3 truths that will change your career
Monday, November 09, 2015
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Joan Toth
The grocery industry is often seen as
a place where women have little (or no) upward mobility. And it's hard to
refute the obvious: The industry has many female managers, but few women in top
But throughout my career, I have
worked with exceptional women in the retail and consumer goods and services industry
who have moved up. They had the
resilience — and courage — to forge career paths that worked for
them and their companies. Their impact on what’s sold and how it's sold has
been remarkable. Their influence on gender diversity at the companies they work
for has often been transformative.
Related: A NEW view: The industry through a multicultural
One such woman is Debra Sandler,
past president of Mars Chocolate North America. At the NEW Executive Leaders
Forum this year, Debra, now a board member at Gannett Co., shared her inspiring
personal story of disrupting the status quo as she successfully navigated her
career to the top levels of the industry.
"With belief in yourself, hard
work, focus and dedication, your opportunities are limitless,” she said.
"You have to be realistic, of course, but if you don’t believe your
opportunities are limitless, you won’t live it."
Her words have stayed with me. How
many women in this industry truly believe their career opportunities are
Debra's words of advice are
underscored by her life story. As a Latina and African-American woman born in
Venezuela and raised in the small island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, she has
defied society's — and many
colleagues' — expectations.
When she left Mars earlier this year she had risen to the position of chief
health and well-being officer, a new global position ideally suited to her
healthcare and consumer packaged goods background.
Debra acknowledges that she is a
rarity — and is passionate about changing that. "People don’t expect
someone [like me] to be president of many things," she told nearly 350 invited
industry leaders at the NEW Forum. "And while I’ve taken great pleasure in
being ‘the first,' after a while that gets old. Why, after 30 years, am I still
the ‘first’ or ‘only’ in the room?”
Debra's advice for all women looking
to step up and step into the room with her is straightforward: "Don’t be
trapped into behaving a certain way. Stop behaving as expected. Do some
introspection. Know what is right for you and when it is right for you."
She speaks from experience. As a
young professional at PepsiCo, she enjoyed a wonderful career. But after 13
years with the company, she was expecting a child and burned out after a hard-charging
decade in "up-and-coming" roles, the last of which required 80
percent travel. As vice president of marketing, she took an extended maternity
break and decided not to return to work.
"I didn’t know if I had the
courage to do it," she recalled. "People said I would kill my career
and I would never get the momentum back. But leaving is what I needed to do at
the time for me. Now it’s called 'off-ramping,' but I didn’t know that fancy
term at the time. There were a lot of people who made me feel I was crazy.”
Two years later, when she wanted to
return to work, recruiters "treated me like I had forgotten everything and
had been bathing in applesauce while I was on leave. They asked me if I could
read a P&L. I said, ‘Did you read my resume?’”
Her carefully cultivated professional
network became invaluable and she accepted a leading role with Johnson &
Johnson, where she quickly rose to the position of worldwide president of McNeil
Nutritionals, overseeing the launch of Splenda. From there, she joined Mars
where she served as chief consumer officer before moving up to lead the candy
company's North American chocolate business.
At the NEW Forum, Debra shared three
principles she’s used to drive her barrier-busting career:
1. Believe in yourself.
If you lack confidence, your possibilities are limited. "You will get
knocked down and you won’t get every promotion,” she said. "But how do you
not stay down? How do you build resilience in yourself and in our young people?
When your business gets stuck, you find a way to make the numbers. We must use
that type of attitude on ourselves. When I was passed over for a promotion,
when my comments were ignored, belief in myself got me through."
2. Get a support network —
both professional and personal. "It took me forever to hire someone to
clean my house every other week,” Debra shared. "It made me feel like I
was a bad mother or wife. I had it in my head that I was supposed to be able to
run to work, get every promotion, run home, have the clean house and cook the
3. Invest in career planning
and take risks. "Nothing will happen if you don’t take a leap of
faith," Debra said. "So many women have no five-year plan. But if you
don’t have one, they will create one for you. It may be absolutely not what you
want. If you haven’t articulated a plan, then you have no one else to
These are principles NEW supports
as we work toward our vision of "a workplace with no limits" for all.
To find out how to get involved or get more information, visit newonline.org/itstime.
Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, Retail and
Consumer Goods, a learning and leadership community representing 10,000
members, 750 companies, 100 corporate partners and 20 regional groups in the
United States and Canada.
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those
of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of
Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.
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