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Monday, November 25, 2013

Biz Tips for Girl Scouts!

I recently had the opportunity to literally provide business tips to girls - in a 2-part session that I facilitated for Junior Girl Scouts (9 and 10-year olds), helping them to earn their Business Owner badge.  The 10 girls that participated give me great hope for the future.  As we went around the circle introducing ourselves, they said things like, "I'm Amy and I'm Fabulous!" and "I'm Susan and I have "shareholds" in several companies" (she used the wrong term but had a very accurate grasp on what it meant to own stock).  As in any group, some were talkers and some were more reserved, but I saw no self-esteem issues there!  The mission of the Girl Scouts has been refined slightly over 100 years as our culture has changed, but Girl Scouting has always been about leadership.  The current message is:  Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.  I certainly saw that on these two Tuesday evenings in November.

While obviously rambunctious 9 and 10-year old girls, they were thoughtful and serious about planning their businesses.  We walked through a business plan and they were surprised to learn how much is involved in starting a business. Many decided that the funding to start their businesses would come from their parents;  I suggested a Plan B.  When my friend Nancy came in to talk about banking, and Melanie came in to talk about SBA resources, the girls were also surprised to learn that you actually had to apply for a loan and overcome objections or concerns that the banker or SBA loan officer might have about their business. (They thought the bank was just a money store where you go and and withdraw what you need).  Finally, they drew a picture of their businesses and presented that along with their business plan to the group.

Sometimes I use this as one of my "two truths and a lie" when that game is played at networking events:  I was a Girl Scout from Brownies through Seniors - and then I was a troop co-leader for a mentally impaired troop in Kalamazoo while at Western Michigan University studying Psychology.  It was not particularly cool or un-cool to be a Girl Scout even back when I was in school, but we were lucky to have terrific leaders who made it interesting and rewarding and I remain friends with many of those girls today.  We volunteered at several places including the Detroit Historical Museum (if I survive an apocalypse and we have to start society over from scratch, I can spin wool into yarn on a spinning wheel...I'm just saying).  We took trips to Mystic Connecticut to learn to sail; we traveled to Toronto and Washington, D.C.  Of course, camping is a big part of Girls Scouting.  Some might be surprised to learn that I didn't just participate in pre-primitive camping, but full-out primitive:  digging a hole for the latrine and to wash dishes (different holes of course), pitching a tent and cooking over camp fires built with matches and kindling.  (To be fair, I was younger then and not yet addicted to my curling iron).

My Girl Scout background doesn't often come up in conversation, so I found it curious when I was looking for a place to hold these sessions and reached out to my Posse sister, Tyla, to see if I could use one of her Montessori School classrooms.  Not only did she generously offer her classroom, but helped me moderate the first session - and told me that she was also a Girl Scout for many years.  Then when I asked two more very accomplished friends, Nancy and Melanie, to speak to the girls about business and banking at the second session, I learned that they had also been Girl Scouts.

As a thank-you for doing these sessions, the Volunteer Specialist from the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan gave me a book written by the CEO, Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts.  It's a fascinating look at how Girl Scouts have impacted society over the years and how the organization is evolving to remain relevant today.  The author and CEO, Kathy Cloninger, shares statistics that we already know:  only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO's are women, women hold just 17% of congressional seats in government and make up only 15% of corporate board directors.  Then she shared a statistic that I did not know:  though only 10% of American girls have been Girl Scouts at any one time, 80% of female senior executives and business owners are former Girl Scouts.  Coincidence?  I think not.

As Tyla was looking around the room, she said she could see all of our other Posse sisters as 9-year old girls (you'll recall from past posts that my Posse is a group of women who seceded from the Woman President's Organization and continue to stay in touch as an informal advisory group for each other - and serve as drinking partners). Almost all of our personalities were in that room.

Now that I'm thinking about it, while I also belong to several "mixed" business groups, I have a long history of joining girl-groups:  Girl Scouts, Executive Women's Golf League, National Association of Women Business Owners, Smart Girls Book Club, Women President's Organization - these associations have provided a strong foundation and an invaluable source of support, guidance, information and resources.  (I can only assume that the Red Hat Society is the logical next step!)

Most people associate Girl Scouts with cookie sales without being aware that the annual cookie sale is a powerful $700 million educational program that underscores their  brand:  developing leadership in girls.  This is not the giant commercial for Girl Scouting that it sounds like, but it IS about the importance of encouraging girls to develop their leadership potential. We have a leadership crisis in this country and until women are involved at a higher percentage, we're only tapping the potential of half of our population.

So as Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book, Lean In, when your daughter/niece/student starts to sound "bossy", please do not use that B-word:  tell her you're excited to see that she's exhibiting leadership potential.  Maybe we'll see her in the future as the CEO of a Fortune 100 company that she founded - or (if she sets her sights lower) as President of the United States!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Odd Jobs

I'm at the age now where our kids and their cousins are all graduating from college and moving out into the workforce to get "real" jobs (different than their jobs during high school and college).  They seem to be very determined to find the perfect job, and they're a little disturbed that the jobs in their major field of study no longer seem to appeal to them, or are not as they expected.  Just when you think you know what you want to be when you grow up - not so much.  Some of us are STILL trying to figure that out.

I have been doing my best to share these truths with the youngsters:

1) your first job will probably suck
2) few people are working in their major field of study (Doctors and Attorneys aside...and even some of them have changed careers....)

Here are a couple of my first jobs after college:  (by the way - Behavioral Psych major / Business Management minor.  I intended to be an administrator at a group home or sheltered workshop for mentally impaired...until I discovered how little that paid.  Business Management to the top of the resume!)

Record Copy Services:  It was just that.  They copied records for attorneys.  (Think before the internet, before email, before computers, before fax machines.  There were IBM Selectric typewriters and copy machines.)  I was hired as one of 4 department managers on Monday; I was the only one left on Friday (and that was my last day).  Department 1:  Research.  They verified the addresses of the parties involved, the attorneys, the judges, the courts.  By phone or yellow pages.  Department 2:  Copy Services.  Put the pages of the documents one by one into the copy machine and push the button. Seriously.  Department 3:  Binding.  Yes, literally put the plastic binding on the copied documents.  Department 4:  Sales.  Sit in rows and rows of school-type desks in a room with a phone and a list of attorneys and try to sell the documents to the other side.  Sound like Hell?  It was.  Aside from the less-than-interesting duties, the owners were two horrible sisters who mostly communicated with employees by scolding.  I was the last one to give my notice at the end of the week (I was still trying to make the best of it).  I tried to give 2 weeks notice but they said, no problem, that could be my last day.  Whew.  From there to:

Gould Electrical Systems:  I was older and wiser now!  I asked questions like, "What would my specific duties be?  What would an average day look like?  Why did the person before me leave?".  What I DIDN'T ask my immediate boss was, "Are you retiring in 6 months and therefore a lame duck with very little to do?  Can all of those duties you outlined be accomplished in approximately 2 hours per week?  Did the 2 ladies that I supervise both want this job and now hate me?  Are electrical systems mind-numbingly boring?"  Also my boss' name was Dick Heck (I can't make this stuff up), and it was very difficult for me to address him with a straight face.

Still determined to make the best of it, I noticed that Gould had an college-reimbursement program.  Since I had already read through all of the literature on electrical systems, I decided I'd go back to school on their dime.  I would have 4 days a week basically to do homework (the 2 ladies I supervised were reading 3 novels a week).  I had a math class to take before I could apply for the MBA program, so I signed up at Henry Ford Community College, bought the books and entered the class.  The "review" of Algebra II on the board as I walked in looked like hieroglyphics to me (problem:  classic math anxiety).  I got up, sold my books, dropped out of the class and started another job search in earnest.  That brought me to:

Watrous Associates.  My entree into the incentive world.  Third time is a charm apparently.  Had a great boss, worked there for 11 years until joining Design Incentives as a partner and found a real live career, not even remotely related to my major.  Back before or LinkedIn, I actually answered an ad in the newspaper. I didn't even know there WAS an incentive industry.

The moral is:  do not be discouraged with your first jobs.  Finding out what you don't want is just as valuable as discovering what you DO want.  You can't say no until you get an offer, so go into every interview behaving as though you want that job - but if you see giant red flags, don't ignore them.  Don't be afraid to ask your contacts for introductions - as an employer, I'd much rather hire someone that has been recommended to me.  Ask good questions about your responsibilities.  Here's another little-known fact:  employers who have trouble keeping employees may misrepresent the position (?!).

Got a great story about your first job out of college?  I'd love to share it!