“Listen To Your Mother” and Other Lessons We Learned at Wharton (Part I)

Jessica Kleiman and Pandora's Jessica Steel with Wharton students

While neither of us has gone to business school (not yet, anyway), we did just spend the one-year anniversary of the publication of our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, at the Wharton Women Business Conference in Pennsylvania.

What an event! Jessica was honored to have been invited to participate in one of the day’s panels about “lead-her-ship” (WWBC’s phrase, not ours…) for her role as VP, public relations at Hearst Magazines, along with two very accomplished female executives — Cindy DiPietrantonio, COO of The Jones Group, and Tracy Travis, CFO of Ralph Lauren Corporation. The other panel featured Jessica Steel, EVP of business development for Pandora Media Inc.; Alex Witt, NBC correspondent and MSNBC anchor; and Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI Products Inc. The luncheon was keynoted by Uta Werner, corporate vice president and chief strategy officer of Xerox Corporation.

We were blown away by the amazing women we met there — attendees and speakers alike.  And, as with any event that brings together such powerhouses, we walked away with great insights and information which we’ve broken into two different blog posts.  For starters, here are some key take-aways:

Listen to your mother:
 Okay, okay – sure she probably drives you crazy (and perhaps shares her unsolicited opinion more than you’d like) but, believe it or not, a common thread across panels and presentations was that when the women on stage followed their mothers’ advice, they achieved greater success.  We concur: Meryl’s mom has certainly been a formative figure in her life, and Jessica’s post from last Mother’s Day says it all. So, while you may not necessarily take fashion advice from dear ol’ mom, listening to some sage wisdom, gleaned from years of experience, certainly can’t hurt.

Be open and adaptable: So many of the stories shared focused on shifting gears and the twists and turns a career path can take. DiPietrantonio of The Jones Group said, “There are lessons to be learned from all past experience. Don’t box yourself in; be flexible.” Xerox’s Werner suggested that, instead of a five- or 10-year plan, attendees should set guide-rails — criteria for what will or won’t work for them — while remaining flexible and open to all opportunities. Pandora’s Steel added, “Success over time is doing more of what you like, less of what you don’t like — but remember that overtime really does matter.” Get within a company and you will leapfrog ahead based on your attributes and hard work, but you do have to start somewhere.



It doesn’t matter what your job title is, you’ve got to get the job done: We say in Be Your Own Best Publicist that one of the best ways to stand out positively is to raise your hand and be willing to jump in and help, even if a project is outside your job description. That sentiment was echoed by the aforementioned ladies as a strategy for success. Jessica advised the young women in the room to stay away from telling a potential employer what you don’t want to do but be willing to tackle whatever it takes to do a great job. Once you land the position, you can volunteer to do things that excite you more than getting someone’s coffee — but don’t turn your nose up at the little tasks. “Nothing is beneath you,” said Weiss-Fischmann, the colorful (pun intended!) founder of OPI Products Inc., who shared that she filled nail polish bottles herself when first starting out. How’s that for getting your hands dirty?

Be  fluent. When travelling, it always helps to speak the language. Similarly, whether you’re just stopping in or looking to lay down roots in an industry or company, learning the “native” language is imperative. That’s everything from the lingo to the  inside jokes to colloquialisms and nomenclature, not to mention those endemic to levels (i.e. senior versus junior). In fact, Werner even suggested learning the “language of male,” encouraging the young women in the audience to think carefully about how they dress, speak and the body language they utilize to ensure they are taken seriously the workplace. She also advised them to re-read emails to gauge tone, tweaking if they sound either too tentative or too aggressive. (We agree on all counts — particularly the latter, which we refer to in our book as “hitting the pause button” and utilizing the “second set of eyes rule” before hitting send on an email.)

Check your gender at the door: No punches were pulled that day when talk turned to being a woman in today’s workplace. Werner warned that, “In today’s world, you don’t get a penalty or a break for being a woman. You’re just one of many and have to work like all the others.” The most important thing is to be confident and to know what you’re talking about when you walk into a room. The gender thing in the workplace is almost irrelevant as long as you’re intelligent, appropriate and doing things with passionate and with energy. The great news, joked DiPietrantonio, is that women are always willing to “ask for directions,” which can be a helpful resource on the tricky terrain of a career path.

We enjoyed being part of this conference, where successful female executives shared the room with future stars of the business world — and we see a bright future for them, despite the economic and job market challenges they face.  Check back tomorrow for the second blog featuring additional advice.

Until then, tell us: What lessons did you learn from your personal or professional mentors and how have they helped you in your career/life? Share with us here, on Twitter or on Facebook.






  1. […] so many great nuggets of advice, we knew that we had to break it into two different blog posts. Part I was posted last week. Now, without further ado, is the second […]

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