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Ariel Burkett is Corporate Strategic Solutions Manager for The Globe and Mail and commercial lead for The Globe Women’s Collective.
When Sheryl Sandberg coined the phrase “lean in” nearly 10 years ago, she created a movement.
She challenged women worldwide to be bold and pursue our dreams – because if we wanted it all, we could have it all. We just had to say “yes.” My interpretation of her message? Essentially: Be confident.
When I resumed my career at 31, after my second maternity leave, those thoughts were in the back of my mind, even if I wasn’t always conscious of them. I can confidently say that through the years, I have “leaned in,” but it hasn’t always come easily. I’ve learned, through repeated attempts, to be vocal, to ask for what I want and to step out of my comfort zone. It’s taken practice, effort, and yes, guts.
In fact, I can point to one pivotal moment in my career that showed me Sandberg’s philosophy of “leaning in” can and does get results.
Eight years ago, my husband decided to pursue a master’s degree in the U.K. He took a leave from his job, and I left mine, and our family headed across the pond – we were nervous about this huge change, but also excited for the new opportunities. I lined up several interviews in my field of advertising once I was in London, but most employers were looking for someone with a Rolodex full of local contacts. Two weeks in, I had a meeting with a major media company. It was an advertising role to lead their fashion vertical, under a woman who was one of the most striking, and intimidating, women I’d met (and still is!).
I felt a connection with her during my first interview and I knew I wanted this role. Not only did it sound exciting (“work in fashion in London? Yes, darling!”) but I also knew I could learn a lot from this woman. I went on to meet others on the team, who were equally as impressive, and finally, I was invited back to present. We had a breakfast meeting at one of the posh members clubs, where I learned that I was one of three candidates.
I gave my presentation, moving through each slide and feeling good about my work. But I was met with silence at the other end of the table.
“I’m sorry, but this isn’t what I was looking for,” came her response. She explained the gaps (mostly due to my inexperience in the U.K. market).
My stomach sank. My first instinct was to pack up and go. But I didn’t.
Instead, I looked her in the eye and said, “If you give me a second chance, I will deliver.” The silence lasted even longer this time. “Ok, go on then,” she finally said. “I’ll have my assistant book some time. But I’m expecting great things!”
I updated my presentation to reflect her feedback and I ended up exceeding her expectations the next day. I got the offer on the spot. Now, when I look back, I wonder what it was that made her give me that second chance. Did she see some of herself in my confidence? Or did my boldness convince her I could in fact deliver? I’ll never know what her motivations were, but I do know this: I spoke up, I leaned in and I got the job.
Of course, I didn’t just spontaneously develop that confidence during that interview. In many ways I had trained for it while studying and performing theatre at university. Most people’s reaction to my drama major was something along the lines of: “What are you going to do with a degree in acting?” But deep down I always understood that theatre wasn’t just about performing on stage. I knew it would teach me vital skills that would transfer to any career I chose.
Performing develops confidence. It requires energy and preparation, and it draws on skills to think spontaneously. If I hadn’t had that training on the stage, would I have spoken up in that moment early in my career? I doubt it. Every woman has to find her own way to her voice and her confidence – and sometimes that path is not linear. For me, the decision to pursue theatre, follow my passion and develop the associated “soft skills” paved the way to my current professional life.
Today, I rely on those skills time and time again at The Globe as a corporate strategic solutions manager, a role where I build meaningful partnerships and powerful programs with some of the most highly regarded brands in Canada. Every big pitch is like stepping on to the stage. The mental focus and energy that I once applied to theatre are fundamental to how I approach my job.
I’m grateful that Sandberg’s message sunk in and that I intuitively understood how to capitalize on skills that came naturally to me. The next time the curtain is drawn back, I’ll be ready once again to lean in.
What else we’re thinking about:
I follow women’s professional sports rather closely. There is progress in some areas but much work to be done to raise the profile and standards of professionalism for great female athletes. The statue that recently appeared near Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame – a joint project between Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and Budweiser – with the message “This Game Is For Us All” brings hope to young girls playing hockey and calls on leaders in the game to do more. I am reading former top world tennis player Billie Jean King’s new autobiography All In, which is an inspiring tale of her efforts and ongoing advocacy for inclusion and equity for women in athletics. Statues and books are a good start, but it’s time to move the needle in more meaningful ways in sports like women’s hockey, so that young girls today can dream of playing in the big leagues. #NoMoreSideHustles
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