Why Conferences Are Career Advancement Gold

Why Conferences Are Career Advancement Gold

Four women executives shared career advice during a mainstage panel discussion at Pharma Forum 2016, held March 20–23 at New York City’s Marriott Marquis. Though billed as way to help women break the glass ceiling, the conversation returned over and over to networking and education—must-dos for every career-minded professional, not just women.

Filled as it was with meeting managers and suppliers, the audience was of course well versed in that pair of activities: They are the primary goals of every meeting ever planned.

Moderator Maggie Helmig, EVP, global brand lead, Ogilvy Healthworld, launched the session with some data from the 2015 Women in the Workplace report, published by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org as part of their effort to encourage female leadership and gender equality in corporate America. Among the report’s findings are that women are hired for jobs based on their past performance while men often are hired based on their potential. In addition, she pointed out, women remain underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline, with the disparity greatest at senior levels of leadership. “Take control,” Helmig advised. “Become the architect of your career. Don’t let your career happen. Hone your skills, gain new skills, and stay relevant.”

She also advised defining success on your own terms, based on what is important to you. It might be flexibility rather than the corner office.

Here are some of the panel’s tips and lessons learned.

Embrace Lateral Moves
“Lateral moves can be a good thing because you gain excellent skills, which can give you more opportunities in the long run,” said Vera Rulon, director, external medical communications, Pfizer. In particular, grab any opportunity to work abroad. Being immersed in a different culture, she said, “opens up new ways of thinking and new ways of problem-solving.”

Be Active Outside Your Company
In the tech world, said Cristina Dolan, head of content, communities, and communications products, TradingScreen, “if you are not involved in an outside organization, you get stale quickly.” In fact, one huge benefit of the student coding contest she created is that it keeps her in touch with the younger generation of coders and engineers.

Be Active Within Your Industry
With her passion for health information management, Vera Rulon joined the American Health Information Management Association, becoming a board member. But she noticed that once people had served on the organization’s board, they were left to drift away. She created a board alumni group as a way to keep everyone, including herself, engaged.

Treat Mentors Right
Panelist Liss Easy, founder and president, DrugDev, said that when she is approached to mentor someone, she asks, “What is it you think you can learn from me?” A person without a ready answer is a person she does not have time for. Vera Rulon agreed. If you ask someone to be your mentor, she said, think about the skill sets you need and choose the person based on that. Also, she added, it’s the mentee’s responsibility to set up the meetings and drive the relationship.

Build Your Brand—Online and Off
These days, the mention of your “personal brand” may bring to mind a stellar LinkedIn profile. An online presence can establish your expertise and widen your network, but keep your focus on what you do IRL as well. Cultivate your reputation as a problem-solver and “a doer,” Cris Dolan said.

Maggie Helmig advised thinking about how you want to be seen, and then ensuring that you act that way. “Do you want to be an Eeyore or a Tigger? Will people want to be around you or will people want to avoid you?”

Added Vera Rulon, “I have developed strong relationships through social media, which leads to a phone call, which leads to eventually meeting in person. It’s a way to find like-minded people you can learn from, and maybe you can help them, too.”

Lead from Anywhere
“You can lead from where you sit,” Vera Rulon said. “Volunteer for things. Step up to the plate and follow through.” Rulon told the story of a blog she wrote for her company that went viral and led her to working with the Dr. Phil Show. “I am not a senior leader but I’m able to do these things because I take calculated risks.”

Liss Early commented, “It doesn’t matter how senior you are, you see different problems from what other people see.” If you see something that could be done differently, take that message to the right person—with a proposed solution. “Nothing gets my attention more than someone being proactive,” she said. But the key is that you have to deliver. “If you say you are going to do something, do it.”

Chase Experiences, Not Money
If you’re just starting your career, focus on getting as much experience as you can, Liss Early said, not on how much money you can make. Her other advice for young professionals? “Who you marry will have a greater impact on your career than anything else.” Early’s husband is a stay-at-home dad to their two young children. You need a supportive partner, she said.

Keep Learning
For those in mid-career, Cris Dolan advised being on guard against complaceny. “We live in a world where everything changes rapidly. In mid-career, some people get lazy and don’t continue to learn.” If you are not changing, you may become irrelevant. “There is no excuse for not self-educating,” she added, mentioning the wide variety of free online courses available on every subject.

Moving Up the Ladder
“If you know there is something you want, get the experience you need and let people know you are interested. Start to network,” said Liss Early. Again, education is the name of the game. “Learn the skills you don’t have,” said Vera Rulon.

Build Relationships and Stay in Touch
“I send about 2,000 Christmas cards,” said Cris Dolan, as an example of how she keeps connections active. “When you need help in a particular area, you will have been in touch recently enough that you can ask for that help,” she explained.

Challenge Gender Bias
Everyone can challenge gender bias, which often exists entirely subconsciously, and even among people who do not believe themselves to be at all gender biased. Check out these six tips for ensuring that women succeed in your organization—and share them! 

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