How Women Can Break Into the Corporate World
Education and Careers WW’s Gail Tifford advises young female professionals on the importance of creating relationships, building trust and embracing life’s twists and turns.
In February 2018, Gail Tifford took on an enormous creative challenge becoming WW’s new Chief Brand Officer. Just days earlier, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers had announced a series of bold initiatives, including the new purpose of making wellness accessible to all, that would completely transform the company’s mission and focus. It was not a position Tifford sought out, but after just one meeting with President and CEO Mindy Grossman, she knew that she had found her true calling.
Tifford’s career began more than 20 years ago as an attorney, and one of her first clients was the marketing division of Unilever. She soon found herself more intrigued by her client’s world than her own. “I knew that the law wasn’t my calling, and so they asked if I would come join them on their marketing team,” she says. “And so I started in 1996 as the assistant brand manager on Q-tips!”
Looking back on her years with Unilever, and a brief time at Viacom, Tifford says, “It wasn’t a straight line for me. I went from lawyer to marketing to media and then to brand. Sometimes you need to take some twists and turns in order to realize where you want to be.”
Of course, finding out where you want to be is easier said than done. For Tifford, it’s about asking simple questions. “What do you love to do?” she asks. “Who are the type of people you want to be with, and then what are the things you absolutely hate to do?” Therein lies your direction.
Tifford also stresses the importance of being open to new opportunities and new relationships. “I have made some really interesting connections in the elevator, or even in the ladies’ room. You never know where your next connection and your next relationship will go.”
“Don’t look to emulate anybody. Really look to create your own way forward.”
As for job interviews, Tifford prefers an unstructured approach. “I never sit with interview questions. I kind of throw those out the window,” she says, adding, “I’m not even a big fan of the resume.” She tries to create an environment in which she can get to know the person and truly determine, “Is this someone I want to spend eight hours with on an airplane?”
When advising young people, Tifford always remembers the words of a speaker she heard at a conference many years ago: “Ninety percent of the decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room.” Therefore, Tifford adds, “the more people that you have around that table, who know you, who know what you are capable of, that gives you the best chance of success.”
It all comes down to relationships. And for young women aspiring to leadership roles — in the corporate world or in small business — Tifford encourages them to embrace that which makes them unique. “Don’t look to emulate anybody. Really look to create your own way forward,” she says. “So many people get caught up in the title or the job, the this or the that, but the reality of it is, once you get in somewhere, you end up creating your own job and your own impact.”