The last time I really saw Shelly vis-a-vis was about a year ago on the streets of Midtown through a series of quick greetings we exchanged hastily in passing. As we passed each other in New York Hustle fashion, I wondered where in the world she was going this time. She always seemed to be running somewhere or running something. The time before that we saw each other at a mutual friend’s house where we spoke about our trajectory at that point in the dark abyss-- AKA our career paths. She was at a political affiliated non-profit and knew she would veer off that path once the semester ended to try something new.
The time before that during our freshman year of college, I distinctly recall a conversation she initiated with me about feminism when I barely knew what feminism was. She spoke about how slowly but surely we were progressing as a community and moving in a direction of positive change as far as equality goes. And if Facebook counts for anything the way it does in the media world, I saw her pop up on my feed graduating from Barnard College with the highest academic honor, Phi Beta Kappa, and taking a respite to travel until she started her job as an Internal Strategy Consultant at IBM. The common thread weaved into all those conversations led back to her role as a leader. Every time I saw her she was voicing her opinion and acting as a pioneer for social change. I caught up with her IRL and wasn’t surprised that she was killing it out in the real world. Read about her role as an IBM Consultant, below!
I went to Barnard College, which is the women's college of Columbia University, and I majored in Urban Studies and concentrated in Political Science. Often times, people ask me what Urban Studies is so just to explain: It's basically the social science related academic study of cities...How you plan cities from a political perspective, social perspective, or economic perspective. That was my major. And although I knew that I really loved urban studies and politics, because I loved the idea of planning cities, studying people and really everything about the major, I did feel that it wasn't something that I was going to pursue as a career after college. And that's because a lot of the jobs in that field are typically government related or non-profits, and I had worked at a nonprofit my sophomore year, where I realized that kind of environment wasn't where I truly wanted to be. The next summer, I ended up working in real estate, which was a really great experience, but unfortunately too narrowly focused on real estate, which I also wasn’t convinced that I wanted to pursue. I later fell into the idea of consulting, which was appealing to me because the concept behind consulting is that you work on a wide variety of projects every few months, and essentially you work in teams to solve problems...The idea that I wouldn’t have to commit to this one particular focus area was very appealing to me...I wanted more of a learning experience, and so I interned at a consulting firm last summer to test the waters.
Hobbies outside of academics?
One of my biggest hobbies outside of academics, during my freshman and sophomore year of college, was called Camp Kesem. Essentially, it was a week long summer camp that we as Columbia students put together, which was free for children whose parents have been affected by cancer. They are the “invisible” victims of cancer. I was a development director so I ran all of our fundraising efforts. I was also in a sorority (laughs) which was great for me too; I actually networked through my sorority to find a position for me in consulting which was helpful. My sorority in that way [for networking] was a very big help because even if I wasn't friends with the one hundred or so women in my sorority it was a great way for me to figure out who was doing what and who I could reach out to see what the interview process was like, set up time with people at certain firms that I could talk to, and hopefully get them to pull me from the pile for a consulting interview.
What does your day to day look like?
I'm an internal consultant...what that means is that instead of being an IBM consultant who consults for external companies, I consult for my own company, which is unusual I would say. It wasn't the position I initially applied for, so that was interesting, but I'm actually so grateful that I ended up in this position because I feel that I am learning a lot very quickly and doing truly impactful work to transform the company. Essentially my day to day involves working in a team with about ten other people on a particular internal project... everyone on the team has a different workstream so we all focus on accomplishing different things for our project. I love working in a team setting...I sit in a team room where we often use whiteboards and depending on the office we're in, I find myself working on couches and moving around a lot (vs. the typical cubicle environment I experienced in past internships). My hours really range from 8/9am to around 6/7:30pm, depending on what comes up that day. Personally, I am either on phone calls with our stakeholders, doing the proper research for my workstream, building powerpoints and presenting our work to our client, working on excel, or strategizing...often times we have team sessions where we strategize, and that is my favorite part of the job.
This is probably the case in any industry but I think when you start consulting there's a lot of growing pains only because they really throw you in automatically. My first day on the job I was doing high level strategy work when I knew little about the organization (laughs) so you have to learn very quickly. I'd say that was one of my biggest challenges... just jumping in, feeling comfortable with myself, and kind of getting over the imposter syndrome which you're bound to have at any job. This feeling of... I just came out of college, I didn't go to business school, I don't know the terms being thrown around and yet I'm presenting to these high level executives, who am I to be doing this? And I think once I got over that feeling my job became a lot easier because there was less pressure on myself and I had more confidence in my work.
Where do you think your ambition comes from?
I feel like it's something I've always had. I think it's partly because I grew up that way, I'm the oldest child and only daughter and I always wanted to run things and boss my brothers around I guess (laughs). Some people wouldn't call it bossy they'd just call it being a leader. Ambition is something I have always had and I think my parents were also a big driver in that. They were always involved in accomplishing something and they very much clued me in on their work. I wanted to be that business person or that activist from when I was younger, so I would say that is where my ambition came from.
How do you manage a work-life balance?
Truthfully, I think for me work has been easier to manage than college only because my workload in college was so overwhelming and there really wasn't a stop. If I didn't stop myself from working in college and say, “okay I know it's a weekend but I need to stop studying,” then I would continue to study until no end. But whereas in work it's very much like, “okay the day is ending stop your work and we'll continue tomorrow,” or “it's the weekend take a break.” I'm also very lucky to have a great team of people who value a work-life balance and that's not the case everywhere. It's been great actually and the people I work with, luckily, are also a part of making that balance happen. We go out for dinner and there's a fun aspect to it too; we have happy hour sometimes with my practice, so work adds to my life as well.
How does it feel being a working woman in the community?
How do I feel about it? I think mixed emotions. The general thing I would say is I've learned to embrace and be proud of what I'm doing. What I mean by that is, I found if you prejudge in your head and say, “people are not going to understand what I'm doing” or “not many women in our community can relate to me” and you make all of those generalizations, then you end up feeling almost like you can't really express yourself. Or you can't explain what your working on... you'd rather just respond when asked, “I'm working in Manhattan,” instead of accurately describing your career and being proud of it. And it's better to give (and we're generalizing here because everyone in our community is different), but to give people a chance and say maybe not everyone is going to understand my ambition, not everyone's going to understand what I'm working on but at least I could be proud of it and whoever gets it, gets it and whoever is curious is curious and whoever neglects it neglects it. And I think also, it is very important that when you find someone who is a partner for you, it's so important that they're your biggest supporter. I know that sounds cliche but that's the most important thing because they're the person along with your friends and your parents that are going to be rooting for you along the way and reminding you that you’re doing something you love. I think in terms of being a woman in the community and having to face a lot of the traditional stereotypes that comes with it...I think that's changing. Maybe it's not changing in the masses but it is changing and I think we have to have examples of people doing what they want to do in life, whatever it is, whether it's teaching yoga or becoming an editor. You have to have those examples because that's what allows people, and particularly women in our community, to pursue their passions...seeing others who have done it before. And I think that's happening...all of us women who are doing what we love or trying to do so should be very proud of that. We need a stage for young working women to say although we recognize that there will be challenges as we grow and go through life, those challenges don't matter right now, you don't necessarily have to think about the myriad of challenges you might face in the future when you're in an entry level job, and scare yourself before you even hit the ground running.
Piece of advice?
I would say more general advice I wish I gave to myself is to feel very comfortable with rejection in the process of applying for a job and in your career. What I mean by that is, until the point that you're applying for jobs, you're very used to experiencing acceptance...for example you submit a paper and you receive a grade in return. You work on a team project and everyone gets to say something when presenting. This realization, facing rejection, hit me hard when both applying for consulting and also now that I am working in consulting... it’s just not the same experience as being in school your whole life. First, you deal with a lot of rejection in interviews. You may not even know why you didn’t get the job and it can be very frustrating. And then when you finally get on the job you’re dealing with a client, and that client is not always going to be happy...you may have to deal with them saying you did this wrong, or redo this, and you may not always get credit for the work you do. So my advice would be to feel comfortable with rejection in anything you pursue. It’s very important and it's definitely something I need to continue to learn.