Kara Miyasato, Sr. Manager, Marketing at Stryker Flex Financial
This is the first blog in a series we are calling “Women in Leadership.” The goal of this and future blogs is to introduce you to women leaders in various stages of their career. We want to connect you to their story – to provide a sneak peek into their experiences & superpowers and share with you some of the lessons they’ve learned throughout their journey. Our hope is to provide you with a connection and insight that will support you in your career. Please reach out to us with your thoughts at email@example.com.
Spending the last eleven years of her career at Stryker, Kara Miyasato is a senior marketing manager at Flex Financial, which provides various financial programs for Stryker equipment. Miyasato’s career has evolved through numerous positions and continues to expand in influence. She has also expanded her outreach to other women in similar fields. In this interview, Miyasato analyzes the attributes between being a generalist and a specialist, the critical role of mentors in her own career, and the importance of remembering what it is like to be entry-level.
A wonderful representation of our Act II – Who Runs the World? (Working Women!) for our “My Career Matters” initiative, Miyasato’s interview follows:
What is your current position and how long have you been with Stryker? Have you held other positions? What were they and with whom?
I’ve been with Stryker my whole professional career, right out of college. My current business provides different financial products to healthcare companies planning to acquire Stryker equipment. Over the course of my time at Stryker, I’ve been in three different businesses. I would say my early career path was driven by choosing opportunities based on what sounded interesting, and now I’ve become more strategic in my decision-making, selecting opportunities which complement and deepen my skills and interests.
How have you navigated your career path?
At the very beginning, I didn’t intend to go into financial services and had planned to go to law school. I took a temporary position at Stryker by happenstance. I liked it so much that I decided not to go to law school. In 2008, Flex Financial consolidated in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I had the opportunity to move. I moved without even really thinking about it from a career standpoint, more as a cool opportunity.
After a while, I really wanted to gain specific skills – I had developed a strong interest in project management. I talked to my manager about how I would love a role that would allow me to develop project management skills, and he was great: he worked with a director in a different business to create a project management job for me, and I was able to work on really cool and interesting projects.
I think at the very beginning, things just happened – but later in my career, I was seeking things out that were interesting to me and would help me get to where I wanted to go. I needed to think about what are the skills and experiences that would prepare me for future leadership roles.
In your current ‘Act’, what is the number one challenge you face?
As I started to look more strategically at my career and sought out advice, I had a conversation with my boss at the time who asked me, “Are you a Generalist or a Specialist?” I had a hard time answering that questions. Leaders are Generalists: they can lead the group doing anything, it wouldn’t matter what the product or service or function was, they could still provide great leadership. With Specialists, this might not necessarily be the case as a Specialists leadership would be strong in a specific slice of the business. I realized through this conversation that I thought of myself as a Specialist, and this was also how many people knew me throughout Stryker. I was at a crossroads: should I pivot toward a more Generalist position? Or should I deepen my experience in the same business? Both could provide wonderful opportunities, but I realized I needed to make a more active choice.
What type of support or tools have you found beneficial during the times of career choice decision making?
I’ve sought out mentors and asked for their thoughts on what might be useful experiences for my career. I have focused on experts in the corporation, the folks who have done it before and hearing their experiences has been useful. One of the challenges within the commercial business organization is that, in the past, not many women were in these roles, so there aren’t as many women I can turn to see how they navigated their career path. This is something Stryker has been working on and I’ve seen significant growth here.
What does the phrase “women supporting women” mean to you?
As you move up in the company, it is about creating space for other people. I think that people have an obligation to turn around and help others get where they are. It’s hard to be a pioneer, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t look out for other women and make it a part of our leadership style. I mentor a few folks in the organization. Mentorships are well supported at Stryker, and I’ve had a couple of managers reach out to ask if I’d mentor someone on their teams and been contact directly a couple of times.
In 2-3 words, how would you describe your leadership brand?
My style is “radical candor.” I read Kim Malone Scott’s book Radical Candor earlier this year, and it really resonated with me. Leaders, “tell you the truth even if it is not easy to hear.” It comes from a positive desire to see the individuals on my team reach their fullest potential. I really care about my team and I am giving feedback to ensure they are successful. One of the challenges with this approach is sometimes this style conflicts with other with others’ perceptions of female leadership and specifically that of an Asian female leader, but I have found being authentic and coming from a place to truly caring for your team can help to bridge the perception gap.
What are your strategies to deal with that?
The most important thing to make sure that people know where this coming from, that I am not being mean or aggressive. I care about my coworkers and my team – when I am disagreeing with somebody, it’s not coming from a place of trying to make them look bad; we need to have this discussion to make the right decision. I am a naturally introverted person, so making sure people know who I am and where I’m coming from has been a journey for me.
Are the women who have helped shape your career internal or external to Stryker?
For me, it’s more about who I’ve connected to within Stryker and who I have developed a trusting relationship with. For example, I have a friendship with Kelly Parrish, my last HR business partner: I value her opinions and insights as she has specialized experiences and knowledge on the Stryker organization, and she knows me and what I’m good at and what I would enjoy.
What would you advise to a younger woman who is just entering their career?
For someone very new to her career, it’s all about trust – making sure people trust you. I believe being incredibly responsive and doing what you’re say you’re going to do is key to building this trust, especially when you’re entry level. For instance, if someone emails and asks a question, get back to them right away saying you will respond in in 30 minutes, and get back to them sooner: this helps to build your credibility. At Stryker, credibility and trust are very important. Another point is understanding how you are perceived. I may have not taken this as seriously as I should have early in my career, but this is important. Understand what the organization’s perception of you and how you may enhance or refine this perception is vital to opening up your career path.
What strategies did you utilize to positively grow in your understanding of your organizational brand?
I had to really make a conscious decision to get to know people at multiple levels, to build a personal connection– building that connection allows trust to naturally come.
Shout out to Janice Krupic at Paragon Leadership International. She encouraged me to develop a Stakeholder Map. A Stakeholder Map is writing down the people that are important to have as your advocates and identifying where you need to work on relationships. I did that formally three years ago – before then, I would do it in my head. This more formal approach led to a deeper understanding of my professional brand and stronger personal connections.
I do think that women advocacy programs are really important. I see these advocacy programs as not only important to nurture individual women to reach their career goals, but also to support organizational level or policy change.
And I think one of those things that mid-career women need to do is to remember what it was like to be entry-level. For example, we expect people to know professional norms. What if a woman is a first-generation college graduate entering the workplace or from a different culture and background? They may not be aware of traditional business norms. We have the ability to ease their transition and ensure a more successful start of their career.