Wendy Vittori was encouraged by a professor to study computer science in college, became a software engineer Little did she know how well-positioned that computer science degree would make her for the then-burgeoning digital economy that we rely on today for just about every aspect of our lives and livelihoods.
Once she got into the workforce, Vittori decided she wanted to advance in her career, so she intentionally sought out management roles. “I realized that one thing I liked about managerial roles was the opportunity to influence decision-making,” Vittori explained on my podcast, Green Connections Radio. She wasn’t aiming for any particular title, but to keep advancing.
It worked. Vittori became Corporate Vice President of Motorola for several years, after 13 years as General Manager at Intel. Today, she’s Executive Director of the Health Products Declarative Collaborative, whose HPD Open Standard is “a customer-led open standard for the transparent disclosure of the material contents of building products and their potential health impacts.”
How did she get there? Vittori said that lateral career moves were key, both to her advancement and to her career fulfillment.
“Don’t be afraid to make a lateral move.”
Some people think that the only time to make a job change is for a promotion, an obvious promotion, like from Director to VP. But that’s an outdated model that does not suit an innovative economy that’s developing new technologies, new businesses and new sector needs every day. Women (and other under-represented groups) especially can often benefit from lateral career moves, because they are more likely to get stuck in the “it’s-not-your-time-yet” quicksand and a lateral move may actually be a path up.
Why might a “lateral” move be a step up? Because, (a) you’re expanding your skills and will be better equipped for future roles; (b) you’re expanding your network and will have more credibility; (c) you’re learning about a new sector either of the business or of the economy; (d) you’re demonstrating your willingness to learn and what you are capable of; and (e) you will make more money, if not this time, then in the future.
You may even discover a whole new industry you want to be in, as many of us in the energy-climate-sustainability sector did. After all, many women now in mid- or senior-level entered the workforce before this sector was as established as it is today, like Wendy Vittori. She started her career in computers and took a circuitous route to now be leading an organization bringing transparency to the building sector, including green construction.
“If you want to make a change…”
“If you want to make a change from where you are,” Vittori explained, if you “are looking at another area and saying, ‘I think I can make a difference there,’…(then) go for it because there’s long-term benefit to you.” She said you may feel intimidated because there are people who have been in that work longer and are even “equally talented, but, if you’re right about what you can bring and the contribution you can make, you’ll catch up and be working where you want to be.”
I also heard this from Lisa Brown, PhD, a marketing leader in Volkswagen in the Southeast Region, who recently completed her Ph.D. with a study on women’s careers in the automotive sector. She said she did “not understand that there was still more money to be made over the long term by doing lateral moves,” until some of her male colleagues explained how they had earned raises by taking lateral roles, so she embraced these moves as well and has excelled as a result.
Lateral moves helped a lot of female CEOs get to the C-suite
Many C-level executives worked their way up in lateral roles across various aspects of the business before becoming CEO, indeed those helped prepare them to be CEO.
For example, General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s previous roles included: Executive Vice President and Senior VP of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, leading design, engineering and quality of GM vehicle launches worldwide; and Vice President, Global Human Resources; Vice President, Global Manufacturing Engineering; Plant Manager, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly, among others.
The zig-zag certainly paid off for Mary Barra and Wendy Vittori, and probably every woman in the “most powerful” lists.