4 Female CEOs Share the Best Career Advice They've Ever Received
Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall tells PEOPLE she was outraged before learning a "valuable lesson"
PEOPLE’s Real Tips for Real Life presents practical answers to some of the most commonly asked questions around finance, employment and preparing for the future—even when that future can seem very uncertain.
Female CEOs are gaining momentum.
Though just 33 of the companies featured on 2019’s Fortune 500 list were run by women, the number marked a record for the publication’s prestigious ranking of the highest-grossing companies.
To celebrate the strides women are making in the boardroom and encourage aspiring leaders of the future, PEOPLE set out to gather the most helpful advice female CEOs have received in the course of their careers.
Check out their wisdom below.
1. Don’t Let Anyone Take Your Seat at the Table
Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall (pictured above) has been credited with turning around the entire organization’s culture.
When she was hired in February 2018, Marshall met one-on-one with all 140 employees and asked each of them to share with her their entire life story. Then she wanted to know what they wanted to do next — both personally and professionally.
“You’ve got to know your people,” she says.
Her approach to leadership is informed by her past. One day while working at AT&T, Marshall found herself outraged, prompting a vice president she worked with to drive 90 minutes to her office to calm her down.
“He didn’t like the way I was responding to a situation,” she remembers. “He walked into my office and said, ‘You’re right on everything. But how you’re reacting is taking the focus off the issue, and putting it on you.’ He taught me a good lesson: It’s not about what happens, but how you respond to what happens. He said, ‘People need you at the table, they need you in the position you are in. You’re the first woman in your job. You’re the first black person. We need your voice. We need you at the table. So don’t respond in a way that causes people to question, ‘Should you be at the table?’”
“I learned a valuable lesson from that and I practice it all the time,” she says. “I tell people, ‘Don’t give up your seat at the table. It’s not always what happens, but how you respond. Just be very thoughtful.’ There are a lot of things as women, or people of color, [where] you might feel like you have to stand on principle, or take a stand on something — but there’s a thoughtful, deliberate way to do it that keeps the focus on the issue, and you can win in the end. I learned that the hard way.”
2. Don’t Wait for the Perfect Job — and Don’t Be Afraid to Quit
“People stress out about what their first job is, or whether they’re making the right career move,” says Anne Wojcicki, the 46-year-old CEO of the DNA testing and genetic analysis company 23andMe. “So long as you’re learning, you should take any job. You should leave that job as soon as you stop learning. When I think about my career and everything, every single job has added up. I was in a position where I was learning something new, and as soon as I stopped learning, I transitioned out.”
Her sister Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, gave her that advice, Anne says.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect job or a perfect first job. Just do anything where you’re going to learn something new,” Anne says. “It’s one of those things I always tell people, even in the company: Don’t be afraid to quit. So many people are afraid of change. But if you’re not stimulated, you should do something else — the world is full of lots of interesting jobs. It can be scary at times, but you have to push yourself to take on challenges and do things that are new. Push yourself to keep growing.”
3. Find Out What You’re Good at — and Do It!
An editor at SmartMoney magazine told Jean Chatzky to find out what she was great at and use it to set her apart from the pack. “And then just find ways to do that over and over again,” says Chatzky, the 55-year-old CEO of HERMONEY.com.
After Chatzky began appearing as a finance expert on the Today show, strangers approached her in dressing rooms at department stores and said, “I didn’t understand that thing. But the way you explained it, I could understand it.”
“I realized my talent is in communicating about this complicated language of money,” she tells PEOPLE. “I’m not the best stock picker in the world. I’m not a gifted economist. I’m not an economist at all. But I can take these complicated concepts and distill them and explain them.”
4. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone — and That Zone Will Grow
“The best advice I got came from one of my investors. He said, ‘If you live life on the edge of your comfort zone, your comfort zone will just continue to expand,’” says Nikki Pechet, the 38-year-old CEO of construction company Homebound.
“That’s something I think about a lot with building and growing a business,” Pechet adds. “I’m constantly trying to implement this thinking. Being on the edge of your comfort zone is really uncomfortable. In those moments of discomfort where I’m doing something that feels really new, and I feel uncertain, I try to reflect back on moments six months ago, or a year ago, or 10 years ago … Discomfort is temporary. You have the ability to rise to the occasion no matter how big the occasion gets.”