Stephanie Jett, Senior VP Global Sales, Autoliv
In a couple sentences how would you best sum up or describe your career?
I would describe it as being prepared when opportunities have presented themselves. I had people around me that gave me a chance. Many times I was chronologically young to be put in a position, but I had people around me who believed in my skills and capability to grow into the role. Those two things together have really gotten me to where I am today.
When you say “prepare for opportunities,” what lessons have you learned that you would like to share with other women regarding how you best prepared yourself?
One is learning from other people around you. I think we can get incredibly focused on whatever the task at hand, and I think women, in a very general sense, can be very task orientated. We are good at completing things, but having the awareness to pay attention to how other people are attacking a certain responsibility, how they go about their responsibilities, can teach us about being prepared. Also, I am constantly reading, having discovered this in my MBA program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Interacting with people from varied industries, instead of focusing purely on automotive, I have learned skills and viewpoints from IT, healthcare…I pay attention to those discussions that help me prepare for what my next role might be.
How are you finding your way in this new normal as both a professional (senior executive) and personally (as a mom)?
In general, the new norm is just a different way of working. People’s lives are more complex, and we really do need to embrace giving people flexibility, empower people to get their job done sometimes from a distance, particularly during this COVID-19 situation. Many companies still live in the world where the best method to do work is face-to-face, and I think we all agree interaction with people is the best way to get some things done. Something I firmly believed in is: wherever my team is, spread across the world…I can’t babysit them every day, so empowering them to get their job done is key. I don’t care if you are sitting directly next to your team, if you are in a hotel room, if you are at home with a sick child, I trust you will still get your job done. So philosophically, I give people an incredibly long leash of freedom…we should be doing that more, particularly with women who have children and need a level of flexibility to balance life.
Is there a method, from what you just shared, you think is most critical to not lose sight of?
Everyone preaches work-life balance, but we all know that it doesn’t exist. I have my own guilt trips at times. Do not apologize at work to focus on your family, and do not apologize to your kids either. It is a life-learning experience to know Mom works hard to put food on the table and have this house. But I have mom-guilt every day. I’m teaching my son and daughter the importance of working hard and having a good career, loving them at the same time. Find balance with no apologies for what you need to get done with work or family.
Is there anything (pre COVID-19 or during) you find yourself demonstrating as a strong role model for your kids and employees? You mentioned “giving them the leash and empowering them.” Is there anything else you really want them to take forward?
People must come first. When we start our meetings, even though we are so focused on getting things done, I try to engage with the personal side first, connecting with people to know we are all in this together. This connectivity is something we are trying to preach by example. I can see, with my team and in corporate meetings, a personal side is coming through which is an important part of getting things done.
How has the business environment changed for women? As an executive leading in an international company, what areas of international business do you see changing going forward?
While we have all been in a global business with a global economy, the connectivity of people is evolving while working and communicating at a distance online. The challenge will be maintaining a level of connectivity with people. Interestingly, my daughter participated in a birthday party on Zoom…I have never thought about something like that in my entire life. Social interaction via online is increasing. Instead of flying thousands of miles because customers want to interact and dialogue, the outcome of this virus will be changes on how we do our business with more video conferencing.
What have you learned recently that will be beneficial with your staff post COVID-19?
In automotive, we tend to lag behind other industries using the technology of online meetings. Even now, I question why we aren’t moving to video conferences. Another aspect I would like to see continue is the general compassion that people are having; people have softened. I have noticed it just standing in the front yard playing catch with my son as strangers walking down the street talk to each other. Even in meetings, there is a lot of stress right now, but you still feel this sense of compassion coming from people. I hope this is something we do not lose. It makes a better, warmer work environment for everybody.
Do you feel it is important for women to support one another? Is your response different from what you would have said before the pandemic? How might women best support one another?
Every household is different, so I cannot predict how people are managing their home life. Fundamentally, we know women carry the majority of the load of running a house, and hopefully, they have a partner who is supporting them with the children and whatever else is going on. But, I have found when women support women by sharing their story of how they manage their lives, and how they manage situations, it creates a community where individuals feel empowered to get something done. People think maybe I’m not the only person out there who failed epically as a mom or failed at work. Key is sharing and understanding we are not by ourselves whatever our experience. Throughout my career, when people shared their stories, particularly women’s challenges of balancing a career and home, the successes and failures, you just feel like you are not alone.
If you could develop a hashtag about your career what would it be and why?
The one that comes to mind is #teamwork. It is the core of me. Yes, I have had a successful career, but I have only been successful because of a team being successful. We come together, and we are able to meet the objectives…the game plan. It is not about the individual; it is about how we contribute together to get to where we need to go.
If you could offer one piece of advice with other working women, particularly now in the days in which we are living, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. Self-doubt can kill the best of us, and we all go through it. If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. I am not talking about a level of arrogance…but a confidence that you know what you are doing, even in a brand new situation. Rely on people around you and follow your instincts. You are in that position at work because somebody believed in you to get it done. It will be bumpy along the way, and you will want to punch a wall and scream thinking you are not doing enough, but if you believe in yourself amazing things can happen.
Is there anything that you would like to share?
Don’t be afraid to do the uncomfortable. I am a very risk-averse person and grew up incredibly shy. Only when I started to do the uncomfortable, and get outside of my comfort zone, did I really start to see opportunities that I never knew existed. Especially with women, it is easy to stay in the comfort zone and do what you know, but sometimes when you get outside that comfort zone some doors open that you never knew existed.