PRINT | CLOSE WINDOW

Young professionals find help charting careers

By DEBBIE WALTZER - 1/8/2010

Despite the toll of the recent economic recession, advancement opportunities still exist for women during the early stages of their careers, up-and-comers say.

While acknowledging that the downturn has affected the pace of growth for women and men alike, four professionals share optimism about career paths for women who are emerging leaders within the Rochester community.

As a 12-year veteran of Xerox Corp. and a member of the Rochester Business Journal's Forty Under 40 class of 2007, Tonya Love says the recession "has had some effect" on young women's advancement in the workplace.

Nonetheless, Love-area manager for Xerox's color imaging and control systems group and program manager for Xerox Innovation Group-says involvement in networking organizations can help young women with professional development.

Despite corporate cutbacks in travel and training expenses, Xerox women who are involved in the company's various caucus groups benefit from one another's knowledge and experience.

"Yes, some programs have been put on hold for now, but this fact simply has made us all the more creative at finding ways to mentor one another," she says. "Xerox is a great company to work for and recognizes the importance of continuing to invest in its people."

As president of the company's 1,400-member Black Women's Leadership Council, Love says her organization and others like it offer women low- or no-cost ways of furthering their careers.

A few years ago, the Black Women's Leadership Council linked with the Xerox Women's Alliance to offer an online mentoring program that matches young women in the company with senior leaders who act as career mentors.

As both a mentor to two young female researchers and a mentee herself, Love says the program is highly effective at giving women informal exposure to the company's corporate culture and helping them to explore growth opportunities.

"The program is terrific in that young people receive exposure-either through actual face time or by remote means-to high-level company leaders who volunteer their time to mentor and encourage the next generation of leaders," Love says.

In addition, Xerox's Black Women's Leadership Council hired an outside consultant to provide mentoring services for interested members. In fact, the organization has a lifetime contract with this coach for its members.

Like Love, Jody Allison, a 13-year veteran of Paychex Inc., also has a positive outlook when it comes to women's career growth opportunities.

"Challenging times can create opportunities," says Allison, manager of enterprise risk management for Paychex and a 2007 Forty Under 40 honoree. She supervises a team of 70 employees.

"Now more than ever, it is essential that women continue to network, use available resources and remain diligent about building their careers," Allison says.

Though times are tough, pockets of growth continue to develop, and Allison advises women to pay attention to those trends.

"In an economic downturn, certain industries will boom, so use your network to identify those areas of growth," she says, suggesting that emerging leaders track allocations of government stimulus money as a way of finding them.

Allison also advises young women to maintain their networking contacts in lean times as well as periods of growth.

"Build your network and use all resources available to you, whether it's through your college alumni group or a professional women's network," she says. "Also, educational development should be an ongoing part of your life, at all stages of your career.

"Take a close look at your skill set, and if you notice any gaps, then work to fill them."

Heather Goodbody believes lifelong networking is a powerful career-enhancing tool. Goodbody is a private wealth adviser for Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and a 2003 Forty Under 40 honoree.

"I don't believe that the recession has had a devastating effect on most career women," she says. "Even though the business climate overall has been tough, women are still managing their businesses accordingly and moving ahead."

In general, Goodbody sees steady growth within her company and among her friends in various fields.

"Everybody is progressing as much as they can," she says. "In the end, hard work and dedication will pay off for you as well as for your customers and clients."

Lesia Telega, director of business development for Lazer Inc., says one effect of a difficult economy is that some women have not been able to pursue their career passions as early as they might prefer.

"So many women are saddled with substantial student loans as they graduate from college," says Telega, who has worked at Lazer for six years. "As a result, some new female graduates defer pursuing their passions in deference to landing a steady job with a steady paycheck.

"Also, many women are selecting economically dependable careers, such as accounting or nursing, even though those fields might not otherwise have been their first choice."

Telega, who is a member of the Forty Under 40 class of 1998, also is a proponent of the power of networking and developing professional skills.

"Lifelong continuing education is critical, whether in the form of pursuing an additional degree or obtaining an advanced certificate," she says. "Hands-on skills are essential to develop.

"It's important for women to be as technically savvy as they possibly can be."

In addition, Telega says, community involvement can offer both personal and professional rewards. She is president of the Rochester chapter of Zonta International, a service organization. Also, Telega serves on the program committee for the Rochester Women's Network.

"Networking is imperative throughout one's career," she says. "Being an active part of your community will pay off tenfold when you call on contacts to help you professionally move on to the next step.

"Now is the time when making an extra push will make the difference between being successful and being status quo."  

Debbie Waltzer is a Rochester-area freelance writer.1/8/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail service@rbj.net.