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Challenge Me

I need to grow and continue my learning through new challenges and see multiple paths to advancement.

By Lauren Noël and Christie Hunter Arscott

Lauren Noël and Christie Hunter Arscott

The early career women we interviewed thrive on new challenges. “For me, the big question is, now that we have hired the top two percent of the talent pool, how do we place them into stretch assignments that will challenge them?” said one executive.

At companies where women in the first decade of their careers are succeeding, junior female stars have opportunities to grow and continue their learning through new challenges and see multiple paths to advancement. Here’s what your company can do to stretch and challenge aspiring women leaders:


Executives explained that many rising female stars benefit from targeted skill building. Thus, a number of the companies we spoke with are providing specific development for next generation women leaders. Here are three examples of such targeted development:

1) Stakeholder Management:

“Philips’ Next Gen Women in Leadership Program spends quite a bit of time helping women understand their power arena, which is their stakeholder map. The program covers: who are your stakeholders? Where are they within your power arena? And, what is the relationship you have with them?” said Philips’ Belinda LIu.

2) Informal Networks:

Compared with men, women have a more difficult time gaining access to informal networks and being known by key decision makers. BlackRock is taking steps to address this challenge with the firm’s MD (Managing Director) Chats program, which connects women directors with managing directors at the firm through two 90-minute small group sessions. “MD Chats create a forum where people can connect where they otherwise would not. It puts more of that high potential female talent on the radar of senior leaders in the firm,” said Kara Helander Managing Director, BlackRock.

3) Personal Brand:

“In the Philips Next Gen Women in Leadership Program, we focus on building your personal brand. What is it that you want to stand for? What drives you to show up to work every day? How do you articulate your achievements and strengths?” said Philips’ Belinda Liu.


HubSpot, a high-growth marketing firm, gives employees plenty of ongoing learning, big challenges, and broad exposure. For example, the company’s free books policy lets employees expense any book that will further their career. The company hosts “HubTalks”, small informal talks given by CEOs and executives from a wide range of industries including music, philanthropy, technology, and beyond. Managers lead roundtable discussions. “In many ways, working at HubSpot is like being at a University. The work environment is incredibly enriching,” says HubSpot’s Meghan Keaney Anderson.

Yet, it’s a two-way street and women understand that their end of the bargain is to seek out new learning opportunities. According to HubSpot’s Pam Vaughan, “The possibilities of working on other projects throughout the company are endless. There’s always something you can do. The people that take the initiative to find those opportunities thrive here.”


“Millennials have an expectation of rapid movement up the ladder. They get impatient when that doesn’t happen. Fidelity has experienced success with offering vertical and lateral moves,” said Fidelity’s Ted Higgins.

At HubSpot, executives encourage interdepartmental moves. For example, an entry level support representative who has demonstrated success and readiness for a new challenge could move into marketing, project management, become a consultant, or progress vertically to become a support manager, providing at least four different tracks.

Such developmental practices have larger benefits. They develop a better sense of perspective for rising stars on how the various components of the company fit together. This not only fosters collaboration but also gives them a window on what it means to be a leader. Providing early career women with options—to move vertically, horizontally, downshift for a few years, manage others, be a stellar individual contributor—enables women to craft their own unique paths and opens their eyes to exciting opportunities that exist within your company.


Executives also expressed the need to embrace a creative mindset when thinking about women’s mobility. For some women, moving to another country isn’t attractive due to family or cultural reasons. As Rachel Osikoya, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, A.P. Moller Maersk explained, “It’s important to take a step back and question ‘why do we need our employees to be mobile?’ Often, we want our employees to move to our growth markets for a skills specific role. But how else could we reach these objectives? Could an assignment be six months instead of two years? Secondly, we need to think about why we need to move an individual? If we are asking a woman from one country to move to another due to her skillset could we move the role to her home country instead?”

In summary, the women we interviewed thrive on new challenges. “What I like best about Maersk is that we have lots of career opportunities, challenges, and stretch assignments,” said A.P. Moller Maersk’s Clara Mohl Schack. Companies can address this by helping aspiring women leaders develop the skills they need most, providing early career women with multiple paths to advancement, and thinking creatively about women’s mobility. This presents a tall order and an exciting opportunity for executives to engage, equip, and inspire women in the first decade of their careers.

Lauren Noël and Christie Hunter Arscott are T50’s Thinkers of the Month for August. They are launching QUEST, a global leadership institute for early career women, in September 2016.


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