Sharon Allen, the chairman of the board of directors at Deloitte LLP, advised women in business to follow their passion and ensure their accomplishments are visible within their organizations at the 2011 UNC Women in Business Conference at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School last month.
Allen, who was the keynote speaker at the conference, spoke about how women in business can reinvent themselves in a changing business environment.
As chairman of Deloitte - an organization with almost $11 billion in annual revenue - Allen’s governance responsibilities include leading the board in providing oversight and guidance to the management of Deloitte and its subsidiaries.
Frequently honored for her contributions to business and community leadership, Sharon was named to Forbes’ list of "The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World" for four consecutive years. Crain’s NY Business cited her as one of the most powerful business women in New York.
Allen advised women to strategically plan their reinvention to successfully become leaders in their organization.
“What sets senior leaders apart is that they take more risks, they think strategically and they draw in the opinion of others,” she noted.
When she became a partner 20 years ago in Deloitte’s Boise office it was widely accepted that to get ahead she would eventually need to move to a larger city, but her husband had a business in Boise, and it was not the right time to move; she stayed in Boise for more than 20 years before moving. But she made the most of that time, always planning for the next step.
“I made sure I stayed involved and connected to the national office,” she noted. “I was able to learn all the aspects of the business in Boise. This enabled me to understand the broader perspective.”
She advises women to identify areas in their work where they can make an impact and demonstrate how their work is important to the strategy of the company.
“Planning allows you to provide greater value and can set you apart and allow you to brand yourself.”
While Allen noted that she has had several mentors who took an interest in her career throughout the years, it was her sponsor who helped her secure a position to move to Los Angeles and become a regional managing partner in in the region.
“Sponsors are the people pound the table and advocate for me and really make a difference in my career.”
She also urged women to let their passion guide them in their careers.
“Passion is a remarkable catalyst for reinvention,” Allen said. “When your work is your passion you can totally lose yourself in the task at hand. Instead of letting these times reinvent you, let me challenge you to reinvent them. This is an opportunity for you to follow your passion. Let the urgency of your passion and not the urgency of the times take you on a new path.”
Women should not automatically accept that where they are in their career today is where they will always be.
“Ask yourself if you are still learning, if you love what you’re doing and if you are in the right place for you.”
During reinvention, Allen noted that women should ensure that they are being true to their own leadership style. She offered that women who are perceived as overbearing or too aggressive may be working in a style that is not natural to them. When she was first nominated to be Deloitte chairman, some thought she was “too nice” for the position.
“I am nice,” she noted. “But I can still be very firm and very clear about expectations.”
Allen suggested that women may assume that their supervisors and colleagues are familiar with their achievements and therefore reluctant to make their successes known to others, this is a mistake.
“It is a huge lesson to never assume that people know the good work you are doing. The first person who needs to look out for you and your career is you.”
Consistently ranked one of the world' best business schools, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School is known for experiential learning in leadership and teamwork, superior teaching, innovative research and a collaborative culture. Its commitment to developing socially responsible, results-driven leaders distinguishes its programs, which educate people at every stage of their careers. Its innovative programs prepare business leaders to manage successfully in the global business environment.