Recently Aletheia’s women leaders met and openly discussed their personal journey, and shared insights that all of us can benefit from.
Were there any specific mentors or role models who influenced your career path? How did they support your professional growth? This could be a female hero, someone you admire, or someone who inspired you.
NIKKI: In high school, I was unsure of the career path I wanted to take. However, one day my family and I were invited to the Hollywood Bowl by my sister’s friend’s parents (her mother ran the PR department for the LA Times). Hearing about her excitement and passion for her role ignited a desire to experience that kind of fulfillment myself. I had a million questions for her that night, and from that moment I knew I wanted to pursue a career in PR.
As I embarked on this path, I had the opportunity to work with amazing mentors who played a significant role in my professional growth. One such mentor was a consultant brought in by the CMO of my company to help with crisis management and positive press. She taught me the valuable lesson that, as a woman, I could enter a conference room with confidence and assertiveness while still remaining kind and true to myself. Another influential mentor was my former boss, who had extensive experience and knowledge in the field. She taught me dedication and how to navigate a hectic travel schedule, build a team, and ensure the seamless operation of our department. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside powerful women throughout my career, and their dedication to my growth has been invaluable.
HEIDI: I have had the great opportunity to have many mentors and role models in my career who have been influential throughout my life. But I would like to add that before I started my professional career, my parents and others in my family mentored me, as well. I continue to check in with my professional mentors for guidance, coaching, mentoring, and friendship, and my family continues to be as supportive and a constant resource throughout my life. I hope they see me in the same way, providing a two-way support system. Related, I have also “paid it forward” with people I have worked with in my career.
CARYN: While I’ve had multiple role models over the years, I really look at two people as my core mentors.
My first boss is someone who I got to learn from but also grow up with. He is a big-idea guy who also rolls up his sleeves, and I became the person who helped him stand up and build the foundation for those ideas. His friendship, job connections, and model for being a good and real person are things I continue to value.
A second career mentor emerged in a person who started as my account leader and is now my good friend. She came in when we were just creating a capability at the agency and things were messy. Seeing her lead with honesty, clarity, and respect for everyone on her team inspired me.
ENGLISH: When I discovered Ayn Rand novels in college, her inspiring philosophy and approach to work gave me the self-confidence I lacked growing up. She helped me see that working hard, being eager to learn, and standing up for myself would lead to success. Melissa White was one of my supervisors at my first “real” job out of college at SpotPlus (aka Tracy-Locke, aka DDB Worldwide). She had a huge impact on my life and career. Even though I worked for her and three other Group Buying Directors as a receptionist, she recognized my potential and even called me her “Dagny Taggart” (an awesome Ayn Rand character!). When the opportunity came to work with her again, she championed and promoted me to join her. She taught me all I know about media planning, Excel, meeting etiquette, presentation skills, ease with clients, problem-solving, and loving life. She died six years ago, and I miss her every day.
What significant milestones or turning points have you experienced in your career journey?
NIKKI: During the pandemic, I decided to continue working and prioritize being a mother. I accepted a job that allowed me to contribute to our home while being present for my family. Although I was initially furloughed and had a sour experience upon my return, I knew I needed a change. I had convinced myself that climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t in the cards for me, but I decided to take a chance and explore new opportunities. After seven months of submitting countless resumes, I received a response that surprised me. I was offered a PR manager position, but the response also mentioned a VP position they believed I would be a better fit for. Without hesitation, I accepted the VP role. Three weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter, making the VP position an even more significant achievement. Today, I am proud to be the vice president of Client Experience at Aletheia, managing a talented team of three directors.
HEIDI: There were several milestones along my career path. I grew up an athlete—all-state in basketball and soccer, played Division I soccer, reached a Final Four. These achievements served to ingrain a discipline, structure, and drive for performance that I carried from college into my career.
From college athletics, I realized I can apply that discipline to continue to achieve more by applying myself to earn an MBA. It allowed me to open my thinking more strategically and opened doors for my early work choices. Building on my achievements and confidence, I looked at opportunities anywhere, compared to my peer group, and moved to NYC, LA, San Diego, and then back to Dallas. The career “moves” were job- and geography-related, and continued to build my ability to grow businesses. These are all a part of the journey.
CARYN: Looking back, each job move has represented a different phase or turning point. I’ve been lucky to work at some great places, making friends and learning a little more about what I want along the way. Because I’ve moved to different cities with almost every job, often not knowing anyone, I’d say it has been a calculated risk to just jump in and start everything anew. But each point also became representative of where I was in terms of “buckle in, work hard and get the experience” versus really evaluating what skill or benefit the company and culture had to offer. I will say that my first significant milestone was moving to the city where the agency I hoped to work for was (before I’d even had an interview!) because I knew I needed to make it happen.
ENGLISH: Graduating with a Spanish degree, everyone asked me what I planned to do with that. I honestly wasn’t sure. Teaching didn’t pay enough. My dreams of working for the CIA soured after its shady involvement in Central America during the Iran-Contra affair. Accepting the entry-level job at SpotPlus, in an industry I knew nothing about, was the best decision I ever made. Working with Melissa, gaining media experience and having Spanish language skills landed me in a dream job planning media for American Airlines in over 20 countries for 20 years at two different agencies. Of course, the next turning point was working at Camelot on Southwest Airlines with Chris Schembri. Chris has led me on an incredible growth trajectory. Working with him has led me to explore new ways of thinking and stretched my ability to think through problems and help grow his company. I’m so grateful!
Is there anything in your career you wish you had said yes to? No to? Why? Have you ever been afraid of the ask?
NIKKI: Looking back, I wish I had said no to the intrusive thoughts that limited my perception of the roles I could play in life. The beauty of the current era is that women can wear various hats and excel in different areas. There is no longer a “traditional” path that constrains us; women are allowed to pursue their goals and dreams more freely. While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a “traditional” lifestyle, seeing fewer roadblocks in place is empowering. As for being afraid of the ask, a particular instance stands out. In my previous role, we had to launch a new POS system within six weeks—something that typically takes six months to complete. My fear didn’t stem from meeting the deadline but rather from ensuring a smooth operation and avoiding negative press. However, I learned that there is always a solution to every challenge, and sometimes it’s necessary to communicate and set expectations.
HEIDI: Like others, at times I learned from being naïve in a few situations, and setbacks from decisions, or general nervousness from things I tried that were new. My philosophy is learning from all of it and balancing any challenges or disappointments with successes. Along the way it occurred to me that each difficult decision, setback, or surprise provided growth and humility that I needed at the time.
Getting back to an earlier point, my network and family could also remind me to take a situation and grow from it or, at times, just move on. I appreciate them helping me keep things in balance. I am okay with asking for help, motivation, or a reality check. How are you going to know if you don’t ask!
CARYN: In early mid-management years, I think it was harder to say “no” to the work that still made me an assistant. In that transition period, in the interest of being a good team player, it is easy to keep taking on tasks that either you should be delegating or that you should be moving away from, and that can impede the opportunities you need to say yes to. I believe none of us are above types of work, and that a good culture is about pitching in when you need to. But learning to sort through the tasks that you don’t always have to volunteer or take on is important to help you not miss those growth opportunities and be seen as a leader.
ENGLISH: I’m thankful that the things I have said yes to have been good decisions. I don’t regret any of the offers I have said no to—other than saying no to a date invitation from a nice guy in college who was a genius. I wish I had gone back to school at some point to get my master’s degree or even PhD, but timing never seemed right. Looking back, I easily could have done it if I had sacrificed the happy hours, late nights, and party invitations of my 20s and 30s.
What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self starting your career?
NIKKI: Imposter syndrome is a real feeling that many people experience. Whenever you doubt yourself or feel like an imposter, remember that you have worked hard to be where you are. Acknowledge your accomplishments and have confidence in your abilities.
HEIDI: Wow! Looking back, having the ability to see the forest through the trees would have been helpful. But I have laid out my top 10 pieces of advice for when you start your career:
1- Lay out your personal and professional goals.
2- Work hard.
3- Listen & learn.
4- Don’t give up EVER!
5- Stay humble.
6- Reflect on each day.
7- Be light and have fun.
8- Follow your gut—your intuition and heart.
9- Challenge your mind and your body.
10- Enjoy who and where you are!
CARYN: Don’t let work become what defines you, but also don’t be fooled into thinking that the concept of “work/life balance” exists. I think that early on it is so easy to move from school status to work status being the thing that makes you satisfied or equaling success. You can kill yourself and forget to keep other elements of your life alive, and also stress yourself out because you don’t feel you have balance. Acknowledge that is just okay to have different priorities at different times. Sometimes work will need to win, and sometimes family and friends need to win. Neither option means you’re failing.
ENGLISH: Invest in every 401(k) opportunity that comes your way. It is free money. Try to be one step ahead with the newest technology and trends. Stay curious.
How has the acceptance of the hybrid workplace impacted you in the workforce?
NIKKI: For me, accepting the hybrid workplace has been a blessing in disguise. It has allowed me to work from home and be present for my children during their first years. I am grateful for the extra time I spend with them, and I admire parents who have managed daycare from such an early age. The hybrid work environment has also fostered a culture of trust between employees and corporations. This trust allows us to demonstrate our dedication and commitment to working remotely, even when given flexibility. It has been a great opportunity to test the effectiveness of these changes, and our team has shown exceptional performance and loyalty, proving that the hybrid model can be successful.
HEIDI: First, I want to start by sharing I appreciate the fact that the leadership team, including our group, has had a voice in the transition from the pandemic to now. During this time, we demonstrated the organization flexibility that we have and the responsiveness to change. I love change, and how we have been able to attract talent remotely and become open to a new way of working together. For me, I believe my background, particularly as a consultant, was super helpful so that as the business needs increased, I was able to become much more agile and pivot between in-person meetings, virtual meetings, and working with teams and clients in remote situations. I know I can deliver the high expectations I have of myself, and what others can depend on me for in various environments. The hybrid situation gives me the chance to focus, and then feed off the extra energy when the office is full!
This is the new norm.
CARYN: Adjusting to different forms of communications and styles is definitely an impact. I think that the hybrid approach has allowed for more flexibility and freedom, and forced a certain level of trust for everyone that wasn’t as present before. I also feel like I’ve witnessed so much more understanding for kids, maternity, pets, and personal time than was present before hybrid became normal.
ENGLISH: Everyone goes through a season in their lives when personal lives and professional lives bleed into each other. It used to be that if a woman wanted to have a baby, she pretty much needed to give up a career due to time required to care for an infant. With more flexible schedules to arrive later/leave earlier, it is much easier to balance daycare drop-off and pick-up—even more now than when I had my son. In my current season of raising a teenager and caring for my mom, working would be much more difficult for me if I had to be in the office Monday through Friday. Being able to stay home with my mom on Mondays and Fridays helps with the costs and stress of finding care for her. Being able to arrive at the office a little later and work later from home after everyone is asleep also helps me be more productive.