After 21 years in finance, Vanessa Rollings joined Rightpoint as the company’s Chief Financial Officer. As part of our #WomensHistoryMonth series highlighting women in leadership at Rightpoint we asked Vanessa to tell us more about her career, and her thoughts on leadership and career path. Finance is not traditionally a field that includes many women, and as an executive-level woman in leadership at Rightpoint, we wanted Vanessa’s perspective. This is part 2 in the series; read our interviews with other women in leadership at Rightpoint throughout this week.
What brought you to Rightpoint?
I was excited to help our co-Founders, Brad and Ross, navigate and grow the next chapter of the agency. About two years ago, to get to the next chapter, Rightpoint brought on an outside investor. Because I’ve spent most of my career in investment banking and with entrepreneurial companies, I liked that this role blended together a lot of things that I had tangentially done.
We don’t see a lot of women in finance, particularly at the executive level. What helped you get to where you are today?
You’re right, there aren’t a lot of women in finance. Following my MBA at Kellogg, I went into investment banking, and I was 1 out of less than 2% of women in my particular group at my bank—and my bank wasn’t any different from other banks. Many women tend to fall out of banking when they have children, but I hung around. I have a spouse that is an equal partner and encouraged me to keep going. I couldn’t have done it without him. But I’ve also been able to advance in my career because I have personality, because I’m a good listener, and because I remain open-minded. I try to absorb different viewpoints and to bring data into the equation.
What can companies do to empower the women in their organizations?
If you want your workers, men or women, to be great, people need to be excited. Once you have that base of people who are excited, and who want to be there, then a company needs to provide great mentorship. It’s challenging because I’m a strong believer that mentorship can’t be forced. But I would encourage companies to develop opportunities where people can find each other and build those relationships. It’s a welcoming perspective they need to have.
Who has made a great impact on you in your career?
One of the partners I worked for in banking. Personally, we had a lot in common, and he was 15 years ahead of me in my career. The best mentorship he provided for me was in helping me navigate treacherous political waters where there was a lot of competition at the bank. Competition doesn’t bother me, but I like to compete on a fair playing field where I’m given a shot and judged for my work. He advocated for me and made sure I got those shots. When I didn’t do well, he was super tough on me; he didn’t treat me differently than any of his male colleagues, and that was awesome. I appreciated that. Everyone messes up. But he provided direct, actionable, sincere feedback because he wanted me to do better, and I did.
What can people do to benefit themselves along their career paths?
There are two things.
First, a CFO I used to work for taught me to be open, and to try to say yes instead of saying no. That means to keep an open mind to see where a dialogue, a discussion or an idea can take you. Try to solve for yes; and if you’re going to get to no, get to no quickly. But be open to yes and don’t hang on negativity.
The second thing is to take the first 3-4 years in your career to get actual skills. If you spend the first 3-4 years developing skills, it’s going to pay dividends. I spent the first few years of my career being an auditor. It is NOT sexy. But did I acquire skills that I’m using now? Absolutely!
What changes in the industry are you excited about?
There’s a change in our attitudes about education. For example, we’re now thinking, “Yes, women should be taking STEM.” I have peers whose daughters are off to college, and it’s okay for women to be engineers. How young people are being taught about gender is changing. For example, when my family saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” my husband and I were so happy to see the main character was a woman and how it was done so seamlessly. But my son didn’t even understand why it would be different to have a female lead. Young men are being brought along to be champions and supporters of women, and that’s how it should be. This will change our approach to all fields – finance, tech and others – and I think it’s great.