Fearless Leader—Nicole Williams
Nicole Williams, Connection Director, LinkedIn
1. What advancements have you seen women make in your industry in the last few years?
As the economy continues to struggle and there is an increased competitiveness in the world of work in general, women are becoming increasingly comfortable competing with men. And, while women have always been strong in the entrepreneurial sector, more women are starting businesses earlier in their careers. I think this is because young women aren’t landing in the job of their dreams upon graduation and are making opportunities for themselves. As an entrepreneur, it’s my goal and passion to support women, which is why we’ve launched our Living the Dream Series where we highlight women doing the work they love and promote their businesses.
2. What do you see as the greatest challenge to women in your field?
First and foremost, don’t use the media hype as an excuse not to try, really try, to get a job. There is opportunity out there, but you’re not going to find it on the couch. One reason why the economic recovery is favoring men might be because they are better networkers than women. In fact, according to a recent LinkedIn survey, men top women when it comes to savviness in using the site to advance their careers. It’s all about meeting as many people as you can and letting them know you’re looking for opportunity. Jobs come through people and relationships. Second, don’t let age be an issue. You can overcome lack of experience with enthusiasm and by communicating work ethic and a commitment to develop skills on your own time. One of the areas where young women have a huge advantage is their knowledge of social media. Focus on all the digital expertise you bring to the table: it doesn’t matter that you learned it for personal reasons, talk about how you can use it to the company’s advantage. Finally, present yourself so you are taken seriously. Your posture, the way you dress, the heels you choose to wear all contribute to not only others’ opinions of you, but also how you feel about yourself. You have about 2.2 seconds to make an impact and you want everything working to your advantage! Dress for success.
3. What are your tips for achieving work-life balance?
Balance is bullshit. Success requires a sense of priorities and focus, and that was never clearer to me than with the birth of my baby. When I’m at work, I focus on my passion for the business and getting the job done so I can hurry home and spend time with him. I’m clear about my priority…my son. I still love my work, but because I waited until I was 40 to have a child, I want to be able to invest the majority of my energy in my family and dig into spending meaningful time with him. I’m guessing I’ll be living this one out for a while—will keep you posted!
4. What is your favorite forum for networking and making authentic connections with other professional women?
Networking is something you should be doing anywhere and everywhere and all day long –from the dog park to the line at Starbucks. If you have a point of commonality, there’s the opportunity to connect. Something as simple as ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ can lead to a mentor or the job offer you’ve been dreaming of. I’m also a big believer in online networking within a professional network. LinkedIn is my favorite because it’s so easy to make connections through other contacts you have (you’d be surprised, after hitting the magic number of 50, how many people you are connected to through your relationships) or by using the LinkedIn ‘Groups’ or ‘Today’ products to follow what’s happening in your industry and experts in the field. They can help you launch a connection via introductions like: ‘I really like how you responded to the question about organic marketing strategies,’ or ‘Congratulations on your company’s acquisition’. Just as with in-person connections, this can be the foundation of meaningful relationships. I also use LinkedIn as a virtual Rolodex. Before you walk into a networking scenario (which could be your wine tasting course or book club), you can look up the people you will be meeting so you have a starting point for conversation. Close the loop after the event by extending invitations to connect to everyone you’ve met (be sure to include a note referencing how or where).
5. What advice do you give to young women just starting their careers?
Right after I graduated and before I jumped into my business with both feet, I read a quote that changed my life. In his book, The Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins writes: “The price of self-destiny is never cheap and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.” So, my advice: think the unthinkable and then…be prepared to work your ass off to get it!
6. Do you have a mentor or a sponsor, or are you a mentor to other professional women? What is the greatest benefit you’ve received from this relationship?
I’ve had a number of different role models through the years. On a very personal level, my Nana tops the list. The ‘why’ isn’t attached to her ambition or drive, but to her ability to love with all her heart and the fact that she was the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever known. Once, after I experience a career failure, she told me that while she admired my ability to have big career goals, she was afraid of the proportional disappointment. I told her it was her unwavering belief and love for me that made all my risks possible—she was and will always be my role model.
7. What is the most fearless thing you have done professionally and/or personally and what did you gain from that experience?
Moving to New York and founding WORKS has been my greatest accomplishment. My mom worked in a paint factory, and from a very young age, I could see that working a job that isn’t true to your potential and that you don’t enjoy actually sucks the life out of you. We spend 70% of our waking life at work, and when you hate your job, you hate your life. As I developed my career, I was always looking for the ‘smart’ girl’s guide to career success. I wanted to be connected with women I could learn from and be inspired by. I figured out pretty quickly that it’s the soft skill stuff that really makes a difference in your career— protocol for dating in the office (or at least feigning off advances) or drinks after work, how to position yourself to ask for a raise, how to deal with (and not be) the bitch in the office (…and still get your own way). That’s the business I built. I see WORKS as a lifestyle brand…a place women can learn and connect with each other in a format that’s more entertaining than your typical, sleeper career content.