careers profiles tech

HOW TO REINVENT YOURSELF IN THE CAREER WORLD :: AN INTERVIEW WITH HARVARD GRAD AND FORMER FACEBOOK EXECUTIVE, DEBRA BEDNAR-CLARK

August 27, 2017
HOW TO REINVENT YOURSELF IN THE CAREER WORLD
HOW TO REINVENT YOURSELF IN THE CAREER WORLD

This interview is for those of you who want to know how to reinvent yourself in the career world — whether it’s to create a new persona that will help you get noticed and nab that corner office, whether it’s to switch careers altogether — or whether it’s to align all your passions and skills and start that personal business you’ve only dreamed about. And you have probably promised yourself on the beginning of each birth year (or perhaps more often, at the beginning of each calendar year) that you will fix all of your former transgressions and finally set out to do what you want to do. But we Google and we ask around — and the how-to advice we receive is often vague. Which is why we’re left at our status quos only to make the same promise to ourselves 364 days later.



But guess what? There’s no better time than now and there is a chic and phenomenal woman named Debra Bednar-Clark who can help get you there. She’s a former techie and Facebook exec turned career and leadership coach — and she founded two businesses that provides hands on and detailed strategic methodologies of substance and style so you can finally be where you want to be. And/or she can lead you to launching your side hustle into the multi-million dollar empire you until now only stared at on your vision board. Women (and some men) from all points in their careers (from Millennials just starting out to seasoned professionals) flock to her when they need direction and guidance.

Corporations don’t have in house career coaches — and although life is now inundated with life coaches, rarely are they able to guide their clients from A-Z, build a business plan, blueprint short and long term creative and financial goals, pick fonts and nail presentations — and give clients a full style overhaul.

Debra Bednar-Clark hails from Harvard, Facebook and Microsoft — and her plentiful life experiences are from everywhere. Today, she is a revered businesswoman who has created a career and life coaching business utilizing her passions, personality, skills and experiences – so your own passions, personality, skills and experiences can finally be utilized to turn your dreams into a reality. I certainly feel fortunate to have this fab, brilliant and super stylish woman on the blog today. Thank you, Debra Bednar-Clark.




| Thank you so much for everything you do — and for doing this interview. What you do and what you represent sends a loud message to all of us career woman – those of us not only trying to stay afloat but those of us trying to rise to the top of the boys’ club. I’m so inspired by your corporate path, how you individualized it and what you’re doing now. You’re stylish and you’re techy. You’re every woman’s inspiration. So I want to know everything! Please tell me a little about your background and your transition from coding to developing your own business. |

Yes! So I have two businesses right now. One is DB+co and one is DB Style and they both originated by my friends calling me “DB” but I can give you more context about how and why I started these businesses.

I spent many years in corporate before I decided to launch my own business. And a lot of that happened to do with my own personal journey and things I was experiencing by other women working in corporate as well. So when I first started my career, I was an undergraduate and business major and I thought I was going to pursue a career in fashion.  But then I was selected by Accenture for a coding position – and the recruiter saw something in me that I had not yet seen in myself. I had strong math and science scores and certain qualities that he thought would lend itself well to this discipline. Since technology back in 1995 was really just beginning —  I thought it’d be interesting to learn a skill set that I didn’t yet have.

And when I look at a position now, every position I have ever been in has been about what I’m able to do next that will allow me to make an impact later on down the road.


And even though I was successful and I was advancing up the corporate ladder and making great strides, I was always in a perpetual tug of war between what I was doing and what I was supposed to be doing and actually aspired to be.


So when I started Accenture, it was really fantastic. I learned how to code — and then I moved onto a strategy role. But ultimately, one of the first things I realized was that I was very different. I was girly girl, very feminine and into pastels –  but I also had the other side of me that aimed to drive business results. However, when I was in a coding career, I was one of very few woman among many men and one of very few business majors. I was surrounded by every type of engineer and I just didn’t feel like I fit in.

And even though I was driving results, I still felt a excluded from the culture. So I think like most woman, I started to dull my spark a little bit — and it evolved how I was talking and dressing to fit in. And one of the things that I realized is that every time you’re not bringing your whole self forward and are not true to who you really are, you’re tearing a piece of your soul every day. And even though I was successful and I was advancing up the corporate ladder and making great strides, I was always in a perpetual tug of war between what I was doing and what I was supposed to be doing and actually aspired to be.

I evolved my career. I went from consulting to advertising to media and tech. I kept pursuing different things; but all along the way, even when I was in graduate school, I wasn’t really confident enough to bring my whole self forward. Because in academia, there are certain standards, etc. and bringing in your femininity and style really were not necessarily revered.

While I was building all of these businesses and teams and getting more confident in bringing my true self forward, I found myself as the office coach. I was effectively coaching so many different women throughout all stages of their careers and helping provide advice and guidance on how they could make their way through the murky waters of corporate to succeed and be valued for who they were. My coaching covered everything from how to effectively communicate with your manager to how to balance promoting synergy between your inner and outer self, being respected, being taken seriously — all these different elements. So what I realized back in 2013-2014 was that the number of women in all stages of their career, at the most progressive companies in the world, were still struggling to navigate the deep and murky waters of the workplace — and I was trying to be more fulfilled by bringing my whole self to work.

I realized I wanted to start DB+co to help others feel authentically fulfilled every single day. Essentially, I was my first client and now I take what I learned from the past 20+ years and share it with others in a much shorter time frame.


While I was at Facebook, if I could have been the Chief Coach and Style Officer, that would have been my dream job, but that didn’t exist. So I realized that I needed to create this.


| Did these meetings with coworkers happen in a formal setting or did they come on spontaneously?

I mentored and coached teams that were formally my direct report, but what I thought was interesting and what really stood out to me was that my colleagues’ directs were coming to me for advice and coaching and mentoring.

And I started to understand that not everybody was getting the same type of investment to be able to map what made them unique to the needs of the business. And as I was advancing in Corporate America, I would always have people organically stop by my desk and ask for feedback. And the people also started setting up video conferences with me if they were based in Singapore and London and I think it just spread word of mouth where one person was getting help and finding it valuable. And it kept spreading.

While I was at Facebook, if I could have been the Chief Coach and Style Officer, that would have been my dream job, but that didn’t exist. So I realized that I needed to create this.

There isn’t really one job that can help coach and advise people holistically – and that is substance and style for me.




| What does the majority of the composition of your clients look like? Are your client’s corporations, employees within corporations or those launching their own businesses? Please describe what your services are composed of. |

I have both individual and corporate clients.

For individual clients, I offer one-to-one coaching. These individuals come to me on their own through referrals and they come from all stages of their career and from all levels of a company. I work with executive women and rising stars and emerging female leaders — and one of the things that I’m noticing is that there are so many Millennial women reaching out to me — and they are really yearning to learn how to make an impact. The other interesting dynamic is that most corporations, when they invest in professional development, tend to be at the Director level and up for one to one individual coaching.


We peel back the layers and ask, who are you, what are your values, what are your beliefs, what are your skills, passions?


So there is a real gap there with respect to where companies are investing. Whether you’re an executive woman or rising star, every woman has their specific challenge for why they’re reaching out to me.

I had an executive woman who built her own agency and now she wants to understand how she defines her next chapter – and then also up level the talent that reports into her. She wants a succession plan so she can move onto what she wants next.

And I have other women earlier on in their careers – and they have enough experience but they’re hitting a wall and they need help in how to package and promote themselves to get the opportunities that they know they’re capable of and that they deserve.

There are a lot of emerging women that are not quite sure what they want to do. I had a client who joined a Fortune 100 company because she thought it’d be a great job. But 2-3 years into it, she is realizing that this isn’t what she wants to do. And she isn’t quite sure what to do next and this is part of what we do.

We peel back the layers and ask, who are you, what are your values, what are your beliefs, what are your skills, passions?


Women are really looking for a support system, someone to validate them, encourage them and give them tools and scripts and things to say.


We build this criteria about who YOU are and then we figure out the companies in terms of products and services, leadership and culture, in terms of the flexibility that one may be seeking. We go through that process together and that usually occurs over multiple sessions. Women are really looking for a support system, someone to validate them, encourage them and give them tools and scripts and things to say.

And on the flip side, one of the things that I’m trying to do is work with more corporations directly. I want corporations to be investing in female talent. Most of my experience in Corporate America is in personal development — and training has been great at a surface level in terms teaching negotiation, presentation or communication skills. But one of the things I know I needed for myself was at a much deeper root level.

There are so many dynamics that can influence your fears, your aspirations, how you command a room and pursue big changes – and all of these things are wrapped up in your history and experiences and your perspective of the world. And I’m finding that women are really looking to go within to really see who they are so they can align their career with who they are. That’s really why I started DB+co because there really wasn’t anything out there that was peeling back the layers. It’s like you’re doing part therapy session, part career coaching, part style. It’s very holistic because women are multifaceted.

| How will you know you have succeeded with your clients? |

There are a few things.

One is when my client tells me one of our sessions or growth exercises helped her change her compensation, title or hit a milestone that she set out to conquer. That is incredibly fulfilling. And with every woman, one of the things we set out to do is establish and articulate what their top 3 goals are. Focus is very important. It’s about understanding what are the goals and how do we get there.

But there are so many mini breakthrough moments that equally make me feel as though I’m helping to make an impact. One of my favorite pieces of feedback I’ve ever received is from a woman I’m coaching this year. She is a female Millennial rock-star and rising talent at a Fortune 10 company — and she said that our coaching session was life changing. In one session, she learned how to unapologetically hold firm in how she feels even though that made her feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. For many years, she thought she was doing the right thing by smoothing things over when things got uncomfortable in meetings with colleagues just to make herself and others feel more comfortable. And what she learned is that it’s more impactful for everyone to experience the uncomfortable because that forces people to fix it. And that was a huge moment for her. She also said it was very transferable into her personal life as well.

So feedback like that — when I hear “life changing”  or “skills transferable to one’s personal life” — those are the intangible qualitative dynamics that for me are very good validation points that this matters, it’s working, people are growing.

There is still so much more work to be done though. I was looking at the latest stats — and tenure for Millennial females has declined. It used to be 4.5 years at the company and now it’s 2 years – which shows there are a lot of unhappy people that are leaving prematurely. And also equally concerning are career women who return to work after having children are finding themselves in unfulfilling roles. And this does not include women who want to exclusively be taking care of their families – these women are women who are hungry, yearning and capable to stretch and do more but they’re just finding themselves in these really limiting opportunities. Especially if you’re a woman that wants to work 20-30 hours a week in a part time position. That has been equally as challenging to find compelling roles.

I work with companies on how to offer fulfilling types of opportunities to working moms as well.

| For those who want to stay within the corporate world, what is your advice on getting unstuck. For example, what’s your advice on getting noticed and making your way to that corner office? |

The biggest advice is paying attention to how you feel. Those internal cues. People tend to look at external cues. This isn’t the right role, company or manager, etc., for example.

But one of the first things I do when someone comes to me and tells me they’re in a soul sucking position is to peel back the layers, hone in and ask if they’re aligning with who they are. Find out what is out of alignment. Is it your belief? Are you not bringing your full skill set forward? Are you not working on something that you’re passionate about? THAT is what illuminates the changes one needs to make.

I am working with a client now who is working for a company and she believes in the mission and leadership team but she’s in a position that she isn’t happy about. So we’re working on how she expands her role and scope and proves her abilities with new responsibilities.

Although I was in a business strategy role, one of the things I did to make my role more fulfilling was create more HR policies and female leadership roles for my organization.


You question a lot and you think about whether you made mistakes prior — but my belief is that it’s never too late to transition to a career that aligns with who you are.

I think that people are moving so fast that sometimes we can get so caught up in achieving something — but we don’t always know why we’re doing that. My belief is that if it’s authentic and true for you, then it’s never too late to pursue it.


Even though I wasn’t in HR, I was creating new on-boarding programs and processes because new hires are really struggling to feel as though they were making an impact right away. It’s about taking note of what the problems are and challenges you’re seeing — and how to lend your skill-set, passions and experiences to solve the challenge. And then what inevitably happens is you’re creating your role and others in the organization begin to notice.

But you also do need to pay attention to external cues as well. If you’re trying to overcome barriers and you’re still not receiving what you think you deserve in terms of raises, promotions and new opportunities, then those are signals which can make you think maybe you are out of alignment with this company.

It’s about taking the inventory — and once you understand what the real gap is, it’s about how do you strategically bridge that gap.

| Is it ever too late to transition if you’re far down the executive path already? I know you were able to do it – but it does require a lot of bravery and emotional humps that people may see as a barrier to launch their own business or to switch industries and leave one career for another entirely. |

Yes, it’s very daunting and emotional. I spent so many years to get to where I was. You think about everything you did to overcome and to actually accomplish that and then to all of a sudden think you’re walking away from this career to do something else. It’s very daunting.

You question a lot and you think about whether you made mistakes prior — but my belief is that it’s never too late to transition to a career that aligns with who you are.

I think that people are moving so fast that sometimes we can get so caught up in achieving something — but we don’t always know why we’re doing that. My belief is that if it’s authentic and true for you, then it’s never too late to pursue it.


…but what I am really trying to show women is that this is about the totality of your experiences and how you bring that forward. It’s about following the breadcrumbs. How are you taking everything you’ve learned over the course of all your jobs to bring you to your next role?


I believe that your greatest success and fulfillment will always happen when you’re aligning your mission, your values, your skills, your experiences and passions to your role.

Sometimes we feel beholden to these professional standards that we have to stay in this role for a certain amount of years. You think you’ve learned this degree so that is what I’m capable of — but what I am really trying to show women is that this is about the totality of your experiences and how you bring that forward. It’s about following the breadcrumbs. How are you taking everything you’ve learned over the course of all your jobs to bring you to your next role?

And this is really a life long process. And the flip side is staying in a role or path because you think it’s what you should be doing can really come at a significant cost. Because if you’re doing that, the intangible stress and energy that you’re dedicating to a company you don’t truly feel aligned with weighs on you. There are so many women that come to me and they have this energy but it’s not channeled in the right place — and it’s incredibly draining and it can be very toxic. And for me, the trade off is the cost is too high if you’re doing something that you’re not fundamentally aligned to. The key is to take an inventory and always pay attention to how you feel, what fuels and drains you, and understand what you can and can’t control in your current situation so you can create a path that is aligned with who you are and what you can contribute to the world.

| Sometimes people have their side hustle and they want to make it their full-time gig. But it’s not always realistic financially since they may have a family, a mortgage. How do you balance your dreams with the practicality of life? |

I am working with a client right now who came to me with this huge vision. She has an empire that she wants to build — and I was so incredibly inspired and was in the midst of putting her business plan together so she can launch. And she just came to me and said she’s going through a separation with her husband. That obviously changes her financial situation and a lot of other dynamics as well.

So one of the things we’re working through right now is preparing for her short term needs. She needs to get supplemental income while also continuing to build an action plan so she can take baby steps so she can continue to work toward her bigger vision of what she knows she’s meant to do.

We’re looking to supplement her income — and it’s not just about finding “a” job. It’s about finding those opportunities that are already leveraging her skill set and experiences and what she’s interested in. And that could also give her insight into what she wants to scale in order to grow her business — in terms of running a business or leading a business, the types of clients she wants to work with, etc.

So we’re being very super strategic about it.

Before I left my position, I knew the opportunity costs in terms of compensation I’d have to forego. I tried to work on more of my passion projects to fill that void until I felt financially stable to be able to make that leap and forego that financial dynamic. And I’m very risk averse. So I was very clear in what my vision was and what I wanted to do and my action plan.

There are still so many things you can do before leaving a job– like in her case, building a business. You can build some things behind the scenes without launching yet – but that are helping you make progress.

And for another woman, she is a graphic designer working at a big publishing company — and for her and her financial situation, one of the things we did was work with her employer to allow her to tap into side projects. So she’s now doing freelance design for different movies, different companies, different industries which are giving her the fuel that she needs right now for that perfect balance rather than being a full-time freelancer.

Everyone’s situation is unique. For some, it’s determining whether a woman’s side hustle really will turn into a full-time job. For others, there are a lot of things they love about their full-time job. It gives benefits and it allows a certain lifestyle, but they also like doing their side project simultaneously. And that’s more of a hybrid model.

And for others, it’s about creating the job. I knew there was no other option for me in terms of aligning my values, beliefs, passions, and abilities in Corporate America.

So I knew my side hustle, which was career + style coaching, didn’t exist. So I had to create it.  But for me, the timing was the big issue. It was about when I was able to make that financial decision and take the leap.



| Please touch on what you mean when you say you merge substance with style. |

Style is obviously very important because the first thing you see is the way someone looks, talks and acts. So one of the things I’m working on at DB+co specifically is their leadership style, their communication style and their personal style. And that is very holistic.

One of the things that I’m also doing is helping women who need more guidance in terms of their aesthetic and style. Many women want to know what outfits they should be buying, how to mix and match things to create the brand they want. When I was at Facebook, I launched my blog called DB Style that really took off and got a lot of followers. I’m now turning my blog into a product where I’m creating digital lookbooks for women – so when women are working and they don’t have the time to go shopping or they don’t know how to manifest a look, I work with them through DB Style to define theirs.

Then I create a digital lookbook with outfits I’m curating based on what the event is, whether it’s a speaking engagement, or if she wants new looks to transition into a season, or if she wants a complete closet transformation. I curate based on their defined style, silhouette, budget, needs, etc.

DB Style and DB+co work hand in hand. I created them as two separate platforms because depending on where a woman is in her career, she may want to double down on the career coaching which involves an element of style.

But then there are other women who are really established and feel great where they are from a career perspective — but they really needed to double down on style — and then I can have them partner with me through DB Style. They’re all part of the same entity – but just two different platforms.For me as a working women, substance, and style always went hand in hand.

I think to have credibility and respect, you need to be conscious about how you present yourself, how you show up and how you unlock the power of your image.

So I’m helping women bring that to life holistically. And it’s not just through their clothes. It’s how do they design their desk, how their work product reflects their style, what palette and fonts they are using in their presentations, their email signature, their online presence – so it’s really holistic.

| Do you have a design, art background? How are you so good with style? |

Again, this is about knowing your strengths.

I decided to create DB Style because what I’m definitely good at is getting to know people at their core. I have a business background, a psychology background and I’m genuinely interested and curious about understanding humanity. So for me, that is my core.

And I also really love curation. When I know someone’s style, it’s very intuitive for me to be able to manifest that through different aesthetics.

As we evolve, our style evolves too.


HOW TO REINVENT YOURSELF IN THE CAREER WORLD


++ Be inspired and follow her here:

DB +co Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/db.and.co/

DB Style on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DB-Style-121609184551274/?ref=bookmarks


 

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