Women Warriors In: Davis

Missing OWNIT already? We are too, but we can empower and motivate everyday! Dr. Keisha Liggett-Nichols is currently a professor in the UCD Graduate School of Management and has a lot to share with us about women in leadership, barriers, and how she moves on from them. Read on to learn more about who she is, what she stands for, and advice she has for us as students and businesswomen!

What is your background and how has that shaped where you are now?

My role as the VP of Credit Policy, Risk Management was really a culmination of various cross functional roles that allowed for a “balcony view”—from a strategic perspective—of business. I found negotiating the business landscape as a woman in Senior Leadership even more challenging; debunking stereotypes, working harder, staying later—a constant quest to prove oneself. Some of these challenges may be an extension of the pressures or standards I held myself to for performance. Some of them were very real.

At some point along the way I made the decision that work life balance was essential to me, and so I earned my doctorate and transitioned to academia. The challenges are the same, they just show up a differently. I get such great satisfaction teaching future and current young professionals. It’s important that I take the concepts that we learn and marry them with my practical experiences to help them understand application.

I come from a family with a military dad and a hardworking mom, and a strong work ethic was the standard. I am a first generation college graduate. My parents focused quite a bit on “preparation” so I think they planted some critical seeds that could only grow over time with experiences. Not sure I could have been front loaded any better!

What is the biggest challenge you have come across in your professional life, and what has helped you through it?

As previously mentioned, I found it quite challenging to be a woman in Sr. Leadership, for all of the reasons I mentioned. I also want to reiterate that some of these things were self imposed—of course I don’t think I realized that until I matured a bit. Experiencing these things in the context of the workplace, but also in the context of your own personal growth and development can become quite taxing—both mentally and emotionally. I believe two things assisted with my negotiation of these challenges:

  1. I have a fantastic mentor. I cannot emphasize enough the beauty of this relationship. I have a relationship with someone who knows me professionally and personally. The relationship developed organically. My mentor is someone who can constructively criticize, is my personal cheerleader and promotes reflective and teaching moments.

  2. I have also subscribed (through maturity), to adhere to a triadic thought process in terms of thinking about work engagement; career, family and spirituality, (the latter is whatever that means to you). There is a consideration for all three during my experiences—even challenges fall into this thought process. The triad creates a frame of reference as well as resources. This informs my thought process and behavior, and has given me the “power” to understand how to confront, manage or even disengage some of these experiences and challenges.

What advice can you give to those who are indecisive about what they want to do in the future or struggling to stay motivated in school?

You may not know exactly what you want to do—but you have to have an adaptable strategy that may be revised periodically. Revisions are not aligned with meaningless change. As with any strategy, bake in the meaning of success or progress. Allow yourself an opportunity to “test the waters”, volunteer (philanthropy can be a great career strategy), make a cold call and request to shadow someone, ask questions so that you can make informed decisions. These things help you gain an understanding of what you like, but moreover, what you don’t like.

It’s normal to lose motivation with school or anything else that you do. The key is to recognize it, understand what that means to you, and do something about it. Engaging your peers is often helpful as most have experienced the same thing at one point or another. It is never too early to identify a potential mentor. Engaging a more seasoned person who has had your journey thus far is often helpful—they often share stories that are relatable.

I realize that it is not enough to think about the benefits of earning a degree on the other side of your 4 or more years as a motivator. Therefore, my final suggestion is to understand your intrinsic motivation for being in school. There is something within you that made you commit to this, (this is beyond your parents, or what society says is what is best). Understand that thing—you will make the right choices.

Lastly, what advice can you give for aspiring businesswomen?

  1. Life requires a strategy, make sure you have a plan.

  2. Learn who you are; understanding who you are in the context of any situation will help you with negotiation.

  3. Be patient, it’s a marathon not a race.

  4. Work hard— but remember life is about choices.

  5. Understand your meaning of compromise, sacrifice, winning and losing—engagement in life becomes a bit easier when you understand what these things mean to you.

We hope you learned something from Dr. Liggett-Nichols and will continue supporting and empowering one another everyday!

Written By: Julia Tien