Name: Julie Felix
Hometown: Deerfield, IL
Current Title: Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, Human Resources at Mesirow Financial
Industry: Human Resources and Financial Services
Education: B.A., English at Saint Louis University and Master of Science, International Public Service Management, DePaul University
What is the greatest professional lesson you've learned to date?
This is a tough one, because there are many but two things come to mind.
First, I would say to do as much research as possible – both on the company and the products/services offered. Do this before you begin interviewing with the company and then leading up to your start date. Do this after you’ve started and on any project you might have to complete. For example, before you go ask a team member/supervisor for direction, try and gather as much information as possible. It demonstrates that you are a self-starter and willing to take initiative in figuring things out first.
Secondly, I would say, “ask anyway”. It’s always a little nerve-wracking starting a new job and having to learn the ropes. It can also be uncomfortable having to ask for help or for more information on how to complete a project or a task, but ask anyway. Usually, coworkers are more than willing to help new employees get up to speed and even if a question seems “dumb” or a “no brainer” they’ll help. Ask the question so you can store the information away and refer to it as you’re becoming more familiar with the job and expectations. Knowledge is power, so the more questions you get answered, the more proficient you’ll become in understanding the organization and your responsibilities.
What has been your greatest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
When I started my career, I supported the CEO and the CFO of a large microfinance organization. Every year there were two international board meetings for about 30 people that I coordinated – everything from travel arrangements and visa requirements, to meeting agendas and documents, to offsite meals & activities. Not an easy task when you have international travelers coming from all over the world to destinations like the Philippines, Montenegro, Ghana, Malawi, and other difficult to reach destinations.
The days were full and it was a rigorous schedule for me, usually waking up around 5 a.m. and going to bed around 1-3 a.m. all the while still adjusting to jet lag and a time change. In Montenegro one morning, I completely overslept. About 15 minutes into the start time of the meeting, I received a call from the Marketing Manager asking me “where I was...? That the board was waiting for me in order to start the meeting.” Half-asleep and dazed, I tried to comprehend what she was saying, while realizing I had overslept when panic started to creep in and suddenly, I was mortified. I told her I would be down in five minutes.
I jumped out of bed, dressed, brushed my teeth, and tried to look as decent as possible…all the while starting to anticipate the walk of shame and the feelings of embarrassment I’d have to sort through arriving late to the meeting.
It was a moment of dread that I’ll never forget. But fortunately, the board was as very understanding. This experience also taught me that you always need to have a Plan B. Now I make sure I set multiple alarms and create contingency plans if I have to be on time for a significant meeting or other important event.
What issues have you dealt with being a woman of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
Generally speaking, I’m an optimistic person but that does not make me blind to the unique challenges people of color face in corporate America. As a woman, the rules are different. I think you have to be mindful of interactions with male colleagues and how things may be perceived. If I were a man, going out for a drink with a coworker after work wouldn’t seem unusual at all. But I only socialize with male colleagues in a group setting and avoid one-on-one settings because I don’t want other colleagues or outsiders to misconstrue a catch-up meeting as something else. Additionally, I’ve experienced the challenge of having my voice drowned out in meetings, suggesting one idea that gets glossed over, only to have a male colleague repeat the same thing and all of a sudden, it gets noticed. As a woman we still face a pay gap so I’m cognizant of having to demonstrate my performance and consistently prove the value I bring to the business.
Now, as a woman of color, everything stated above is amplified to the Nth degree. Dealing with institutional racism and offensive micro-aggressions is fairly common in the workplace. As a result, I think there’s this constant internal conversation that takes place on whether certain behavior is intentionally racist or just ignorant and whether the person just really didn’t know they were being offensive…There have been many days when I have felt that expressing myself authentically would not be as readily accepted in a mostly white corporate environment as well.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
As I’ve grown professionally and become clearer on my long-term career goals, every year I try to have 2-3 big professional goals – whether that’s acquiring a new certification, public speaking engagements, authoring articles or volunteering, I intentionally make time at the end of each year to sit back, reflect on the previous year, and visualize where I’d like to go professionally within the new year.
I’m a networker and a connector. Those skills have helped me to build a large and extensive professional network which has been considerably helpful in identifying new job opportunities, connecting me to professional mentors, and connecting me with other professional-development opportunities (conferences/workshops etc.)
The importance of networking cannot be understated for young professionals looking to enter the job market. If you’re not sure where to start, look at meetup.com or LinkedIn to see what kind of professional or other meetup groups exist in your area and start attending meetings. If networking is not something you’re good at or enjoy, have 3-5 questions in your back pocket to make the initial conversation less awkward. Lastly, volunteering is a great way to build a network as well. But don’t limit yourself to only the things that interest you, step outside of your comfort zone. Every once in a while, maybe quarterly, make it a point to network or connect with a person or group of people you wouldn’t normally.
I work in Human Resources and often, partner closely with our recruiting team. On average, recruiters spend 6 seconds looking at a résumé. Six seconds! And to underscore the importance of building a network, 85% of all jobs are found through one’s personal network. So it’s a crucial skill to learn, develop and nurture throughout one’s career.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
I think mentoring is something that happens naturally and can’t be forced. Generally, I’ve approached women and men who inspire me and who I think I would like to emulate as a professional. That said you have to be proactive and initiate a mutually beneficial relationship.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
First, don’t worry if you don’t have it figured out yet. There are people who have been working for 20-30 years who still don’t know what they want to do when they “grow up”. If you are intentional about self-reflection and regularly ask yourself and others what you are good at, what you like about a job, and don’t like, in time you’ll find where you belong.
Second, don’t pursue a degree only for the perceived job security or the money. A good friend of mine graduated with a Computer Science degree because at the time Silicon Valley was booming and tech was hot. The year she graduated, Silicon Valley went bust and she was scrambling trying to find a job. Today, she owns and operates her own catering business. You never know what twists and turns life is going to throw your way, so it’s important to be realistic but also pursue what you are passionate about for a career.
Lastly, I’d say stay open to opportunities. I landed my current job, which I love, as a result of networking and luck. I just so happened to run into my former boss, who hired me, at a networking event. I had read recently that she had received a promotion. At that networking event, I approached her and congratulated her on her promotion. She asked me for my card and we connected on LinkedIn and through email. A few months later, when she was settled into her new role, she emailed me to have coffee and discuss my career aspirations. I had no idea at that meeting she was going to say that she had an open role. She did, I applied and three weeks later I had the job. You just never know where your next opportunity will come from. Stay open.