Episode 15: Tested by 2020, Powered by Purpose
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Jennifer Ciotti, Alyssa Mandeville and Emily Swope look back at sessions from the Leadership Summit and review key takeaways gathered from the event.
Speakers highlighted in this episode are Lola Banjo, Vivian Estadt, Nicole Marquis, Melissa Butler, Tamara Hobbs and Jane Marcus.
Enjoy Episode 15.
Speaker 1: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us back at The Intersection, a podcast that brings you candid conversations with members of our community and leaders in our industry. Enjoy today's episode.
Megan McCloskey: Hello and welcome. I'm Megan McCloskey, global communication specialists at SEI, as well as board member of the SEI Women's Network. Today, I'm joined by a few of my fellow board members, Jennifer Ciotti, Alyssa Mandeville, and Emily Swope. Thank you for joining the podcast today, ladies.
Alyssa Mandeville: Thanks for having us, Megan.
Emily Swope: I'm excited to be here as well and for our conversation today.
Jennifer Ciotti: Me too.
Megan McCloskey: So, we're sitting down together today to talk about the Women's Network Annual Leadership Summit and to share some highlights from the event this past year. To start, I would love for you all to just share with the listeners a little bit about the event. Jenny, would you like to start us off?
Jennifer Ciotti: Sure. So the leadership summit is a true example of a grassroots initiative at SEI that the SEI Women's Network launched in December, 2014. It's still really hard to believe how much it's evolved since then and that last year was already our seventh annual event. The leadership summit is an annual event consisting of panel discussions, presentations, and breakout sessions designed to help attendees grow personally and make an impact professionally. We aim to cover an array of topics that serve as a leadership toolkit of stories, equipping attendees with the essential skills, inspiring perspectives, tips and tricks to become better leaders. For example, this year, our speakers covered a wide range of topics, including vulnerability and authenticity, confidence, intersectional leadership, navigating times of uncertainty and more.
Alyssa Mandeville: Since its inception, the annual summit took place in person at our Oaks Pennsylvania campus. When planning for our 2020 event, working with the restrictions of the pandemic, we had no idea if we'd be able to pull off an event of this size virtually. I'm a little embarrassed to say I was very skeptical at first. Fortunately, it all worked out and the new format had many silver linings. Not only were we able to spread our event over two days, but we were able to expand our reach across our global offices and open up event registration externally.
Emily Swope: Yeah. So each year, with our summit, we pick a new theme that ties to our sessions. It's woven through each session and really guides us throughout the summit. So this year, our theme was Tested by 2020, Powered by Purpose. This theme, really, I feel like can mean different things to different people, depending on who you are or where you're at in life. But really, at its core, this theme was all about inspiring people to look beyond their present situation and the difficulties or challenges that they might be facing, that life is definitely not always going to go as planned and we certainly know that from 2020. It will throw us a lot of curve balls, but really by keeping yourself grounded in your higher purpose, we can use this determination to help get us through those tough times.
So in finding your purpose and looking at that, it is really personal to you obviously, and it requires you to look inside yourself and to be your authentic self and to be vulnerable. So, there was no better way to kick off our summit and our theme than to hear more about the importance of vulnerability from the Lola Banjo. So to kick off our highlight reel, let's hear a clip from her session.
Lola Banjo: Vulnerability is really that the fiber, that thing that helps us experience that true connection, but I get why it's scary, because by definition, if you look at the definition of vulnerability, it's literally the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed either physically or emotionally. Now, if you hear that definition, I think a lot of people are not raising their hands and signing up and say, "I want to be vulnerable," because nobody wants to be attacked or harmed either physically or emotionally. So, I get it. No one is like, "I'm signing up for that definition." Right? But if you take it down a bit and you just look past the definition, you'll realize that vulnerability is really not all that scary. You just define it instead as how true connection is formed. Excuse me. But I get it that it's not always easy. Actually, it's not easy at all. But when you flip that definition, you think about it as just how true connection is formed, it sounds a little bit less intimidating.
So, what exactly is vulnerability and what really enabled vulnerability? So let's talk about that for a second. Excuse me. So vulnerability, what it is is I think it's very important to accept yourself first. If you don't accept yourself, you don't accept your story, you don't accept who you are, your imperfections, whatever it is, it's really hard to form authentic connections and really be vulnerable, because you, yourself, have not accepted yourself so you're not really able to walk in your truth yet. I think it's very important to believe that you're worthy. Like I mentioned before, you're not going to be for everyone. No one is going to be for everyone, but you have to believe that you have a purpose. You are absolutely worthy of everything that you want in life. You're worthy of success. You're worthy of good health. You're worthy of love. You're worthy of connection. You're worthy of building these authentic relationship. You are worthy. Just because somebody does not see your worth or somebody does not gel with your worth does not make you any less worthy than others.
And then, also, celebrating growth opportunities. I think accepting yourself is very important, but I don't think that that means limiting yourself. Everyone should have a recognition that there's always growth, right? I have friends that'd be like, "Oh, that's just who I am," and I'm like, "Okay. I get it. That's just who you are, but that does not mean that you can improve." Right? We all can strive to be better than who we currently are. I look at myself every day and I say, "Okay. I want to accomplish one thing today that helps me grow, whether it's just reading a book or doing something helpful for others, or just being introspective or meditating or whatever it is. I want to accomplish one thing that helps me grow." Because when I take an inventory of my life, it doesn't matter if those things are minutia or big things, like accomplishing a degree or anything like that. Everything that I experience helps me grow. Even heartbreak helps me grow. Even things that disappoint me has helped me grow. Getting rejected, things like that helps me grow. So I embrace and celebrate those growth opportunities in my life.
Emily Swope: So Lola definitely mentioned a lot of important topics in that clip. One thing that she talked about that really resonated with me is that being vulnerable is how true connection is formed, and by being vulnerable, you can really learn about and relate to other people. We can't be afraid to be our authentic selves. But really, as Lola mentioned, this first has to come with accepting yourself and walking in your truth, and I just thought that that was very powerful. In tying it back to our theme and in finding your purpose, she also discussed how you really have to believe in yourself and believe that you are worthy of finding your purpose, right? So you can't get to that point unless you do feel like you are worthy of that. Really, at the end of the day, vulnerability is an opportunity for growth because in serving our authentic selves and being vulnerable, we can strive for our higher purpose.
Jennifer Ciotti: Emily, totally agree with you. At a high level, Lola, deliver her session with such energy and real authenticity. Her message of owning who you are and being vulnerable to experience that true connection really opened the event on a high note. In that clip specifically, I love how Lola explained that she strives to accomplish one thing every single day to help her grow. It's so true. Everything we experience in life can help us grow and become better, stronger people and it doesn't have to be this big grand thing. Taking baby steps and making a commitment to accomplish even one small thing every day can really be a great opportunity for growth.
The next clip we're going to highlight is someone who has a similar mindset, and who has made a commitment to doing something that truly gives herself joy. Vivian Estadt, currently a client service director in SEI's institutional group, delivered an amazing TED-style talk on feeding your soul and the importance of making time to do something just for you. Especially in a time when all of our worlds are blurring together, this is a message I feel like we all needed this year. It's even more critical for all of us to find that thing or things, plural, that are just for us and bring us joy. We need to find or make time to do those things, even when it feels challenging to do so. For those who don't know Vivian, outside of work, she is an amazing baker. Yes, I've had many samples so I can absolutely vouch for that. In her talk, Vivian speaks to her journey launching a baking business and the lessons you've learned along the way. Let's take a listen.
Vivian Estadt: There are two questions that people always ask me when it comes to my baking, how and why. I have a full-time career. I have a family and a toddler. How do I find time to bake? It's not easy. I often bake after my son goes to sleep at 8: 00 PM. Since I work all week, my time with him is limited. And unless I'm under a deadline, I try not to bake when he's awake. Also, it takes about 10 times longer when he is. I start with a baking plan and I break up my tasks over a few nights, meaning that in the days leading up to a deadline, I'm averaging three to five hours of sleep at night.
Is this ideal? No, I love sleeping. My husband will tell you. If my head is supported, I can and will fall asleep, but I also love baking and decorating. When I'm wrapped up in decorating for two to three hours, I hardly realize that it's 2: 00 AM sometimes and that my son is going to wake me up in four hours and that I have a full work day ahead of me. But to me, it's worth it, not all the time, but once in a while. So I challenge you, find some time for yourself, even if you have to give up a little sleep once in a while.
And the second question, why do I like baking if I don't even like sweets? This is why. This is Charlotte, the little girl across the street who is obsessed with all things Frozen when she turned two. She was the recipient of my Elsa doll cake. I tend to get a little emotional sometimes. When she saw that cake, she was so excited. Her face was just lighting up and she had that look of pure joy on her face. She talked about that cake for weeks, even asking her mom, who celebrated her birthday a few weeks later, "Are you getting an Elsa cake too?" Charlotte just turned seven last month, and occasionally that cake still comes up in conversation. I love the joy that I can bring to others by doing something that allows me to express my creativity. I love that I can make someone special occasion or even just a regular day just a little bit more special by making something that's delicious and customized just for them.
This joy is what fulfills me. The process of getting to that joy is how I feed my soul. This journey has been long and full of ups and downs, but when I go back to the beginning, it began with me just getting started, because why not? And even though there was a lot of self-doubt along the way, I didn't let it get in my way. I kept charging on. But when I got stuck or needed a pep talk, I asked for help or a fresh perspective. There are lots of times when I got overwhelmed and I had to break it down, handle it step-by-step one task at a time. I learned and I still continue to learn how to value myself, my time and my product. I become more confident through that process. Throughout my journey, I've challenged myself and I continued to challenge myself. And now, I challenge you.
In an environment where you sometimes feel suffocated because all your worlds are blurring together, find a little time for yourself and feed your soul, explore an interest, maybe something that you've always wanted to try, but haven't yet, or maybe you already have an hobby and you want to take it to the next level or try a new technique, or just find a little time to actually do your hobby. Whatever it is, find the time to feed your soul and challenge yourself because I have found that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone can result in the biggest reward and that reward maybe as simple as a pretty cake. Thank you for listening to my story today. I hope you enjoy the summit, and remember, be a leader, find your confidence and feed your soul.
Alyssa Mandeville: Wow. You can just hear the passion and joy in Vivian's words. We definitely all need something that feeds our soul and gives us purpose. I know for me, personally, 2020 gave me a reason to slow down, stop and reflect. For years, I had been saying I wanted to be involved in my town government as a way to give back to my community and make it a better place for my family and the families to come, but I always had excuses about how it wasn't a good time. I finally took Vivian's advice and said, "Why not now?" And I ran for town moderator. It required me to be vulnerable, get outside of my comfort zone, find my confidence and believe in my abilities. Vivian was absolutely right. The biggest rewards come from pushing ourselves to new limits.
Jennifer Ciotti: Our next clip is from a panel discussion on when VUCA becomes reality. At our 2019 summit, our keynote speaker talked about the big eight leadership capabilities particularly essential when facing a VUCA environment. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, but none of us really could have been prepared for the form VUCA took in 2020 with COVID-19 and the unforeseen levels of change, uncertainty and true crisis. Two of the areas hit particularly hard during this time are the restaurant and hospitality industry and our school system. We wanted to highlight clips from Nicole Marquis, founder and CEO of HipCityVeg, Bar Bombón, and Charlie Was a Sinner, as well as Melissa Butler, director of technology, communications and assessment for Springfield School District. Each of their share their perspectives on navigating such a challenging time, embracing a resilient mindset, and what's powered them to make it through this. Let's take a listen.
Nicole Marquis: Leadership is that solution-oriented mindset. If I was focused on the numbers only, numbers are very important, but if I was only focused on that and the circumstance, anyone would just say, "Well, close it up. Close that shop." But this is really, I think, for all of us a story of passion and just pure will to make it through. I think when you tap into that, really amazing things can happen. But like you said, that's scary and that was out of your comfort.
It's uncomfortable to be in that space and it can be painful sometimes, but really awesome things can happen as well, because when you hit that, in a way, rock bottom, for some of us, it was like everything had dropped, so when you hit that, what you're left with is a freedom to try things you never have tried before, and freedom to really just go at it with your all and just see what happens. I think when we achieve a certain level of success, we can get a little bit careful, right? Because now we have this incredible responsibility. Whoa, we have to be more careful about them, but that entrepreneurial spirit, that is what's necessary to get up, to make something out of nothing requires a freedom to go out it and try new a thing. So, that's definitely what we got out of the time.
Melissa Butler: In times of uncertainty. I think there is a tendency to search for the right answer and the solution, and I think that what the right answer or solution may be in one environment doesn't necessarily transfer to other environments. There's more than one way to skin a cat. And so, I think we have been very good at determining what our approach will be, what our decision-making processes and matrices will be and sticking to that all the way through from March until now, and that has really served us well. Because in different environments, different companies, different school districts have chosen different approaches to things and how to support their teachers and students, how to support their employees, how to transfer their business from brick and mortar and in-person to virtual environments. But really, in taking a look at your environment and your community and what will work for them and being secure in that decision making, that's really helped us.
Jennifer Ciotti: Nicole received a lot of great feedback from our attendees, and she was actually just named one of the most influential restaurant CEOs in the country, and you can completely understand why after hearing that clip and the mindset she's had during this time. You can tell that Nicole really has this entrepreneurial spirit ingrained deeply in her DNA and she has this contagious sense of positivity and willingness to try things that's so admirable, particularly at a time of crisis.
Emily Swope: I completely agree, Jenny. There is so much to learn from Nicole and Melissa and how they navigated through the challenges they faced in the last year. I think Melissa mentioned a lot of great points, but especially her point that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach during these times and finding the solutions to work through it. You really have to determine what works best based on your context, whether that be the school district that you're in, the company that you're at. So I can say from an example of my role at SEI as an HR partner, we've really had to adapt and be flexible to the needs of our employees and try and meet them where they are and find solutions based on what works best for them and the challenges that they're facing to really help them succeed. So that can be anything from childcare initiatives, to helping employees with work from home, to having more flexible policies. So that's how I see it come up in my day to day, but I think it's really relatable regardless of the industry that you're in and also personally too.
Jennifer Ciotti: And that's a wrap on the morning for day one. After the panel session, our attendees moved on to the breakout sessions on our agenda. These sessions are meant to be deeper dive on specific topics with a focus on delivering practical, actionable takeaways that attendees can start using immediately. This year, our breakout session speakers covered negotiation, communicating our values, decision making in times of uncertainty and harnessing your strengths. From there, attendees could also explore all of the on-demand content that we incorporated into this year's event experience.
Emily Swope: Exactly. So some of the on-demand concept that we provided included our annual Herstory Magazine. So we released this every year during our leadership summit. This year, it was shared virtually and included contents, such as four interviews with SEI women and article on the importance of male allyship, and also an article that elaborated a little bit more on our theme, Tested by 2020, Powered by Purpose, among other things. Additionally, we identify two external women as sheroes and we interviewed them. The reason they were selected as sheroes is because we were really inspired by them and the impact that they were making in their communities. So these interviews were available for people to view. This included Tess Hart, who is co-founder and CEO of Triple Bottom Brewing, and Chloe McKenzie, who is founder and CEO of Black Fem. Additionally, we released a podcast on the SEI Intersection. In this podcast episode, Krista Deguffroy, who's our director of inclusion and compliance at SEI, and Joe Riddle, who's director of Neurodiversity in the Workplace, had a discussion on unconscious bias. So we were really excited to incorporate that conversation into our day.
Alyssa Mandeville: Emily, speaking of new things available in this virtual format, the SEI Women's Network was able to showcase 22 female-owned small businesses across a spectrum of product offerings and geographic locations. The pop-up shop was a great way for these businesses to expand their global reach and for the attendees of the summit to shop for unique products and gifts. I know I put a dent in my wallet that day. Luckily, I was able to reset myself on day two by starting off the morning with Ashley's yoga session. This was followed by an attendee favorite format, three talks, three ideas, one hour. One of the talks, Tamara Hobbs, a relationship manager at SEI, dives into the world of introverts and how we all need to adapt to the world around us, which tends to favor extroverted traits. In this clip, Tamara talks about her own personal experiences and how she has utilized her strengths along the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Let's take a listen to her journey.
Tamara Hobbs: Now, 24 years ago, before I joined the SEI family, I was in the military. Now, the military is very much a performance-based organization. It thrives on uniformity, and so, not much time is spent on evaluating personality traits once you've you've been commissioned or enlisted. There's a very regimented officer evaluation process and the reward for your performance as a promotion to the next higher rank at varying intervals. Now, you wouldn't necessarily think that an introverted personality type would be a good fit for a military officer. But as an officer, you have some autonomy and there's an expected level of responsibility and discipline to get the work done that needs to be done.
So when I was in the military, I knew how to balance being out in front, leading my soldiers and the time that I needed in solitude, but being equally productive in both universes. When needed, I could just put my head down and handle my business. This spanned putting the work in to maximize my physical fitness, all the way to learning the configuration and the safety protocols for my platoon to be able to refuel and arm Blackhawk and other helicopters when we're in the field. I made it a point to let my work speak for itself, and I found success during my time in the army.
When I started at SEI, the team I worked on was a whole new world for me. We had these big sales meetings, offsite workshops, lots of group work and role-playing exercises and just a number of social events. These are standard activities in a successful sales organization. It was a highly competitive, male-dominated, results-oriented unit, much like the military, but I felt like a fish out of water. I was no longer leading people or responsible for the lives of men and women. I was an individual contributor working on a team as a civilian. I was the only black woman on my team. So the entire situation played much more to my introverted strengths, but I was in a highly extroverted environment.
So when I put my head down and did what I had been successful doing in the army, it was noticed, but the feedback wasn't quite as positive. Someone in a leadership role made an observation and told me, "You put your head down. You get your work done, but the job is more than that." The person went on to say that I wasn't very engaging in their opinion and I was sort of closed off in my own little world and alluded that I needed to come into the fold. Now, that was well over 20 years ago. The person is no longer at SEI and probably wouldn't even remember having said that to me. I believe those comments were much more about my personality than my performance, but regardless the feedback cause a reaction. I realized then that I needed to adapt my approach and lean more on my extroverted traits, and this wasn't something that was foreign to me. I had learned to adapt to new environments at a very early age because I'm a child of a career military officer.
My father was in the military for 30 years. My family moved to a new place every three to four years. And so, some moves had a bigger impact than others, for instance, moving to Virginia at the age of 10, when we had previously lived in Germany for the past four years. There's just not enough time for me to tell you how I adapted to a public school in Norfolk, Virginia after attending a Department of Defense elementary school with a bunch of military kids in a small German community, but I found myself in a similar situation here at SEI and I needed to adapt and do so quickly. So again, I became the new girl and work to fit in now my new home while I was on that team. But this is a challenge that many introverts face, so acting like extroverts. Now, most experts would agree that we're all on this introvert-extrovert spectrum, and which way you lean has to do with where your energy comes from and then also what depletes it.
Emily Swope: I love Tamara's talk and so many of the things that she mentioned. It also reminded me a lot of some of the points that Lola mentioned in her discussion. So it really can be exhausting to not be your authentic self, and introverts really do need to feel like they can be their true self at work. It can be hard, I think, in those environments, where it's favored more for extroverts. So we should really create cultures and environments, where introverts and really all employees feel like they can be their true selves and don't have to be something that they're not. I think people all have different styles and ways of getting to an end goal, and that's okay. Leaders operate differently. We shouldn't have just one way that we look at leadership or leadership qualities because people are different.
Jennifer Ciotti: Next up, we'd love to play a clip from our day two keynote speaker who rounded out the day, Jane Marcus, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. As we prepare for this session, we talked so much about the change rate experience in 2020 and how there was really no going back to the old normal, especially in the context of leadership. The future calls for a new kind of leader. In her talk, Jane spoke about the evolving profile of leadership and key competencies she believes leaders should lead into in 2021 and beyond, but perhaps a favorite part was the actionable advice she shared with us, both for mentors and sponsors in the workplace or for you as an individual. Let's take a listen.
Jane Marcus: And I have advice for you, affirm the talent, be vocal in your support of others. We need it, we've earned it and you can play a big role in supporting others. Talk business. So it's not just about leadership skills, although that's exactly what this discussion is about. Talk about the business, help others really understand the operating aspects of a business, help them find ways to get that experience. Help individuals build a career strategic plan. This is really important. People early on learn how to develop a business plan, but you need your own strategic career plan and you can help others build that, as perhaps as you're building your own, bring others into the circle of that exercise.
Help others network. Networking is a dirty word. Nobody likes it. Everybody is afraid of it. I like to think of it as relationship building. No matter how senior you are, there are butterflies in your stomach when you think of networking, because there's generally always someone that you don't know that you want to know. Help others network, help them put together a networking plan, help through introductions. Actively promote upcoming women, and that's plural, not just a woman at a time, not just a woman here or there, actively promote women and others really be part of someone journey and provide feedback. We don't provide enough feedback for each other and it can be done very constructively, but you want it to be the good, the bad, and maybe even the ugly because people will really appreciate getting some insight into how they're viewed by others.
So, what about for you as you think of being the future-ready leader? Again, whether you're early in your career, mid level, or most senior, what can you do to continue on your journey? Well, this is about getting those critical roles. I love to say run, don't walk, toward the roles that really going to fulfill your experiences and help you learn the lessons, build the competencies to become a great leader. Don't move only in vertical directions. So as you run, don't walk, make sure you're thinking about horizontal moves. How are you going to get perhaps functional expertise? Maybe it's building those finance muscles. But remember, your path is not likely just to be vertical and you will gain significant expertise and competencies as you move around the organization.
Own your journey. This is one of my favorites because many times I hear people say, "Well, my HR department doesn't do anything." I bet y'all have a great HR department and I'm sure they can help you on your journey, but it's your journey. You have to own it. You need to be in charge of scoping it out, being accountable to yourself, and making sure it's really true to who you are. Well into owning your journey, build your own personal advisory board. This is a group of individuals who stand very much on their own. They don't necessarily truly come together as a group, but these are individuals that know you, that are supportive and committed to who you are, and that is probably going to change over time. This is very important. You want to make sure you have individuals that got your back on this journey.
Broaden your networks. Here's the nasty network word again. So broaden your relationships, continue to broaden, whether you're early on in your career, and it could be associations, affiliations, women's group, any kind of groups where you might have interests, but continue to broaden your networks and seek ways to do so. Remember that you don't want to just have great familiarity internally with your boss, but think internally about all of the stakeholders that are important for you and to you, as well as those stakeholders external to your organization. This might seem like an odd point for you, define your brand. I like this because we all have a brand and you're going to be different. You want to be differentiated. Who are you? Who is that individual that others think of when they hear your name and how do you continue to differentiate who you are in a positive sense? So take some time and understand what your brand is. Remember, it's about who you know, what you know, and who knows what you know.
Alyssa Mandeville: Jane really gave us some amazing, actionable advice. The two actions that resonated most with me include going after those critical roles and stepping out of our comfort zone. Your career moves do not need to be vertical. Sometimes it's those horizontal positions that actually better prepare you for a future leadership role. The second one is to have your own advisory board. We need to have people who know you. You need to have people who have your back, but they are not afraid to give you honest feedback in order to help you grow and succeed professionally.
Megan McCloskey: All right. So that is a wrap on this 2020 leadership summit highlights reel. Tested by 2020, Powered by Purpose certainly resonated with me, as it does as many, if not all of our listeners, I'm sure. Thank you ladies for taking the time to share about the different sessions and what they meant to you.
Jennifer Ciotti: Thank you so much again for having us. We love reliving the day a bit.
Megan McCloskey: I agree. While it was awesome to relive the day and dive into some of the sessions from this past year's summit, we're really excited that planning is already underway for our 2021 leadership summit. So, mark your calendars for December 8th and 9th. I am anxious to see what incredible speakers and topics are included into that agenda, and I have a feeling you don't want to miss it.
Speaker 1: Thanks so much for joining us today. Stay tuned for more conversations with members of our community. Until next time. Stay well. And of course, we hope you'll meet us back at The Intersection soon.