Becoming a Strong Leader and Shifting Fast in a Chaotic Job Market

What is a personal brand?  

The other week I ran a poll asking people to select ‘True or False:  A personal brand is MORE important than a company brand.’ 

March is our time to celebrate women across the world and today is International Women’s Day #IWD2022. International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and this year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias.

For me, this is a time of reflection, celebration and motivation. While we’ve made incredible progress in gender equality, there’s still a long journey ahead of us and I think this journey is one that must come from deep within.

My journey to prove my worth

I come from a family of women who were a powerful part of the workforce. My maternal grandmother worked for the U.S. Treasury, became a teacher and brought in much of the family’s household income while my grandfather battled various health concerns. My mother started working at a grocery store at the age of 15, paid her way through college, and was in marketing and sales in the early days of software and online advertising. Education has always been at the foundation of my family’s success and is why I pursued both a Bachelor of Business and Masters of Business.

In my family, we used education to break any bias towards our worth and capabilities. From my experience, the more education and knowledge I’ve had, the less someone could question my capabilities. I’ve always felt like I had to prove something to the world and that a certain education or job would prove my worth. That’s why I fought so hard to get into the Wisconsin Business School as an undergraduate freshman and the McCombs Business School for my MBA.

And the truth is that it was a fight. I didn’t have strong SAT or GMAT scores and felt added pressure to prove my worth so that I could get a chance in these programs. When I applied to the Texas MBA, there were less than 30% women in the program. My year was the first time there were over 30% and now the program is getting closer to 50/50 men and women. We see these discrepancies not just in education but in industries like technology and finance. Is it bias? Is it inequality? Is it systemic? It’s all the things. 

Breaking the bias comes with courage

As I’ve built my career and listened to the women before me, all I’ve heard about is climbing the ladder. Rachel, get a mentor. Rachel, build a career plan to Director. Rachel, what’s your earnings goal.

Along the way, I rarely thought about what fulfilled my passion and purpose. I was on a quest to climb the ladder and ‘break the glass ceiling’. To create more women at the top so that I could bring more along with me. But all of that changed when the pandemic hit, and I realized I just wasn’t happy.

To be honest, I felt that niggle in my stomach as soon as I started my corporate job at Microsoft. I knew this was the ‘perfect job’ with a great salary and benefits and guilted myself for knowing I may be destined for something more beyond a job.  I knew deep down that something was missing for me. In fact, I had a mentor the first 6 months and cried, telling her I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and just felt so guilty and ashamed because I was also so proud to be there.

So I ignored all the feelings.

I ignored who I wanted to be. What I wanted to pursue because I was too scared to break the bias.

I was the female MBA with a great corporate job climbing the ladder…shouldn’t I be happy?

The pursuit of happiness, love and family

When I fell in love with my husband and now business partner Joshua B. Lee, I was living in Seattle. My heart was aching from being away from the person I loved, but I stuck it out for the ‘amazing job’. A little after a year and many therapy sessions later, I realized that I had to move back to Austin to pursue something more important than any career: happiness, love and family.

I made the decision to risk my amazing job to pursue love and asked my General Manager at the time to allow me to work remotely from Austin. I was terrified to make this ask as remote work was not normal or acceptable. Because of the hard work and commitment I had shown the team, he allowed me to work remotely from Austin for 1 year as a test. I was incredibly grateful. And while our test to work remotely lasted more than a year, I felt like I wasn’t getting opportunities because I wasn’t in person.

I didn’t know that my decision to build a family would affect my career trajectory but unfortunately it did.

This was before the pandemic and remote work being what it is now:

Of the searches in the United States on LinkedIn that use the new remote, hybrid, and onsite job filters, 84% of searches are for remote jobs and 1 in 6 jobs on LinkedIn are now remote in the United States.

Back in 2017, this was NOT the case and my career was dramatically hindered by me being a remote worker. Sad to reflect on now but is why flexibility is so critical today.

The people have spoken – flexibility matters

People have always wanted and needed more flexibility to pursue a life of happiness, love and family, but we’ve put our futures in the companies we work for. We’ve let companies guide our happiness and career opportunities. We’ve let the 9 to 5 culture drive our family dynamic. We’ve let it takeaway from our self-care, from our family time, from our health. And for what? 

I was incredibly courageous to ask for remote work – many people doubted me and thought I was crazy to ask. And I know many women would not have done and still would not do what I did which is why I’m so grateful for the Great Reshuffle.

The Great Reshuffle has not only shifted the entire workplace culture, but it has also empowered employee to create a career and life they enjoy living. The people have spoken. They want flexibility. They want balance. They want to love their careers and have an emotional connection with the work that they do. It’s not about getting a great salary anymore. In LinkedIn’s survey, a majority (59%) of survey respondents say feeling happy and fulfilled in their role drives them to produce their best results.

An equal world first comes with equanimity within

During Women’s History Month, I’m reminded of how hard it is to break the bias. The perceptions and constructs run deep in us as women. Our pursuit of a career, family, purpose and passion seems nearly impossible because we’re holding onto all the ‘shoulds’ in our lives.

I should be in corporate.

I should have a baby because I’m turning 35.

I should be making 6 figures.

I should be grateful for my job, people are suffering.

I should be promoted.

I should be married.

The list goes on…

If we do not break the bias and the handcuffs we hold each other and ourselves to, we’ll shatter our hopes and dreams. Until we find equanimity within, we’ll always struggle with it outside ourselves. My hope is that my story and this time of new work flexibility encourages more women to create a life they love. To fight for what they believe in and to pursue their passions and purpose.  

Today let’s celebrate our courage to take risks. Let’s celebrate the new flexibility remote work is giving us as mothers, wives, and badasses all around.

And let’s continue to find our souls. Our voice within. Break your shoulds. Break the bias. Be unapologetically you and trust the niggle in your heart.

Please join some incredible women on March 9th at 9amCST in a special edition LinkedIn Audio Event to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.