Pfizer Senior Vice President and General Counsel Amy Schulman was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of the "The World's Most Powerful Women." She shared her career insights at the recent annual Wharton Women in Business Conference in Philadelphia in the US.
1. Don’t be a perfectionist.
Schulman stressed that men and women don't need to strive for perfection to do well because no one gets it right all of the time. The key is to acknowledge the missteps and use them to grow, without being paralyzed by the fear of showing flaws. Still, Schulman noted that ambitious women tend to operate in a "dutiful daughter" mode and do everything the employer wants, perfectly. But such a perfectionist mindset can be constricting to one's career, Schulman pointed out, because there is no chance to learn and mature from the experience of getting things wrong.
2. Don’t blame yourself too much
According to Schulman, women also tend to internalize the dynamics of a situation more than men, and moderating this mental attitude is critical as well. She should know: Not only did she rise up the ranks with more male than female colleagues, Schulman also has three sons at home. This experience helped her observe that when men lose a ball game, they say the field was wet or the referee was outrageously unfair. But women say, "'I let everybody down. I can't believe I didn't handle better the fact that the field was so slippery,'" she noted. "It's the difference between internalizing and externalizing."
3. Don’t misinterpret messages
Women and men interpret the same message differently, she said, and being aware of this difference can be critically important to thriving in the workplace. Schulman recalled that at one law firm, bosses were less than effusive with praise because that was their style. So at partnership reviews, mid-career female lawyers would be told they were doing OK. Women would react with surprise and disappointment. "[They would say] 'OK? It's just OK? What do you mean just OK?'" Schulman said. But the men saw the same message more positively and believed that "Everything's OK! I'm on top of the world!" Later, when both sides compared reviews, Schulman noted, the men would brag about their stellar evaluations, while the women told the group that they had been judged as mediocre. In fact, they had both received the same message.
4. Be flexible on work-life balance
Besides, striking a perfect balance between work and home is an illusion, Schulman maintained. At different points in life, one side will have more pressing needs than the other. "They are never in [balance] because they are not equally and perfectly weighted at any given moment," she noted. "If you try and juggle them that way, then you are the proverbial parent on the soccer field on her Blackberry, and all you're doing is cheating both."
Women should recognize that whatever choices they make at any given point -- be it to spend more time with family or to accept a promotion even if it means working longer hours -- are not necessarily set in stone for all time, Schulman said. Be open to non-judgmental conversations about choices between family and career, and realize that these choices may change. And once a decision is made, be at peace with it.
5. Be passionate about what you do
Whatever one chooses to do, Schulman said, a career ultimately has to bring satisfaction and evoke a sense of passion. When Schulman interviews candidates for a job, one of the main qualities she seeks is enthusiasm. Lawyers who do not show much passion give the impression that they just want to beef up their resumes by working at Pfizer. Schulman prefers applicants who can show genuine interest in the company and the work. "The willingness to challenge and reinvent yourself and to say that fun matters is the biggest driver," Schulman said. "Find those things that excite you and don't be afraid to show it."