Just because someone doesn’t see your strengths doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel confident in them.
Some of us took a fairly smooth path to where we are today, others have had twists and turns. Heidi Perry, Data Governance and Services Manager at Be The Match, overcame “the most demoralizing experience of her life” to get where she is today.
Heidi’s career path began with dreams of being an English teacher and have led her to becoming an IT Developer – an unusual journey that raised challenges along the way.
We talked with Heidi about her story – how her early career experience blocked her confidence, her belief in women being allies for each other and how In HER Element has influenced her journey of finding her confidence.
Heidi, a teaching career had been a dream for you. What changed?
I graduated college with an English Language and Literature degree, then pursued a Master’s Degree in teaching. My plan was to go into teaching but, for various reasons, I found it far more challenging than expected to secure a role. During this time, my brother-in-law asked me, “what’s it been like trying to find a job as a teacher?” and I told him, “it’s been the most demoralizing experience of my life”.
I was so qualified, I had such good feedback from my student teaching, and then to enter the workforce and feel like you’re in a black hole of applying to jobs with no response. It was really disheartening.
My husband (fiancé at the time) was in IT consulting. His company happened to be spinning out an entry-level data support center team – they were looking for people with little to no experience, and I was qualified! I was so glad that someone finally wanted to utilize me.
Career confidence is something I still work on today, and this part of my story reflects why it’s been hard for me. It was so confusing because I felt like I did everything right, I had the resume, but nothing was moving.
After a few years in IT consulting, I got my job at Be The Match. I’ve been here for almost nine years and I feel like I’ve really “grown up” here. I started as an individual contributor and now have taken on people leadership roles and worked across the different areas of data.
How did In HER Element help with your confidence and how do you see it in your life now?
There are several nuggets that I’ve taken away that have become mantras for me. In HER Element has taught me how to be comfortable and confident with who I am. I’m not trying to be anyone else or be like my leaders, I am who I am.
One of the mantras that I remember Laura Woodward (of the Disruptive Element) sharing is that you always have a choice. Everything you do, every decision you make is a choice. I think about that often because it always causes me to pause and realize that I am in control of determining how something happens in my life. That translated over into higher confidence in my professional career because I’m no longer looking for the right answer that someone else is looking for. I’m being bold, saying what I think and quite honestly it seems to turn out better that way. People seem to value boldness and having strong opinions.
How have your feelings around control and power changed from the early days of you searching for a job in teaching?
My experience with trying to find a job in teaching is not the only experience in my life that I can look back on and feel like I was passed over without real investment and understanding my value.
When I look back on who I am because of those experiences, the one word that describes it is “resilience”. I do not take “no” for an answer. If someone tells me “no”, I’ll just find another way. I do not stop until I can get the answer that I want. That’s how those experiences have shaped who I am.
In HER Element helped me to build my awareness of this, and it empowers me to pause, reflect and realize that everything I’m doing is my choice.
What did you expect from the program?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. My boss had previously worked with Paula Winkler, of The Disruptive Element, and went on the Destination Element trip to Spain. When she introduced the program to me, she looked at me and said, “Heidi, this is going to be LIFE CHANGING”. It made me a little nervous, honestly.
In Her Element helped me to develop professionally, and yet the skills were also so personal. I would say it’s a personal development program that just happens to be applicable to your professional career.
I realized that you’ll get out what you want out of the program. If you want to stay high-level, you’ll get some tips, tricks and epiphanies. But I went all in and for me that was life changing. It changed how I present myself every day. I’ve incorporated meditation into my life, I have my “brand” posted above my computer so I can see it every day, and I have mantras all over my wall.
Why do you think it’s important for women-centered spaces to exist in the professional world?
Personally, I’ve always been competitive with women. I’ve always compared myself to them and said, “I can DO better than that woman” or “I can BE better than that woman”.
I believe it’s important to have communities that are women-only. We need to teach ourselves to leverage one another as allies – you don’t always get that opportunity when men are in the room.
I specifically remember a woman leader, about my age, who started at Be The Match when I was an individual contributor. She stood up and said her name and immediately, I found myself thinking, “what does she have that I don’t?” I remember thinking that there was no way that that woman could do the job better than me. I hadn’t even applied for the job! It was purely a biased opinion that I had formed based on her introduction. It was TERRIBLE. But that’s how women have been taught to view other women, almost as a threat.
That same woman promoted me into my first people leadership role. I don’t work for her anymore, but she is one of my most important mentors. I value that friendship because it taught me that women need to be allies with one another. That’s one of the things that I really love about working at Be The Match – there’s a culture of women who build each other up.
How did it feel to join your In HER Element cohort with a group of women you didn’t know?
It gave me the ability to grow my network and also to build strong friendships. I see some of my cohort on a regular basis, in fact, we’re going out to dinner in a couple of weeks! I can’t say if I would have had the same or different experience with only women from my organization, but I can say that I’m really glad I got to experience the program with a group of women that I didn’t know.