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We spoke to Dorina Hertner, Director of Corporate Insurance and Risk Management at 7-Eleven, on what changes we need to see to get more women in the workforce, and how we all can make that next career move. 

Tell me about your career progression into your current role?
So I started by getting my BS in Math - I was going to follow my mother who was an Industrial Engineer into the engineering field, but it was far too practical for me! I ended up back home right after college in Amarillo, and I always joked that there were two professional jobs in that city - it was the plutonium plant or a risk management information systems company. So I ended up with the latter. I was an account manager for a technology company, and that really utilized my analytics skills in the field of risk management and insurance. From there, I was lucky enough to work for JCPenney when I moved to Dallas. That was a networking move - I will tell you, every career move I have made has been complimented by my network. I worked there for 6 years, and that was a great, broad experience. I started in one area doing data analysis, and I moved into the finance, then to insurance placement because I had a great team and they invested and trusted in me. I went from there to a small insurance company to learn that side of the business, and then I moved to Accor North America, which at the time owned Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn, and I was Director of Risk Management there for 7 years. From there I took a brief hiatus and then I came to 7-Eleven about 3 years ago as Director of Risk Management.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge as a women in all of those industries?
So what’s funny is, I don’t think I realized until this year that being a woman was a limitation! I always presumed it was personal. I actually went to a women’s conference recently in June and when I heard the challenges all the other women had, I thought “wait a minute!” I had trouble with people listening to me, I didn’t get on the committee - I thought that was just me, my personal style. And my personal style is a female style. So it was recently enlightening to me that it probably has been a hindrance, what I had perceived as personal. I feel like I’ve done very well in my career so I don’t feel that it was a huge obstacle along the way, but I do think I had to work harder to prove myself and prove my talent, and you have to work harder the ensure that your message is clear in a different way. Those are challenges that I continually overcome. Every place you go, you have different personalities - the organizational structure and vision are different and learning to adapt to that is something you constantly have learn.

What policies can companies put in place to increase their talent pool of women?
What I know from working with women who have a family and a career, a more flexible work schedule is beneficial. Also job sharing - I have a friend who is an attorney and she needs to be at home with her children for a certain amount of time during the day. But she’s bright and an asset to her company, and she wants to pursue her career. We talked about how great it would be to share the work with another person in the same position, and the company still gets the value of a full time person and that great talent, but it doesn’t have to be a full time job for her. So I think that more flexibility as well as working from home or alternative work hours, where you still get the productivity of the output, but it doesn’t have to be on a stringent timeline. I think a flexible work schedule would be the single biggest thing that would get more women to come to the table.

What, if any, biases have you faced in your career that you have had to overcome?
I’m very direct. I struggle against this because men are direct and it’s fine, but women are direct and it’s not. That’s probably the biggest thing - I recognize my female tendencies, but as a female with male tendencies it’s not easy. So I’ve had to overcome that and learn to soften my approach in order to get the outcomes I desire. It’s a simple turn - I had a mentor (who was a man) and he taught me to ask instead of tell. It never occurred to me that you could ask a leading question instead of just telling someone what to do. It’s “Go do this” versus “so what do you think about this approach?”. It engages dialogue and people feel collaborative and part of the decision making process. They’re much more willing to take initiative rather than thinking “well now I have to do it my boss’s way”. It also helps me learn, because I get to hear ideas I never thought of.

If there is one thing that has helped you work your way to your position, what would it be, and why?
I am a quick thinker and I put things and ideas together that most people don’t. There’s something about my particular style where I can take 6 disparate things and find the common thread, and a solution that’s innovative. That’s one thing that’s stood out - not that I just think quickly, or get things done faster, but I can process a lot of information quicker, and come up with solutions that people haven’t already put on the table. That ability is what has really stood out for me.

In your opinion, what changes are happening in our society that are going to get more women in Director, VP and C-Level positions?
I think society is more open to it - and in no small part, the millennial generation has stimulated a lot of conversation about work styles. That has somehow also opened the door up to conversations about women in the workforce. The personal dynamics have changed as well. I know a lot of women that have stay at home dads. I know a lot of men who have either 50% or whole custody of their children. So, the male role is also changing too, where men are becoming more engaged in their personal lives, and women are becoming more engaged in their professional lives. Maybe it’s time, maybe its evolution, but when we are trying to embrace a new generation our minds open to other things.

We find that a lot of women and men alike feel that they are stuck in their careers - particularly in middle management. What advice do you have for people wanting to make their next career move, whether that’s to another company or in their current organization?
You have to ask. And if you get shot down, you have to move on. It’s no secret that your career advancement often comes by taking a leap out of your current position into another company. That’s certainly where I’ve had the opportunities and the times that I have felt stuck, I worked my network. I let people know I was looking, and I told them what I did very well and what I was passionate about. When things came up, people remembered my name, and when I found a position I wanted I had resources to recommend me. That worked very well because a lot of times it’s not that you aren’t the perfect fit, but you have to get your name to the top of the list. My network has really helped me to get my resume to the top of the list, so that I could be seen when I was the right person for the job.

Now, I find that I am the conduit. People come to me saying “Hey, I’m looking for a job” or “Do you know so-and-so?”. I love to connect people. I find that rewarding because succeeding on your own is nothing compared to watching others succeed. Helping someone to find something through my network thrills me more than using it for my own personal gain.

The other thing is we have to lift each other up as women - but that’s not exclusive to women. We need to "speak male" as much as they need to be able to "speak female" and I think the better we learn each other and don’t separate, but rather join, is as productive as empowering women. Let’s not leave the men out - just like millennials are a part of our culture, men are a continual part of our culture, and it’s just about learning how to communicate better.