March marks Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, a time to recognize women’s achievements and leadership – past and present – and look towards the future. To celebrate the occasion, we’re kicking off a series of conversations with women executives across Capital One about their careers and the top issues for women in business. First up: their thoughts about how women can empower each other and reflections on the moments that made their careers.
What challenges are women in business running up against today, and how can they overcome them?
"One issue I see is that there is still a relatively low percentage of women in executive leadership positions. There are all kinds of inherent challenges in the business world that may contribute to that figure being low, but the repercussion is that you have a very low ratio of female executives available to guide and mentor the next generation of up-and-coming female talent. This seems like a challenge for the throngs of women that are entering and rising in the workforce and who may be seeking role models and mentors in their career that are more like themselves." – Mili Mittal, Senior Director, Card
"I think our top challenge is not bringing our whole self to work, because we are trying so hard to play by men’s rules. I believe we can overcome that by embracing our whole self – whether it is being a mother, a wife, a successful professional, role model, daughter – and not letting those things limit us, but use our experiences outside of work to make us better. In my personal experience, once I became a mother, I actually became more productive and efficient with my time at work, because it had to count more, as I chose to no longer spend 11-12 hours at work every day. It also made me a more empathetic leader and I believe a better coach, because I allowed my nurturing side to shine." – Clary Leffel, Senior Director, US Card Brand Strategy
"Many of the challenges we face are similar to what men grapple with as well – experience, confidence, finding balance, etc. That said, I think it’s harder for women to find female professional role models who challenge us and that we can emulate authentically. That’s changing, and I’m grateful for the many mentors I’ve had (of both genders!) that have inspired me in different ways throughout my career." – Lauren Connolley, VP, US Card
"I think the biggest challenges are changing. Several years ago, it was about being seen as someone who could take on bigger work. Today, I believe it’s about delivering solid results and increasing leadership skills. More opportunities abound and more companies are working hard to recognize their associates rather than seeing them as siloed types of people. The biggest challenge in this environment is finding an organization that is a good fit for your style and skills. The details about fit often don’t show themselves until a woman is already in the role and has a few months of experience. If a woman who aspires to continue to grow finds herself in a culture that doesn’t have opportunities for women to grow or has a culture that puts women in uncomfortable positions, my recommendation is to find a new job. There are many healthy cultures out there." – Linda Apsley, VP, Technology – Data Engineering
When you think about your career, was there a defining moment that helped get you where you are today?
"I wouldn’t say there was a defining moment, but rather a defining characteristic: risk-taking. Throughout my career, I’ve made a series of decisions to jump into the unknown (or even better, jump into the completely terrifying). For example, early in my career, I made a move within the consulting company I worked for to help them build a new business. I was prepared to move into any practice area of the company that was launching a new business…except for the IT consulting practice. I had ZERO interest in IT and knew nothing about it. But, that was the only place they were building a new business at the time, so, after much deliberation, I bit the bullet and went for it. As a result, I not only gained a product development and entrepreneurial toolkit, but found myself eager to learn more about technology. Ultimately, this risk would lead me to the terrifying and exhilarating decision to launch my own tech company, go work for a bank (who would have thought?!) and, now, run a credit card acquisitions and customer experience business. I guess the key things for me were: take calculated risks and don’t get too comfortable." – Mili
"I think it was a combination of things, starting with very supportive parents, then within the first 3 years of my career I moved from supply chain/operations to brand marketing while I was in the Dominican Republic, working for the largest consumer goods company in the country. And lastly, it was completing my MBA in Glasgow Scotland, as it provided me with a very different perspective of the world and connected a lot of the work I had already been doing with some foundational principles." – Clary
"I recall a moment when I worked in product strategy and listened to a woman talk about wanting to buy a soccer uniform for her son, while also struggling to pay an overdue credit card. It was in hearing her describe the fights she got in with her spouse and the desperate measures she took to avoid spending that I realized my work isn’t just about how well I delivered a presentation or grounded a model assumption. Those are important, but what really matters is creating better outcomes for people. When I can keep my perspective focused on that result, and people like the woman I met years ago, I’m more willing to take risks, challenge myself and say what I truly believe. That’s when I do work I’m most proud of." - Lauren
Have you had to make any sacrifices on your way to success?
"For a time, while I was doing my start-up, I sacrificed quite a bit. Sleep, time with family and friends, financial security, peace of mind, my health to some degree. I wouldn’t change anything, but doing a start-up in my late twenties definitely meant putting most every other aspect of my life on hold, and that was difficult when it seemed all my peers were moving forward in various dimensions of their lives." – Mili
"It wasn’t a sacrifice for me, but a choice, being away from my parents and family, when I moved out of Dominican Republic, to go to Europe and US for work." – Clary
"My career has been a ladder of amazing experiences, as has my life outside of the office, raising my children to adulthood, traveling, cycling, sharing great times with my husband. I never felt as if I was making sacrifices – quite the opposite. I just had to make choices on where I placed more of my energy at different stages of my life – sometimes the office, sometimes my home. If I sacrificed anything, it was sleep." – Julie Eberfeld, SVP, Commercial Bank CIO
Looking back over your career, would you change anything? Do you have any regrets?
"Nope – I can honestly say that I do not have any regrets related to my career. I see my career as a platform for learning, and, as such, have taken career opportunities that challenged me to learn new things that help me be a better business leader. At the end of each chapter, I not only learn new skills and domains, I learn something new about myself and what I want out of the next chapter." – Mili
"I wouldn’t change a thing, every experience has made me the person I am today, and I wouldn’t want to change that." – Clary
"I wish I’d been braver when faced with opportunities I wasn’t sure how to tackle, and more forgiving of myself when I made mistakes. I think many of us tend to view less-than-perfect results as a personal failing, and therefore stick to things we’re confident in rather than seeking challenges that stretch us. I wish I’d seen failure as an opportunity to learn earlier in my career and set wider limits for myself. In a strange way, failing a few times both professionally and personally helped me realize how resilient I am and become more willing to try new things. There a great TED talk on bravery that really resonates with me." – Lauren
"As I reflect on decisions I’ve made in my career, there are a couple of roles I didn’t pursue because I assumed I wasn’t ‘fully qualified.’ While some jobs require specific experience, I’ve become increasingly confident that my ability to learn and problem solve are the foundation that will allow me to succeed in a wide set of roles." – Christine Hales, VP, Technology – Delivery Transformation
"The regrets I have are always around things I didn’t do, not things I did do. There have been times when I should have been more confident and clearer about what I wanted, times when I should have been more confident in sharing my ideas, and times when I should have been prepared to raise my hand and say, 'I’m ready for the next opportunity.' I learned my lesson the hard way when I helped a company I worked for recruit someone from outside for a job I wanted, instead of saying, 'I can do that job.' It turned out the person we recruited did not succeed, and a year later when I finally plucked up the nerve to say, 'I can do that job: here’s my plan,' my boss was overjoyed and said, 'We didn’t think you were interested.' So, my advice is to figure out what you want and to ask for it. You might get told, 'No,' or 'Not yet,' but you definitely won’t hear, 'Yes,' if you don’t ask." – Diane Lye, SVP, Technology – Enterprise Data Services and Architecture
Thinking about the next generation of leaders, how can we empower each other as women in the workplace?
"I think there is still room to increase our acceptance that not everyone’s journey needs to be the same, I am a big fan of Leaning In, but I also accept that for some people their priorities change once they go through different life stages, and I shouldn’t judge the individual choices they make. As women, we sometimes push others too hard or not enough to achieve their potential, as we project our own desires onto them." – Mili
"We’ve made a lot of progress. I believe the next frontier will be learning how to cultivate and leverage different perspectives and communication styles people bring to a team. I’m sometimes frustrated by the number of books and articles I see aimed at helping women “be heard” in the office. While these can have useful advice, I worry they also encourage us to work/talk/think in a certain way, and that by doing so, we lose some of the power of diversity. I hope the next generation of leaders will aspire to bring everyone’s voices to the table proactively and authentically – especially if they sound different than the others." – Lauren
"The need to have relentless pursuit of economic, power, and opportunity parity is not going away anytime soon. According to the World Economic Forum, it will be 50 years before we reach economic parity for women if we continue at this pace. That is not acceptable and the situation becomes even more of an urgent story as we look at the aging population, which will be retiring soon, and the decreased numbers in generations behind them. If we don’t empower women, we will be in a state where we won’t have the necessary horsepower to fuel our nation and our world. In short, we must be brave and bold in our pursuit of diversity and inclusion. If we, and our companies, are not actively pursuing diversity and inclusion goals they are fighting against it.” – Pamela Rice, MVP, Technology
What advice would you give to other women?
"Be deliberate about your career – take an active role in pursuing (or even creating!) the opportunities that will get you closer to your desired goal. Work backwards from where you’d like to be in a few years, understand the skill set you need to develop to be qualified and competitive for that type of role, and actively pursue roles that will give you the opportunity to learn and demonstrate aptitude in that specific skill." - Mili
"Take time to think about areas that you want to explore and dive in, either on your own, or raise your hand to let folks know you are interested. You can’t get something if you don’t pursue it or ask for it. Along those same lines, it’s important to get clear about why we don’t ask more often. Social norms may be implicitly driving our behavior and once we identify that we can show up however we choose." – Pamela