As part of our Parity Plus initiative, we held our first Young Professionals Forum event featuring an amazing panel consisting of:
Emily Wu, Group Product Business Partner at AIA
Ashton Jones, Head of Investments, Retirement and New Propositions at TAL
Peri Sandford, Digital Campaigns and Content at Marsh
We also had Managing Director at Parity Consulting, Victoria Butt as our moderator for the evening.
After taking in the magnitude of the combinations of age (or lack of!), maturity, experience and ambition of all 3 panelists, opening with one of the most eagerly anticipated questions seemed a no-brainer!
“Was your age ever seen as a draw back? How did you overcome this?”
The general consensus was that just because you are young, this does not mean you are not capable. All the panelists felt more determined after receiving these comments and really stood their ground on their worth. What is powerful is knowing when to have a voice and when to speak up. Another is to always make sure you look, feel and act like you have the right experience. If you can’t convince yourself, how will you convince others? Be confident in your abilities and worth, and back yourself 100%.
“How would you suggest going about finding a mentor?”
Ashton shared that mentoring is a fulfilling part of his career. The key points to keep in mind are to have a purpose and for it to be natural. Think about what exactly it is that you want to get out of having or being a mentor.
Emily suggested that a mentor doesn’t necessarily need to be someone senior. She sees it as someone she can learn from. She has 5 mentors, with them being a mix of formal and informal. She is an advocate of finding a mentor in your area of work/ peer group to share knowledge with.
Peri also suggests that a mentor doesn’t have to be labelled as a mentor, nor do you always need an agenda. Having one or more of your mentors be of the same age group is vital as you can share knowledge together.
“How do you ask for feedback in a corporate setting?”
Peri once received feedback from an exit interview in a previous role and states it was an eye opener for her as she felt she was always quite aware. She advised that having a one on one conversation at the beginning to set expectations is a must – particularly if you are starting a new role or starting at a new company.
Emily feels she is very forward with her style and if she was looking for feedback, she would just ask. Have the confidence to ask “how did I go?” or “what can I do next time?”. Another thing on feedback is that if you are going to ask for it, you need to be prepared to accept it, positive or negative, and cop it on the chin.
Ashton added that finding common ground with your colleagues is key. Having that interest and common ground with somebody will help each person better understand the other.
Creating an open and collaborative environment for your team will ensure that they will be comfortable enough to ask for and give feedback.
Victoria then asked the attendees in the room to raise their hands if they had ever given feedback to a manager or senior leader on working styles and was impressed when over 90% of the audience raised their hands. In the past when Victoria has asked this question to a room, it has usually come out 50/50.
“What advice would you give your younger self?”
Both Peri and Ashton would tell their younger selves to just “chill out”. Ashton tells the audience that burning out is very natural and everybody goes through peaks and troughs. Just keep in mind that everybody is on their own journey and to take it at your own pace without feeling that you need to constantly be on your A-game. Peri agreed, saying that it is important to look after yourself. Speaking from experience where she let herself be run into the ground and burn out in a role, she now sees the importance of looking after your mental health.
Peri continued to say that another thing she would tell her younger self would be to “negotiate”. She feels a sense of regret, saying “how often did I push for a promotion or a raise? The truth is that I didn’t”. She encourages others to be more forceful as negotiating is all part of the package.
Emily has always held onto the fact that there is someone who has gone through a lot worse than you, and also that you are no more entitled or deserving of a role than the person sitting next to you.
Victoria would tell her younger self to only fight the big fights and to be nice to yourself. Drive and determination can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be overwhelming at times to start your own business with a young family, and putting that extra pressure on yourself is not helpful.
The importance of personal brand?
Emily states that your reputation is your greatest asset and also the thing that is the most easily damaged. “I am always conscious of that”, she states while continuing to say that she didn’t think anyone in the industry knew of her or what she did but later found out this was not the case. With the Product industry being quite small and specialised, looking after your reputation and being aware of your actions is so important.
Ashton tells us that a very senior individual called him to speak about an opportunity and was taken aback by this as he didn’t believe this person knew him “from a bar of soap”. With this he says you never know the impression you are leaving on others.
When asked how to get back on track after you may have damaged your professional brand, Emily says quite simply to take accountability for whatever it is that you have said or done.
Victoria added that you should always put things into perspective. How bad is the brand damage? Remember that everyone is human and we all make mistakes and for the most part, we are judged on how we come back from mistakes, rather than the actual mistake itself.
Peri advises that it is best to simplify the issue before it grows into something you cannot manage. Understanding and keeping in mind that you are not alone will assist you in getting through this period of time while you rebuild your brand.
Ashton states the importance of always putting your best foot forward. You never know who is around to see.
How to go about maintaining a work life balance?
A big thank you to the 3 incredible panelists for openly sharing their advice, experiences and their insights with us. The feedback from the event was really positive, with attendees walking away not only amazed at what the panelists have (and will continue to) achieve but walking away also with a new found determination and sense of understanding their own worth.