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Making it in the HR World as a Woman

Four important lessons learned as a female C-suite leader. 

By Sara Patterson

As a woman in an executive leadership role, I’ve worked my way up through the ranks to reach where I am today: a Chief Human Resources Officer for a software tech company. Like for many other female executives, the road isn’t always smooth sailing and along the way, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Here’s my advice to any young professional women just working to progress their career. 

Lesson 1: Follow a leader you can learn from. One individual who helped shape my career path was an HR leader who hired me multiple times for different companies and continued to give me more and more opportunities, whether I had the skill sets or not. She believed in me. So I did what was needed in every single role with lots of enthusiasm. Now as CHRO, I use many of the skills I learned from her. I’ve made it a goal of mine to pay it forward, mentor the women in my field, and positively impact the next generation of women executives in HR.  

Lesson 2: Be the leader you aspire to be. To become a strong leader, you have to understand the business and how it operates. This means understanding all aspects of the business—not just the people and people-related processes, but how everything operates. That will make you one of the strongest HR leaders. I think that applies to across-the-board: You should never just operate in a vacuum or a silo and think you’re going to be great. You need to understand the work of each other’s teams. 

Lesson 3: Invest in the women in HR. How should you encourage the women on your team? With open communication and a little bit of fun. I do this on every team. I ask them where they want to go and what they need to get there. Everybody should find an opportunity that interests them and be able to go after it. This means always investing in your people. Listen to them. Have fun. Laugh. We can’t take it so seriously, right? 

Lesson 4: Create a safe haven for your team. We’re allowed to make mistakes or fall apart, and we don’t always have to have all the answers. I want my team to feel that the team they are on is a safe place to feel emotional, to work through challenges, to let their shoulders down, and to relieve stress. Embrace the unpredictability life sometimes throws you and let your team feel safe.  

Life’s unpredictable and no one has the answer to it. Just follow a path that feels good for you and trust your instincts. Life is not necessarily a linear journey nor is it neatly planned.  

Sara Patterson is the chief human resources officer at Simpro Group. 

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