Women in Leadership Spotlight on Julie Keshmiry

Continuing our Women in Leadership spotlight series, today we are so happy to introduce Julie Keshmiry, who talks to us openly about mom guilt, her infatuation with Gen Z and the importance of speaking up.

Julie is Chief of Staff: Brand, Creative & Media at Intel and is based in California. After graduating with a B.S. cum laude from USC’s Marshall School of Business, she spent 20+ years at media agencies, overseeing the strategy and global operations of brands such as Microsoft, Oracle, Logitech, Schwab and Apple.

The quote that inspires her the most, and really resonated with us here at Desa Global Leadership, is ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ – the theme of Women’s History Month back in 2018. It became a rallying cry after Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously interrupted the speech of Senator Elizabeth Warren, stating that “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule [Senate Rule 19]. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The motto resonated with millions as the path towards female equality is paved with women who persisted, in both big and small ways, to ensure that the generations following them had the opportunity to continue moving forwards.

Read below to learn how Julie has persisted throughout her career, the positive changes she sees happening in leadership and the advice she would give to her younger self.

What has been the most significant barrier in your career to date?

I’ve been fortunate enough to not experience any major harassment or discrimination in my career, so let’s name that privilege. But, I have had two schools of thought on this question. On one hand, I would say I’ve been my own biggest barrier. I look back on my career and think I could have been more aggressive in seeking out new roles and companies, which would have likely broadened my experience sooner. But on the other hand, I like where I am today, who I am, and how I show up. My path, even if it was slower, led me to exactly where I am. That’s what is more important to me than my “should haves.”

 

Have you ever felt the imposter syndrome, and if so, how did you navigate your way through it?

Of course I have felt imposter syndrome! We often think of this as negative, but experiencing imposter syndrome does mean you are pushing yourself, gaining experience, and that you have your ego in check. Those are all good things! But, in my past, imposter syndrome also kept me from speaking up in meetings that were not in my domain of expertise, even when I did have something to say. It’s easier to address imposter syndrome when you when you have a support system and lots of authentic feedback. I remember when first starting my career I was petrified to deliver my media plan to THE CLIENT because, what if THE CLIENT did not agree with my recommendation or had a question that I couldn’t answer? My wonderful boss told me, “You have researched this recommendation every possible way a person could. You are the expert on this. First, it’s unlikely the client will ask you a question you don’t know, and if that happens, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know’ and follow up later.” He gave me perspective and ultimately the support I was not able to give myself. So, these days, when I feel like an imposter particularly in speaking up, I practice being brave and doing things in the face of fear anyway.

 

What do you think are the three most important characteristics to be an amazing leader in your organization?

The last few years have brought a positive change in leadership as we have put a greater focus on empathy and vulnerability as required characteristics to be an amazing leader. In my experience, being a leader requires you to understand how your teams are doing – not just their productivity or their physical health but their mental health. This is even more important recently given our shared experiences of the pandemic, challenging care requirements, and racial unrest. Leaders need to hold space for conversations previously not held in the workplace on these topics. Leaders need to listen with empathy and also share their own stories and journey with vulnerability, which is basically human glue. I believe dialing up our humanness as a leader is here to stay. It’s no longer about results at all costs. It’s about results with wellness.

 

How do you balance career, personal life and passions?

Oh that question only women get! There is NO balance, particularly when the definition is that each side is always equal. Instead, I see balance as making continual trade-offs that you hope average out over time into what’s acceptable to you. I’m not going to talk about the trade-offs and decisions I think only someone else can make. I’m here to tell myself and others to stop feeling the guilt around those trade-offs, especially mom guilt. There’s too much mom guilt – self-inflicted or otherwise.
You feel guilty because you are “sneaking out early” to catch your child’s sports game. Then you feel guilty when the class party comes around and you sign up for the paper plates and napkins over the homemade, gluten-sugar-dairy-free snack. The best things I’ve done for myself and that I try to help others with is that we need to let that stuff go. Sometimes, somedays you just need to sign up for paper plates and napkins and let go of the guilt.

 

What has been your biggest learning when it comes to work-life harmony during the pandemic?

The pandemic has taught me to have a broader view of success. I’m infatuated with Gen Z and have high hopes we all can learn from them. I admire how they want to work for a company whose brand and values match their own. I also admire how they aren’t subscribing to our outdated notion that success is based on compensation and title alone. I’ve learned that success should be defined in other areas like mental and physical health, free time, and overall happiness. I’m taking that view from this pandemic – to have a broader view of success.

 

What is the role mentorship and sponsorship have played in your career?

I’m very grateful that I have had, and continue to have, many informal mentorships with people who have supported or guided me. Looking back, I wish I was more forward in solidifying these types of relationship and not initially shy about reaching out to trusted leaders for a formal relationship. Today, I think about how I am “building my own personal board of mentors.” I want to have people I would go to for conversations around career advancement, others for feedback on my role today, and still others for mom advice. I strongly suggest that everyone ask themselves, “who is on my personal board?”

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

The advice I would give is to understand what it takes to build confidence. You don’t always start with confidence so, how do you build confidence? Confidence comes from experience, so I’d give myself advice to say “yes” to more projects and to go for those new and bigger roles. Confidence also requires a growth mindset. I’d tell myself to believe you can grow and change. Finally, confidence requires taking risks and failing sometimes. So I’d tell myself not to be petrified to reach for bigger things and fail. There’s more growth in reaching big and failing than in perfecting the small.

 

In honour of International Women’s Day 2022, has there been a time where you or someone around you has had to #BreakTheBias? What was your biggest learning from this experience?

My friends and I have had conversations about how bias has showed up in our lives, ranging from unconscious bias to overt sexism. With a sharpening lens, we look back over our careers and see many times we were thought of as “less than” simply because of our gender. Because you are a woman, you cannot or should not ______ (fill in the blank). My biggest learning in this space is to speak up. Years ago, we were just as likely to ignore it, which was a survival tactic at the time, versus speaking up and calling bias out and naming the bias. Today, I have pledged to myself that I will speak up if I see something or hear something sexist, racist, homophobic, or othering. It’s a personal pledge I took brought on by the events in in the last few years.

 

Bonus Question – Who has been the most influential woman in your life/career?

My mother. She was a working mom in the 1970’s when few were. In her career, she went from a beautician with a high school diploma to CFO with a bachelor’s degree. She has been a quiet role model as I learned, just by watching her, that I could be ambitious and have a meaningful career and family. I also am very independent because of her. As a little girl, I clearly remember when she walked me over to the washing machine. “See these knobs?” She said. “Can you reach them?” I showed her I could. “Good,” she said, “now you are going to do your own laundry.” When you are a latch key kid doing your own laundry in elementary school, you quickly learn how to be independent. p.s. I make my kids do their own laundry too.

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