Two Ten WIFI Group Offers Important Career Advice: Just Be Your Best Self

Lean into your strengths. That was the key message from the professional development seminar hosted yesterday by Two Ten Footwear Foundation‘s WIFI (Women in the Footwear Industry) group.

The virtual talk was hosted by Tacey Powers, GMM of footwear and kids’ apparel at Nordstrom. She was joined by Sarah Bloch, SVP of footwear and accessories at The NPD Group; and Leslie Riggs, global head of human resources at Skechers.

The trio shared insights from their own career journeys and the pivotal moments that helped them uncover their greatest talents and most fulfilling paths.

“I beat myself up for years trying to develop things that I thought I had gaps in, and trying to be more like peers of mine,” said Bloch. “When I started to think about it more recently, I realized: What company needs five of the exact same employee? You develop a team by having all these differences. So I think that it’s super important to lean into your strengths and really activate those and figure out how to amplify them in your current role.”

She noted that one exception is if there is a skills gap that is holding you back in your career. For instance, “if you don’t love presenting and can’t get up in front of a group and yet you want to be a salesperson. That’s one area that you might want to work a little bit on,” said Bloch.

The first challenge, though, is often identifying your strengths.

For Powers, she said she relies on the “truthtellers” in her life. “The truthteller really lays it out there for you, and I think it is a real gift to be able to have that person,” she said, adding that over the years, those people have included several bosses and peers on her buying teams, as well as her husband. “Because working from home for two years, he could hear me on the phone. And some days, he’s like, ‘Wow, I loved hearing you’ and then other days it was, ‘Wow, I would love to bring something to your attention.'”

However, as Riggs pointed out, giving and receiving feedback can be uncomfortable for many people, so one approach could be to focus on three specific questions: What things are you doing well? What things could you do more of? What things could you do less of?

“That is a safer entry point for some of that feedback,” said Riggs. “I think all of us can ask for that. And that can help with the self-awareness, which then helps us understand our strengths and where to focus some of our energy.”

Bloch recently posed those questions to her bosses and peers via NPD’s HR department. “All of that feedback was really eye-opening for me — all the positives and the things that I needed to work on. Most of them I knew deep in the back of my head, but it really pushed me to activate some of those changes,” she said.

However, there are multiple ways to engage in professional development, and all the panel members encouraged younger women in the industry to take advantage of organized programs within their companies — or through outside groups — and to seek out mentors.

“I would encourage anybody who is thinking about approaching someone in your organization to sit down and have a cup of coffee. They will love it too. Do not hold back,” said Powers.

Ultimately, they said, the goal is not to transform yourself into a supposed ideal, but to unlock the superpowers that you can bring to a team.

Riggs shared a story about a friend who, as a young CEO, dressed in power suits and drove a Mercedes to fit her vision of what a chief executive should look like. But all the time she felt very uncomfortable and so eventually ditched the suits for dresses and started driving a Jeep.

“I walked away [from hearing that story] consistently saying, ‘I’m just going to be me.’ I’m just going to be my best self and it’s OK. I’m going to be at peace rather than looking for deficits to solve. I think that is impactful.”

Access exclusive content