In a marketplace where it’s expected that only 20% of the workers will have the skills needed for 60% of the jobs—mostly because the jobs haven’t been invented yet—options are key. On my own career journey, creating options has long been the name of the game. I grew up in a neighborhood where there wasn’t much expectation to pursue a college education or a lofty career. But the generosity of the local Lions Club, a little serendipity and a lot of sweat equity provided a path of opportunity for me from the secretarial pool to a vice chairman at Deloitte.
While convention would say that I climbed the corporate ladder, in reality my journey has been more like traversing an organizational grid. I’ve enjoyed myriad, nonlinear opportunities to grow my skills, gain new experiences, and expand my networks. Sometimes I’ve moved “up,” sometimes across and other times moved diagonally. Each was a new challenge and adventure, and helped me rack up both the skills and acumen to make me attractive for the next.
I don’t think I’m alone in living a zig-zag career journey. Maybe not all have gotten the memo yet, but ladder thinking about how careers are built and work gets done is being replaced with a more agile corporate lattice modelof career progression.
What I gave up along the way is the notion that I couldn’t—particularly as it related to gender—do more. For example, after powering myself, nights and weekends over five years, to get my undergraduate degree while working full-time, I started to think about attending an ivy league business school. My mother’s advice: “People like us don’t get into places like that. You’re setting yourself up for a fall.” And a few months when I got the ‘nod’ from Harvard, my grandmother responded that she didn’t know why I’d go off and do something like that since I already had a job. Her reaction was surprising to me because she was very proud when a male cousin had gotten into Stanford. When I ask her about it, she said: “That’s different. He’s going to have to support a family someday.” Hmmm. Honestly, that had never occurred to me, nor obviously did it ‘square’ with me.