For the next several months, e-VentExe will be spotlighting one “Super-Career” woman every month, allowing her to tell her story on how she entered the corporate work world. Read about the struggles, sacrifices, highlights, and rewards these women faced while climbing the ladder towards success. Our first “Super-Career” woman, Alison Campbell, is currently a Medical Unit Manager for nurses at Travelers Insurance Company.
25 years ago, a successful career woman had to figure out how to compete in a male-dominated world. Women couldn’t show any signs of weakness; they were constantly putting on their “game face” to show men they could do anything as good, if not better. They dressed the part to be at the boardroom (i.e., suits and ties).
The “Super-Career” woman had to balance her personal life with her work life—at the workplace, dresses were replaced with slacks, femininity replaced with sternness all in order to strive to the top. The strenuous struggle to move up the corporate ladder may have seemed daunting, but to these “Super-Career” women, who lived double lives, it was the norm. Now, as young females are entering the workplace, what advice can these “Super-Career” women give to the younger generation? The world for women today is different; however mistakes can still be made as a woman advances in a competitive workplace.
Alison’s climb to reach where she is now in her career was not an easy or predictable path; she recalls hitting a glass ceiling in her career. Having both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Nursing, she began as a clinical nurse, to a hospital nurse and finally to a corporate nurse, even owning her own business as a legal nurse consultant along the way.
During Alison’s career, she devoted her time to her work and her family, stressing that both are important and need attention. Alison has always had a driven attitude, constantly learning something new and applying it into her everyday life. Therefore, in terms of balancing work and family, she believes in making adjustments and never giving up on choosing one over the other. Alison believes the most important thing a career-oriented mother can do is make sure the extra time and energy she is devoting to her work is strategic (i.e., down the road it is going to mean something).
Although Alison does not regret anything she has done because she loves her industry and profession, she wishes she had sought out more sponsors as well as completed her education early (before she had children).
Alison’s advice to young females currently in or are about to enter the workforce includes networking, having mentors and sponsors, and working for an organization with matching culture and core values. She believes females should definitely network with everyone and build relationships face to face (albeit social media is on the rise). Alison stresses that women must be comfortable networking with others because they never know where these connections will lead and often times it is about who an individual knows.
Alison has a positive outlook for the future of women in business stating that she believes women have joined the workforce in every level and more of them are needed at the top to mentor the females entering the workforce.
To learn more about Alison’s career path, read below for a detailed Q and A:
1) Did you find it difficult to compete for jobs in a male-dominated world? What did you do to make yourself stand out from the rest?
Yes, I had a high degree of technical expertise and I networked with men and women. So you have to network because you could be the greatest technical expert but if a lot of people don’t know it and if a lot of people in executive management don’t know it then you can’t move ahead. So I would say the other thing I did was that I self promoted some projects to executive management and they let me do them.
2) How long did it take you to reach to the top of the corporate ladder?
I’m not really at the top, but I would say it took me 10-12 years. By the time I was 32, I had my own business as a legal nurse consultant and I worked for a large corporation doing what I loved to do. Now I wasn’t management yet, but I already made the transition. And it probably [took me ] 15 years for management…that’s old school, that’s when they hired people into management with the highest technical expertise in an area; they don’t do that anymore but back then that’s what they did.
3) Did you find it to be a struggle? If so, can you recall any obstacles?
Yes, men have a network that women were not part of. For example if you are a woman and you don’t play golf, you might not have the networking that you want because the guys are all exclusive. Another barrier was that there weren’t any women for me to network with or be my mentor or sponsor, so I had to find a way to be useful at work and they didn’t discount me because I was a women or discount me because I was a nurse.
4) Did you change yourself to fit into the career world?
I think that I changed how I communicated and who I communicated with. So when you first start out at a corporation, you’re afraid to communicate with executive management and I got to a point where I was no longer afraid to do and was comfortable talking to them. To get comfortable talking to top executives, I did a lot of self self-education, so I read a lot of books on leadership, and I networked so I would know someone who was comfortable and close to the executive.
I think one of the things you must do–you might not overcome it—but you must manage it is that you must do things that are scary to you, like taking on a lot of responsibility that might be scary (i.e., taking on large projects, taking on extra work). You can’t be afraid of it; you just have to do it.
5) How did you balance your personal life with your work life?
I did not balance it and here is the thing: you have to do what you love. There are times when a work project may take a lot of your time and there are times in your life when you devote time to your children. Every person has to make that decision for [herself/himself]. But I’ve worked until 2:00am and my children were fed and well taken care of and were asleep, but I was up working because I wanted that to happen. I remember locking the door upstairs and my husband would be watching my 3-year-old, so that I could talk to an attorney and he wouldn’t hear children in the background because that was my job; you make strategic sacrifices.
6) What were some of your mistakes along the way to your ideal career goal?
One of the things career woman must be aware of is their perceptive (i.e., if they walk away from a room, what are the top three adjectives the executives or the people handing out the bonus, what are they going to say about you?) I relied very heavily on my technical expertise and as a nurse and as an administrator and I probably didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact that I am a very good manager and that I have a lot of emotional intelligence. From day one in your career, you always have to think about: what is the perception I want to portray?