I’m delighted to present this exclusive interview with Kerrie Halmi, the founder of Halmi Performance Consulting, member of the Women’s Council at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and former Vice President of the Board of Directors of W.O.M.A.N., Inc.
Kerrie has almost two decades of Human Resources experience under her belt, with extensive experience in coaching, training and team facilitation. Kerrie received her MBA from Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan with an emphasis on Human Resources and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Industrial Psychology from the University of Illinois.
She is a certified coach with Corporate Coach University International (CCUI) and is also certified in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). She is also a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA). In this exclusive interview, Kerrie shares some of her insights into how women can succeed in Corporate America:
Edith: Why are you focusing on helping women and their career?
Kerrie: I always have been a feminist and interested in helping women. It first came to light when I was in business school and I got my MBA at Michigan. Only 20% of the class was women. I noticed how I was personally intimated by that and didn’t speak up much in class which made a huge difference in my grade. When I started my own business in 2001, I noticed more and more women are still going through the same obstacles. Now we have two daughters. I want them to be able to grow up knowing that they can be anything they want to be. When you look into the statistics for Corporate America, why are there so few women in power? I want to change that.
Edith: What is stopping women from succeeding in Corporate America?
Kerrie: It’s very complex, with lots of factors, including lingering stereotypes and women not doing certain things that are necessary to succeed. My focus is on helping women learn strategies they can use and educating people on the issues so they can be addressed. Communication is a big obstacle. Not speaking up in meeting. Not asking for what you need (promotions, raises or additional responsibilities). It has a lot to do with confidence. Your confidence level has a huge impact on your success in corporate America. I have seen numerous women not getting promoted because they don’t have that confidence image. If you don’t come across as confident, people assume you are not capable. This happen more frequently with women than men.
Edith: What is so unique about the American corporate culture that women (or men) should be aware of?
Kerrie: Being extroverted. Being able to speak up. In the American corporate culture, if you don’t speak up, people don’t think you are credible at all. Be confident and comfortable to explain why you deserve a promotion, a raise or certain resources.
However, sometimes it can be a double edged sword too. A recent client of mine is a partner in a law firm and her boss (a man) asked her why she deserved a raise. So she told him what she had accomplished. Her boss response was “Wow…You sure think highly of yourself, don’t you?”
I was surprised by his response, but it happens. I always encourage women to develop that confidence image and learn how to say what they have accomplished. However, this double edged sword does happen to women sometimes. The Catalyst organization has recently published an article called “Damned if you do. Doomed if you don’t” which talks about how we are all supposed to do certain things in the workplace, but when women do it, it is not necessarily good for them. Bragging can be one of those things.
In corporate America, it is very important to let people know what you have done and your accomplishments. Women in general are less comfortable in doing so than men are. Find a style that is comfortable for you, so it will be more natural and authentic.
Edith: What communication advice would you give someone who is new to the American business world? What suggestion do you have in dealing with bosses?
Kerrie: That is a good question. The more clarity you can put into the relationship the better in terms of communication. When my clients have difficulty with their bosses, I would encourage them to be very clear about their needs and expectations. Clarity will make things easier. Learn about your bosses’ style of communication and try to adapt and adjust accordingly.
For example, one of my coaching clients really wanted to fire his employee. When we explored the issues, I realized that the root of the problem was that they had very different communication styles. The boss was really analytical, quiet and factual while the employee was a dramatic and expressive story teller. They were able to resolve their issues by understanding the different styles and both adjusting their communication style just a little bit.
Edith: What would be your advice if I am about to walk in to my boss office and I want to ask for a raise, what do I need to prepare?
Kerrie: Do your research. Prepare all your facts. Look at how much other people are getting paid. That can be a sticky point. Some people say you should not talk about compensation. I would say you have to and you should. Find out what other women and men are making. The fact is an average woman makes 80 cents to the dollar that a man makes.
Gather evidence to explain why you deserve more. Prepare bullet points of supporting factors and be ready to talk about each point. Explain how you generate revenue for the company. Explain how you save money for the company. The bullet points will not only serve as evidence, but also help your confidence level. I see a lot of women get hung up and say “I don’t really deserve that much more”, but you do.
Edith: What other negative images do women usually have of themselves?
Kerrie: Number 1 - Women tend to think they are not good or competent enough. When a women wants a job, she looks at the job description and thinks “I am only 80% qualified, I am not going to go for it.” When a man wants a job, he looks at the job description and thinks “I am 80% qualified, I am definitely going to go for it.” When I was in human resources in corporate America, if someone is 80% qualified, I would encourage them to come in and interview; unfortunately most women don’t even try if they are not 100% qualified.
Number 2- Women don’t give themselves enough credit, so they often don’t take the risks they need to in order to move ahead. They slowly fall into a not-asking mode. For example, one of my clients is in a very high position in her company and extremely well respected. She spent a lot of time doing administrative duties, so I encouraged her to get an administrative assistant. She looked into it and found out the men who were in her equivalent positions actually had one or even two assistants. So she prepared her case, went to her boss and said that she needed an administrative assistant; her boss immediately said okay.
Number 3 – Women don’t like to ask, but when they do it, they are usually surprised how easy it is. For my client, her boss knew all along she deserved one, but he wasn’t going to offer it to her until she asked.
Edith: I personally had some bad experience working for women bosses. What do you think about women bosses?
Kerrie: It is scary how common it is… I gave a talk one time to over 30 women HR executives. One of them said, “I had such a negative experience working for a woman, I would never do it again.” That was a really strong statement and lot of them were nodding their heads. Then I asked “How many of you agree with this?” About 80% of the room raised their hand. These were women who were really influential in their organizations and obviously supportive of women’s rights, but they would never work for a female. That was sad and damaging to organizations. We have to change that. As women, we need to change that attitude. Notice the stereotypes. Don’t forget you can work for a bad or good female boss or a bad or good male boss. Be aware and sometimes you need to call out the elephant in the room when other women are behaving like that.
There needs to be objective criteria to review women’s performance. If it is not objective, women do worse. Studies have shown that women would evaluate women lower than they would evaluate men. Men would also rate the women lower. Everyone rates the women lower when the criteria is subjective. So, it is equal opportunity discrimination.
Edith:. It is interesting what you said about job descriptions earlier, are you saying if I am only 50% qualified for a job, I should go for it?
Kerrie: Absolutely. Most hiring managers usually write down the qualities of a fantasy person and everything this person is supposed to have. They usually realize they would never find someone like that. I always recommend managers to look at everything in candidates: the qualifications, qualities, experiences and competencies. So definitely don’t worry about not being 100% qualified.
Edith: What is your advice for someone who is new to America?
Kerrie: Find mentors. Find someone who is willing to help. Ask them out for lunch or coffee. Ask them questions to learn how they succeed in certain corporation. If you are new to the country, this is essential. You need to learn about these unwritten rules.
Edith: What books would you recommend for women or immigrant professionals to read?
Kerrie: Three books came to mind right now.
1) by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever which talks about how women don’t ask for what they need and should be more assertive.
2) by Peggy Klaus which teaches about the art of tooting your own horn without blowing it.
3) by Robin Wolaner. This is a really truthful and honest book. She talks about her time in Corporate America, her lessons learned and tips for succeeding. The title says it all.
Edith: Any last advice or words of wisdom for EdithYeung.com readers?
Kerrie: Network. Get mentors. Know what you deserve and ask for it. Project the right confidence image (even if you don’t feel it all the time). Use other women as support. Look for women mentors and also look for younger women who you can mentor. As women, we should all work together instead of against each other.
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