Career women face 'tough personal choices,' execs say
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Posted by: Barbara Francella
Ellen Junger of Hallmark, Suzan Kereere of American Express and Kathy Russello of Ahold USA shared their personal career stories at the NEW Summit 2015 in Dallas.
Women make tough choices as their
responsibilities — and power — grow in the workplace, according to female
senior executives from American Express, Ahold USA and Hallmark Cards Inc.,
offered their personal career stories to a sold-out crowd of 1,200 industry
leaders at the NEW Leadership Summit, Oct. 2, in Dallas.
Suzan Kereere, senior vice president and
general manager, global merchant services at American Express; Ellen Junger,
Hallmark's senior vice president, corporate brand development; and Kathy
Russello, Ahold USA's executive vice president, human resources shared their
experiences as women on the rise in corporate America.
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is a series of trade-offs, according Kereere, who moderated the panel
discussion. "Career is a freakin' jungle, not a ladder," she said.
a career often means stepping outside your comfort zone and accepting stretch
assignments, the women agreed. For Junger,
taking on a stretch assignment means jumping in without knowing exactly what
you are doing. "I've wanted to be known for my knowledge and expertise and
the skills I've built throughout my career," she said. "But I learned
the most when I've thought, 'I really don't know if I can do this.' Don't let
the butterflies in your stomach hold you back."
women think, "I need to know what I’m doing before I step out," she
added. "If you say, 'I'm 50-percent confident and I'm going to conquer it
anyway,' that is when you grow."
often have a conflicted relationship with power, she added. "You are
powerful when you create value, have a voice and have influence. I had to grow
more comfortable with having power and developing a voice to move the needle.
Power comes from understanding how to lead from a place of authenticity and
Russello shared how, earlier in her career, she took on a
new role that called for her to take on responsibility for labor relations strategy,
which included negotiating with men representing labor unions. "I loved human resources -- I didn't
want to just focus on labor relations -- I went into that role with a great
deal of concern. I wasn't sure I could do it," she said.
But the experience proved valuable. "It’s the role I
learned the most from," she said. "I think that the unions were as
nervous dealing with me as I was dealing with them, because labor is
historically a male-dominated field. During my time, the company made some
significant changes regarding how we go to business from a labor perspective. My
expertise in labor relations is what differentiates me from some of my peers
She defines "power" as the ability to impact and
influence the direction of an organization. "I am able to accomplish
things and move the organization forward by being honest and true to what I
stand for,” Russello said. "I identify what the gaps or needs are and then I
establish a plan to solve those issues. I may step out of my specific job
responsibilities, at times, but if I think I have the answer, I'll take a few
Kereere rose to positions of greater responsibility and power, she has relied
on a network of personal "board members" who are honest with her
about the business and workplace dynamics. "It's so easy to get
disconnected," she warned.
faced with challenging workplace politics, Kereere said, "The easy part is
going along. The hard part is being willing to say, 'Hang on, I'm not sure that
makes sense.' When you say, 'No,' that's when the politics begin. You have to
have allies to carry you through that turn."