Panel with Jeri Dunn and Rachel Gogel
Jeri Dunn is the Former CIO of Nestle, Bacardi, and Tyson Foods. Rachel Gogel is the Creative Director of T Brand Studio.
BT: How difficult was it to find your first job? What led you to your first respective jobs?
Jeri Dunn: My first job was at a manufacturing facility. I found an internship through my university, then was offered full employment at the company. I found it difficult to find a job in computer technology, especially as a female in the computer sciences. I felt they “tried her before they bought her.”
Rachel Gogel: I graduated in ’09 so it was tough to find a job. Felt University of Pennsylvania prepared me for the world but not my career. I went to Italy and was immersed in a world of designers, then went back to New York and looked through magazines for inspiration. She had a very hard time finding a job, and eventually found an internship at DVF. I felt obligated to get a job after college, but am now grateful for the internship. I feel like it opened my ideas to different opportunities and opened many doors.
BT: How much of a leap of faith was the first job for both of you?
RG: I knew I loved design and wanted to get into publishing. My internship taught me a lot and definitely acted as a stepping-stone to work in publishing. The skills that I acquired apply to all types of industries.
JD: I didn’t finish my degree until after I was divorced with two children. I went into computer science because it was a guaranteed job. I had no idea what in the hell it was all about, but I knew I had to support two small children. It wasn’t so much about leap of faith but instead survival so my kids could thrive. I was more worried about having benefits and an income than long-term success.
BT: If you given another opportunity now, what other industries seem intriguing?
JD: Hindsight being 20/20, I feel that I fell into the perfect career for me. I was not previously an engineering-focused person, but I feel that I’ve succeeded as a CIO and beat men out – not because I was technically superior, but because of my interpersonal skills. Tech people tend to be nerds, so I was happy to offer a broader skillset. I fell into it: dumb luck.
BT: What advice now do you have for undergraduates who are looking for their first jobs? What criteria should they focus on?
RG: Be open to taking risks. If I look back, I felt my first job grounded the rest of my career. I’m grateful that I just took a job, and then took another job once I stopped feeling the challenge. I am very happy in the role that I’m in, but I focus more on learning experiences than the job itself. Through internships during college, I got to try different jobs, and would encourage students to seek out new opportunities. Figuring out what you don’t like can be just as helpful as learning about what you like.
JD: It’s not just you that’s getting interviewed, but you’re interviewing the company you’re working for. Find out how they treat women; you can be very surprised. Make sure the company is a good fit. See how many women work there, ask about the promotability of women, and investigate how the company treats their women. You need to be diligent about asking them the tough questions to decide if they’re really a company you want to work for. Do you agree with their morality? Do you believe in their product? Are they fully invested in their employees? The job should always be challenging – you want to go for a tough job. But make sure they’re a company that likewise serves you well.
BT: Have you had specific experiences where you’ve been pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised?
JD: Yes, I have worked for male-dominated companies that were not as comfortable having women both in the executive committee and around the table. When I went in and interviewed, I didn’t ask tough questions. When I got there, the company was different from what I thought it would be. As much as they wanted diversity, they weren’t ready for it. They didn’t know what to do with me. At other companies, I felt completely embraced by the company and very well supported. I was not just the token woman.
RG: in most of my jobs in fashion and marketing, women have surrounded me. I was less concerned with figuring out my own space but instead making sure that I was at a place where I felt supported. Sometimes, women tend to be competitive when women are the majority. I look for ways to have women empower one another and focus more on teamwork than competition. Most of my bosses have been women; I left places realizing I wanted a new challenge, and not because of gender-based experiences. My current job is 50/50 men and women and I look up to a female CEO. She proves that women can succeed in hard positions and acts as an inspiration for all.
BT: How do you feel that the “token” role of women has changed?
JD: I’m sad to say that I haven’t seen a significant change in 30 years in my industry. You have a few women leading companies but the numbers haven’t changed drastically. The topic has been discussed ad nauseam, but the situation still haven’t changed. You have to take it on your own shoulders; nothing will hand it to you. 11% of fortune 100 CEOs are female; that’s not where it should be. Typically, entry level positions are 50/50, but the higher you go up the more women drop off. You just don’t see women getting key positions. Partly this is because women opt out to focus on families. But we are still not where we need to be.
RG: I would agree, there’s still a lot to address. I try to empower younger women as I’m not that much older than graduates. Hopefully this will inspire women to be ambitious early on. Whether you come from a design or business background, don’t be afraid of the business landscape and the competition. Hopefully this will help the numbers in the future.
BT: Could you speak about the advantageous of exploring different companies versus dedicating yourself to one?
RG: Once I was in publishing I was curious about editing. I came to the realization that there is no perfect job. A job can be the right fit in the right moment, just as my other jobs were the right fit for e at the time. All of my jobs have been great learning experiences and shown me different aspects of the industry. Even though GQ was my goal for a long time, I left because I realized that I wanted to keep learning and being exposed to new experiences. I felt I got as much as I could from the work environment and now I feel challenged again. I don’t think there’s only one job that’s the perfect job – I think you can figure it out as you go as long as you are learning things and making connections. As long as you are feeling challenged and still working than the job is likely benefiting you.
JD: I think you need to bloom where you’re planted a bit. I moved around internationally throughout my career. I took a lot of personal risks and travelled a lot throughout my career. I think you should take risks when making transitions. I think the bigger question is realizing when the company’s not a great fit for you and having an exist strategy. What feels like your perfect job on any given day, within a two to three month period of time can completely change. Always have an exist strategy. If something goes wrong, make sure there’s a way for you to leave on your terms, not on somebody else’s terms.
BT: What has international perspectives and experienced added to your careers?
JD: I can’t even begin to tell you how broad I feel after having an international career. I made every mistake you can, but I learned a lot about different cultures and how people behave differently. The world is getting so much smaller that international opportunities are getting more ubiquitous. Abroad, you will learn much more about yourself and your country. Embrace it.
RG: I agree. I grew up in France, but my parents encouraged an American liberal arts education. I jumped for opportunities to study abroad to broaden my horizons and meet new people to learn new things. When I came back to the States, I thought about looking for jobs elsewhere, but felt New York was the right place for me. I’m now looking for jobs outside of the States to experience a new working culture. I grew up in a culture that prioritized quality of life, so I hope a mixed background with improve my work culture.
BT: Who are some mentors you’ve had in the past?
JD: I have had mentors at every job I worked at. I felt that mentors are extremely helpful for adjusting to new companies and new challenges. I always find someone who’s an expert at the business itself and someone who’s an expert at the political arena. At each new company, I had to adjust to new environments and new expectations. But I always found someone to give me the ins and outs of the culture and political arena and also the business itself.
BT: On the idea of risk taking, what are the biggest risks you took and did they pay off?
RG: I loved my job at Travel and Leisure, but I had issues with my boss. One day, I decided I wanted to keep learning and didn’t want to dread going into work. I felt strongly enough that I resigned. I wasn’t sure how she was going to take it and was scared – I didn’t have a job lined up, but I quit anyway. However, I think it paid off. I then had an opportunity at GQ and had a great experience there. I’m glad that I took the risk.
JD: Anytime you make a change to your job, you’re taking a risk. If you’re comfortable someplace and still feeling challenged and still learning, don’t feel you have to jump just because other people are moving. It’s okay to feel comfortable. Being comfortable is not wrong. Being risk adverse is not wrong. Pick your times when you’re going to make a change and take a chance and the times you don’t want to do that. Sometimes it’s more important to create a stable environment. But sometimes you do want to make a leap of faith. It’s also okay to fail. Failures, as long as they’re not all the time, are great learning experiences. Just don’t make the same mistake twice