Don’t let a bad decision derail your career

We likely have all encountered bad employment situations and (hopefully) emerged wiser on the other side. I once took a job at a financial education company that was conveniently located near my home. I realized — before the end of my first week — I’d made a terrible mistake. Not only was the culture dysfunctional and the management corrupt, the business was built on a multi-level marketing scheme. I should have resigned by that first Friday but those were the days when evidence of job-jumping on a resume was a non-starter, so I stayed for a whole year. 

I have a friend who likes to say “nothing is wasted” and this is certainly true when we encounter unfair or abusive workplace cultures (provided the experiences don’t break us). Jodi Delahunt Hubbell, chief operating officer at First Interstate Bank and one of our “Outstanding Women in Banking” honorees, advises colleagues to view past experiences as the roadmap to becoming a better person and a more competent leader. “I don’t think having regrets in your career is really a good idea,” she told me. In other words, own the lemons — and make lemonade while they’re fresh.

This collection of stories about our Outstanding Women in Banking contains wisdom from seasoned female bankers. I’ve written before that I am conflicted about compartmentalizing stories of great leaders by their gender. We have never published an “Outstanding Men in Banking” edition yet here we are in our 22nd year honoring “Outstanding Women in Banking.” Don’t get me wrong, the women we recognize in our November 2021 issue — 12 of them — have career journeys worth celebrating. Still, it feels downright patriarchal to carve out separate space for “the ladies.” 

Yet the power structure of banking is still predominantly male. At the Bank Holding Company Association Fall Seminar held last month, the ballroom was filled with community bank owners, directors and C-suite executives. I’ve attended these functions since the late 1990s and while the number of women in attendance has risen each year, it hasn’t even reached 25 percent. The smaller the bank, the more likely women toil without significant influence. 

And so this honors program remains valuable as it uses the examples of women who’ve attained success (defined in their own terms) in order to inspire others in the industry to persevere and achieve their goals. What you will learn from reading their stories is that the path to success is paved with obstacles and is anything but linear; it has communication styles that vary widely; and your best future leader might be (can be!) completely unlike you. The takeaway: Support everyone who wants to learn and achieve.

It is true that people, men and women, get into work situations where their confidence is shaken and they feel stuck. Everyone likely faces this situation at least once in their career. The resilient ones own the dilemma, learn from it — and make their way to something better. I sure did.