Recently Sam's Club President and CEO, Rosalind Brewer, spoke with Fortune about what's holding women back from executive leadership. She suggests shying away from financial duties is keeping women from being key decision makers. And I agree.
Do you know what motivates you? Early on in my career, it was money.
It took me some time to figure it out. I did a series of exploratory activities with career coaches at my grad school and began to uncover my priorities. Money kept coming up as a part of the endgame I was seeking.
There is sometimes guilt and stigma associated with being driven by money. For me, chasing money always felt benevolent. Growing up, I commuted nearly two hours from a lower middle class neighborhood to an elite upper east side private school with a tuition that was comparable to some household incomes in my neighborhood. I knew money was a game changer. I saw the opportunities it could create and the access it could open up. World peace may have seemed like the more compelling mission to share aloud, but I knew money was one path to achieving such a mission.
I had a liberal arts background before entering business school. It was a political science degree with a Latin America international studies concentration. This degree strengthened important and necessary skills: writing, composing an argument effectively, critical thinking, power of persuasion and more. After 4 media internships throughout college, I knew I had a mind for business and that I wanted to supplement those skills with others that would help me get to the money I dreamed of faster. I entered business school, where I took quantitative analysis classes, finance, economics. It was hard and painful. I live for humanities and excel was not nearly as enticing to me as Aristotle and Borges. I stayed up nights with my cohort trying to learn macros and make sense of pivot tables. I would be lying to you if I said I enjoyed any part of it.
You may have heard the saying “teamwork makes the dream work.” It’s true. Some of my cohort included men with finance backgrounds and they worked with me to understand what felt like rocket science to me at the time. There were moments I wondered if I’d graduate, but with the help of my team I made it through.
Many of my peers decided to take these skills and go straight into finance. They ended up making salaries close to six-figures in their early twenties. Maybe I wasn’t as motivated by money as my career coaches helped me understand because I could not move myself to go work at a finance company. Media was my passion and I went for it. I knew entry-level media roles were not as lucrative as finance positions, but my marketing associate salary and NYC rent were still a rude awakening after life in North Carolina. After a few nights too many of scarfing down free hummus at networking events so I could avoid paying for dinner, I decided to be strategic.
I spent my lunches and early mornings having coffee with everyone across the company. I began to learn what roles had more room for growth and what salaries were for different parts of the organization. The folks in strategic roles that were "closer to the money” made more and grew more quickly. Naturally, these roles were not as sexy as marketing, communications, and HR. They spent late nights in the office, lived in Excel and equity research. But they also frequently presented to the C-Suite, affected major company initiatives and had powerful results they could speak to.
One night, after a long commute to the far away apartment I could afford and a dinner of peppers and guacamole at some networking event, I made a powerful choice. I labored over quant and finance for a reason. I decided to reengage those skills and this time I would love it, instead of hate it. I shadowed a brilliant analyst who was in the job I wanted next. I learned what he did and offered to volunteer on projects for him when I had downtime.
Eventually a role opened up and that’s when my career started to move. In the next three years, I would be promoted twice, and in just two years I almost tripled my salary from where I started. Starting out there were many unsexy days, but the more I grew, the more I was able to experience what made media fun: tentpole award shows, fancy galas, and star-studded events. It was unpopular and it took hard work, but the pay-off was being able to afford my own hummus, even sometimes from places like Whole Foods. Seriously, I was able to start putting my benevolent dreams to work. I joined several charitable committees and became a board member of a non-profit I was passionate about.
I can attest to what Rosalyn Brewer is talking about. Too frequently, I was one of the only women or people of color in the room and I was in the room with those destined for the C-Suite. If we want to see a change in what corporate executives look like, we have to change the way we think about money and learn to embrace it.
Watch Rosalind Brewer's (President and CEO of Sam's Club) comments here.