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Leading Women: charting a course of your own
As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.
In this story, we speak to Elizabeth Faber, Chief Talent Officer of Deloitte Asia Pacific and recipient of Human Resources Director Asia's HRD Global100. She shares her battle against imposter syndrome, becoming a sponsor for others, as well as the decision to move to China from the US when she was three-months pregnant — and without a job.
Q: Looking back on your career, what are some experiences that were unique to being a female leader?
When I joined Deloitte 26 years ago, I knew that I needed an organisation with a global footprint. My husband and I both had careers of our own, so we needed organisations that would support a variety of [career] options along the way. I’ve come to my leaders and managers many times during my career to ask for opportunities elsewhere, like a move either within the business or to a different country altogether. For example, I am pretty sure that I was the first person at Deloitte China to go on a part-time arrangement. That was when I gave birth to my first daughter. At the time, our business in China had up to 6,000 people, and I could tell that it was the first time the HR team and my leaders had to make a decision like that. Still, they knew that that was important to keep me, and the future sustainability of the practice. I am also the first person in a role like Chief Talent Officer in Asia Pacific, which means that I’ve also been the first to write my own job description, which is always fun to do. I’ve had a chance to really form roles, either creating them from scratch or being the first one in a role.
Q: Considering your success, what sacrifices have you made along the way?
Sleep! I’ve had to sacrifice sleep. I was travelling so much up until early last year. In fact now, even though the pandemic is still happening, I am taking early-morning and late-night phone calls — and I know I am not alone. Anybody, particularly those in Asia, who work for a multinational organisation has sacrificed sleep.
As for family sacrifices, I think the jury is still out there. These days, I have more time at home, and I do get to spend more time with the family, now more than ever. When I was travelling a lot for work, I was away from the family but, at the same time, it’s what it took to enjoy the lifestyle that we had. Husbands, wives and children all have roles to play to make a family work. So I’m not yet going to say that I have sacrificed quality family time. Maybe if we have this conversation 10, 20 years later, we can have a more informed discussion. For now, though, the real sacrifice is my sleep.
Q: What are some tips you have for the next generation of women?
One thing that I’ve learnt is to ask for something. If there’s something you desire, or you are interested in, go for it. Ask for it. I learnt that pretty late in my career. So it’s important to be assertive in that regard. In fact, that’s how I became a partner. I asked, and it happened quickly. Sometimes I wonder, if I had asked three or five years earlier, what would have happened then? Maybe it wouldn’t have happened, but I’d have at least gotten the word out. I think it’s important to figure out who the male champions are in your organisation and find a sponsor — and those are two different things. Your male champion may not be a sponsor, and a sponsor is someone who’s willing to pound the table for you and to put his or her career on the line for yours.
Q: What’s the greatest risk you have taken?
Moving to China when I was three-months pregnant and without a job. That would be the greatest risk that I have ever taken. I am usually a planner, but that was definitely not part of my plan. At the time, I came up with a list of reasons to move to China and a list of reasons to stay tucked away in the US. Ultimately, my husband and I decided to go for it. We moved to Shanghai and, even though I was already with Deloitte at the time, I didn’t have a defined role in China. Also, I was on the verge of delivering our first child, so it was a big risk indeed.
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Q: How do you empower and engage others?
I think I’ve become much more deliberate about this point as of late. I ask people: “Are you OK?” I also take time to have small talk and to really understand what people are dealing with. I’ve been much more careful about understanding and leading people now than a year ago when we were all putting our heads down and trying to deliver. I find that just having that type of conversation has been really helpful for me in terms of leading more effectively. I also try to be more inclusive in my meetings. I try to call on people during Zoom meetings, where everybody is in these little boxes on the screen. I’m not trying to put them on the spot, and it doesn’t matter if they are on video or not. I just want to make sure that everyone has a voice. I try to make people who speak the most speak last, or go around the room to hear from everyone before the more dominant person has a chance to speak again. These are just some of the tactics that have helped, particularly in our current environment.
Q: What are the traits you admire the most in leaders?
Humility and vulnerability. Those are the traits that have been quite valuable lately. Having the courage to be vulnerable is something I admire a great deal. Also, to think big and bold. That’s something that I am working on myself. It really helps to advance what’s possible. I admire leaders who call things out, who say the things that no one wants to say, but everyone is thinking about. It really helps to clear the air. After that initial shock of getting over what someone said, then there’s a great deal of relief that I find in the room and in the team. Because then you can focus on what really is at the root of the matter. So it’s about being humble, being more bold and calling things out.
Q: What are some key leadership lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
Back to the partnership conversation, I have definitely learnt that, as a woman, I tend to overthink things. Of course, it’s a bit of a generalisation for all women, but just being confident in myself, because sometimes others have more confidence in what I can accomplish than I do myself.
Q: What creates self doubt and how do you manage it?
The imposter syndrome is very real. I see that in myself all the time. When I first heard about it, I felt so relieved. I felt validated because I’ve felt that pressure when stepping into big roles, such as my current one as the Chief Talent Officer. I thought to myself: “Who are you to take on this role?” And so, when I first started to dig into this imposter syndrome, I felt validated. In fact, our global chairman, Sharon Thorne, has done a podcast about her dealing with the syndrome and how she’s still impacted by it. I mean, here’s one of the preeminent leaders in our global organisation. So for me, I manage this by first acknowledging it, then just doing the work. I over prepare and make sure that I am ready, because I am not good at winging it. I also try to hang out with positive people, people who build me up and people who are energetic. They don’t detract from where I want to go and my sense of energy and optimism. So those are ways that I deal with self doubt.
Q: Why is being a mentor so important to you?
Mentorship is important to me because I have benefitted from being a mentor and having had mentors. As a more senior leader, now my pivot is towards sponsorship. As I mentioned before, I think what’s really more important for me as a leader is to be a sponsor for men and women, especially women who may not have the same visibility otherwise. This is a real focus for us here at Deloitte, and it’s about being more deliberate about sponsorship programmes. I think mentorship will definitely always be there, but it’s a bit more passive, and you have less skin in the game on your mentee’s success. Whereas as a sponsor, you really start to spend your political capital to help people succeed. So this is really the focus that I’ve had and I am encouraging our leaders across Deloitte to take on sponsorships for women.
Q: What energises you the most?
Sleep. I do like to exercise and to go outside. So I do look at my schedule and try to find at least one opportunity every day to go out and take a walk around the block, particularly when I am working from home. Each morning, I get outside to do some sort of exercise that gives me energy. Maybe that’s why I don’t get much sleep. Also, seeing others succeed, either professionally or personally, it gives me a lot of energy and really motivates me.
This is one of the many stories in our Leading Women series. For more inspiring stories of women breaking conventions and taking the lead in Asia Pacific, visit the official Page Executive blog below: