Managing $800 million dollar accounts for three huge automotive manufacturers doesn’t rattle Stephanie Williams. For more than two decades she has led the way in the corporate automotive world, serving in roles like Supplier Diversity Development Business Manager, Purchasing Project Manager and Global Business Strategy Manager. In addition to heading up corporate projects, Williams is also married with two children, a ten-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. As if that’s not enough, Stephanie is also an experienced public speaker who knows how to get results and the author of the book Mommy Leadership.We caught up with the businesswoman and talked about her challenging career.
MN: You earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing. Post graduation, how did you envision yourself combining the knowledge you’d gained from both degrees to advance your business career?
SW: I knew I liked math and science, so I went into engineering. After working as an engineer for one year, I felt that wasn’t the career for me. I realized that I enjoy the business side of enterprise versus the technical; I also enjoy talking to people. Even though engineering was not the career for me, it taught me to be process oriented. I knew the business knowledge from the MBA would round out my expertise and allow me to do any number of things in my career.
MN: Tell us about two to three roles you filled during the earlier part of your corporate career. How have those early experiences benefitted you as a woman managing her own publishing and speaking platforms today?
SW: I began my career as an Industrial Engineer at General Motors working among professionals with many years of experience. If nothing else, I learned to believe in myself and not to be afraid to try something new. I decided to take a chance at writing and public speaking even though my education was not in that field of study. Each of my early roles in corporate America helped me learn to present my ideas in a clear and compelling manner.
MN: What are the 8 Essential Rs and why are they important to business success?
SW: The 8 Essential R’s is my reminder to working moms (including myself) to take some time out of our busy schedules to regenerate. There are so many forces in life that women have to manage – work, children, relationships. These 8 R words walk through a mental process of renewal that helps me (and hopefully other women) prepare to do “it” all over again tomorrow. The 8 Essential R’s (rest, release, reflect, relish, replenish, refocus, resolve, repeat) is one of the tools to fight burnout so that we continue to strive toward our objectives – business and personal.
MN: It’s been said that women and men have different leadership styles. For example, women are said to focus more on the purpose of a business initiative whereas men focus more on the financial aspect. What style do you use to lead business teams and projects? Share a few key benefits inherit in this style.
SW: I use a collaborative style. One person cannot know everything so it is imperative to assemble and develop a great team and to draw upon that expertise in your leadership role. I have found that this style makes every team member feel valuable and motivated to see the team succeed. It also allows for development of your team members as they work together and learn from you and each other.
MN: How long had you been working (and in what position) before you had your first child? Also, what type of deadlines, travel commitments, etc. were you living with before you left work to have your first child?
SW: I had been working for eight years before I had my first child. Roles I filled were as an Industrial Engineer, Purchasing Team Leader and Supplier Diversity Development Business Manager. As with most positions in corporate America, I was often required to work casual overtime in order to “get the job done” and meet deadlines. It was just what you did to show that you will do what it takes to deliver results. I did not have to travel a lot, but when I did it was scheduled around the most senior person’s schedule and not mine. So I needed to be flexible. I didn’t mind though because at that time I really had no other commitments.
MN: Some women have voiced concerns regarding motherhood and rewarding corporate careers, hinting that the two aren’t a good mix. Have you noticed a shift in the types of business roles and leadership opportunities women have been given after returning from maternity leave?
SW: Everyone has an opinion as to whether or not women can “have it all.” I have spoken to many women who believe they have not been given equal consideration for leadership roles. Most cannot state for certain that motherhood was the reason for being passed over for promotion. I think that it’s really that companies assume mothers are not willing to make the required sacrifices and won’t consider them for leadership roles.
MN: In your book Mommy Leadership you say that mothers acquire leadership skills while raising their children. Which of these skills can automatically be transferred to the corporate world?
SW: Delegating: Running a successful household requires time and effort. To better manage your time, while at home, delegate tasks to each of your children based on their ages and abilities. Delegating responsibility is a key skill for leaders that moms often practice.
People Development: Great leaders realize that their followers are the future of the organizations they lead. By teaching and training followers, leaders raise the competence of the overall organization. This important skill takes patience, the ability to identify the training need, and an ability to communicate concepts simply so that others can understand.
Mothers are their children’s most important teachers. Children have to be taught or trained in every area of life. Even though children are educated in school, mothers teach their children everything from walking to how to make friends. Think of all the things mothers teach their children including tasks, skills, behaviors, ethics, and habits that are used throughout the rest of their lives. These people development skills are transferrable to the business world.
MN: You have more than two decades of experience working at senior levels in the corporate world. Obviously, you understand corporate lingo, politics and protocol. However, a woman who’s spent the last decade raising young children may not be as accustomed to the ins and outs of the business world. How can women who have no prior business experience, gain quality middle-management jobs and succeed at those jobs?
SW: Two words – training and networking (in-person and online). Even before a woman raising children re-enters the workplace, she can educate herself on her industry of choice by reading industry related business magazines and websites. She can also prepare herself for the workplace by participating in professional organizations to gain networking and volunteer opportunities. She can join organizations like Toastmasters International to practice public speaking. There are also online communities, like MyWorkButterfly.com that provide information and support to working moms.
MN: What inspired you to write Mommy Leadership?
SW: I didn’t originally set out to write a book. It began by writing journal entries to encourage myself and to express how I was feeling about how being a mom would change my career development. I spoke to some of my friends about the mommy leadership concept, and they encouraged me to put it in a book and share it with other moms. I want every mom to know that motherhood is a leadership role and some motherhood skills can be transferred to other leadership roles.
MN: When did you launch your Mommy Leadership business and how do you find the time and energy to work both as an entrepreneur and corporate leader?
SW: Let me just say that it is not easy especially since my business is totally separate from my corporate career. I simply have to maximize every moment and be as productive as possible. Over the years I have learned how and when I am most productive. Knowing myself and my work habits helps me to do just that. Also, I have help – some paid and some volunteer. It also helps that I have a supportive husband and family. Still, I sometimes have to put my business on hold more often than I would like.
MN: What additional changes do you see on the horizon over the next five to seven years?
SW: More stay-at-home dads, more alternative work schedules, and more moms starting businesses for maximum work flexibility.
MN: In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed. Under President Barack Obama’s Administration Health Care Reform was recently enacted. What other changes would you like to see at local, state and federal levels to support working mothers?
SW: I would like to see some level of benefits for part time workers that allow working parents the ability to work fewer hours but still have insurance. I’d also like to see longer paid maternity leaves for parents.
MN: Tell us about two to three women who have inspired you as a business leader. What is it about these women that you find motivating and inspiring?
SW: I have to say that I am most inspired by women who have achieved and are devoted mothers. Earlier this year, Forbes magazine published its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women. I was inspired by the fact that many of them were mothers. Of course, Michele Obama was among the leaders in this group; she’s one of my Mommy Leader inspirations.
Rhonda Campbell, an East Coast journalist, is the owner of Off The Shelf radio and publisher of Long Walk Up and the forthcoming Love Pour Over Me.