus turned to the “one who would make it”. From day one I knew I would accomplish something great, though how would I compete with those who had the edge? Where higher learning is not a privilege but an expectation, and whose social circles extended past their high school district lines? How would I level the playing field? What IS my playing field?


KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW- IDENTIFY YOUR EXPERTISE

Fast forward through two universities, a few internships, many side jobs and ultimately into a career that I am proud of and [in my opinion] quite good at. My promotions were regular, my attendance was requested, my work had value. Why? I had a mentor day one, our open office environment promoted team work and I had no idea what I was doing except for my specific job. We were lean- I needed everyone- our team dynamic and productivity was centered around the fact that we required each other to forecast, to project, to plan and to sell. As important as I was one minute, the floor was never mine- we were in symbiosis with the needs of the growing business and that is only because every individual brought something very different to the table.


TO SUCCEED YOU HAVE TO FAIL

Why would I leave such an amazing company, you ask? I wanted a challenge… I craved validation on a new stage where the ship would be mine and the pace fast. My next move was rushed and in the interview process for this company I was told, “We don’t have exactly what you want, but we have something close.” I heard the compensation package and said yes immediately, not asking the very pertinent questions that would have me quit the company nine months later. My hours were long, my manager’s turnover was high and the moral was poor. The rush to “tick the box” clouded my rational, and I never once contributed to the conversation this company was having to its customers. I came, I saw, I executed… until I quit with no job.


BECOMING AN EXECUTIVE

Post tragedy came triumph as I secured a job with my first of two UK companies who were looking to increase their presence in the US. I was and had been a manager and I was working on my first executive title. Six months into the job my back and forth emails with head of finance in the UK brought me to my first conference call with his team. “Leslie? This is Leslie? I thought you were a man this whole time!” Immediately I realized our partnership was founded where it should be – in the work. I had successfully overcome a hurdle that I never knew I had to jump. My place at the table was set, I just had to find the guts to speak up.


Ultimately named Director at my final “corporation”, I will never forget my first review. Solving problems, revitalizing business, managing teams, forming strategies I was working hard and winning big. Surely this would be a great meeting. Prepared, confident and ready we sat to review my first years’ performance. “Good, good, good, except you are very defensive when receiving criticism”. WHAT? This is still something I have to overcome. Taking so long to build the confidence to ask what I want and receive it, I lost something along the way that will stifle my growth forever. If the people around you care enough for your success, please listen to what they have to say. This man wanted nothing but for me to succeed. Later this manager supported me as I went through two rounds of IVF and a 6 week bedrest period. If that is not genuine support, then what is?


FIND YOUR TEAM

When I was asked by my boss to return back to work one year after my babies were born, I had no idea where to begin to negotiate. I was out of the game for a year in an industry that is trend-dictated, I had anxiety about leaving my children, and returning as a consultant challenged my ownership in a team that I created. Lost is an understatement. I will never forget I told friends at a dinner party that I was considering returning to work, and one gentleman said, “Oh you are just bored- go shopping.” Mind you I was looking for advice from friends at navigating my path back into the workforce. What do I charge as a consultant? How do I explain my need to work part time from home? Can I actually get work done in my house? On April 6, 2016 I reached out to a new friend and asked how to begin… one of her many suggestions was to “ask for the moon”. She did not know me in a work capacity, for all she knew I was a horrendous worker and meant to be a stay and home parent for life (by the way, the most demanding job that exists). Her unbiased opinion coupled with my husbands very biased opinion led to a consultant job for my previous employer for over a year. Upon completion of that project, my next and current gig was to create Accomplish… with that woman.


IN SUMMARY

I am a self declared CFO of a tech startup. My background is in Corporate fashion. I loved my previous career and love Accomplish even more. We are forging new ground daily, creating a marketplace for you to be exactly what you want to be- when you want to be it. May we all wake up one day with a seat at that table, though until then, go make one for yourself.

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